LAS VEGAS -- UFC president Dana White doesn't know if anything will ever again stress him out in the mixed martial arts business. Not after what he went through in 2020.
But this 2021 calendar year was a good one for the UFC, and a lot of that success can be attributed to the company's ability to navigate the pandemic last year. The UFC was probably the most aggressive sports property in the world when it came to maintaining its schedule in 2020, as it continued to host live events on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and in its own UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas.
White still maintains the main reason he was so aggressive in 2020 was that he wanted to keep his employees and athletes working during the pandemic. From a financial aspect, of course, it paid dividends. According to White, the UFC's fan base grew "over 40%" this year and the UFC sold approximately 8.6 million pay-per-views in 2021, which is a company record.
According to White, 2022 already is already off to a hot start. Since the UFC's PPV events returned to packed arenas, there have been eight consecutive sold-out events -- and UFC 271 on Jan. 22 in Anaheim, California, is set to produce a live gate in excess of $5 million. That figure would shatter the record in California of $3.24 million at UFC 241 in 2019.
Here's what White had to say about some of the biggest storylines that will propel the UFC in the new year:
Robbie Lawler, Nick Diaz show out early in UFC 266 bout
Robbie Lawler and Nick Diaz put on a show for the fans at UFC 266.
On Amanda Nunes: I talked to her that night [she lost to Julianna Peña], and she said she can't explain it, that her body locked up on her. She couldn't do anything. She doesn't understand what happened. She wants to find out. She's going to dive in and talk to performance coaches and find out what happened to her. She came out and started going after Julianna, and the thing about Julianna is that she had it in her mind she was going to win that fight. She put pressure on Amanda and kept coming forward and did what it took to win the fight.
On Conor McGregor: The thing I've been saying about him and I'll always say about him is the guy has plenty of money, but he still is super passionate about fighting. He's fired up to come back and he's out there doing everything he needs to do to get himself ready to perform again. He's telling me this, and you can see it in all of his [social media] posts and the way he's acting. If everything goes right with the healing of his leg, he'll be back this summer. I have no idea what the landscape is going to look like by the time he comes back. Dustin Poirier could be retired by the time McGregor comes back. I don't know [if he could fight for the title right away when he comes back]. I won't know the answer until it gets closer.
On Nate Diaz, who is on the final fight of his contract: There's no difference whatsoever [in matchmaking him]. Every time we put on a fight, first and foremost it needs to be a fight the fans want to see. The other thing, depending how much they make, you want a big fight. A good fight. A fight that matters. A fight that's going to create some hype, energy -- and sell. But that's always the same, if you have 10 fights or no fights [left on your contract]. If we didn't want to extend Nate Diaz, we'd wait until the deal was up and that's it. We've had guys fight their contracts out, and Nate might be one of them. Our heavyweight champion is about to fight his contract out. This is a tricky thing, because I don't want to sit here and act like Nate Diaz turned this fight down or turned that fight down. I don't want to get into all that. I say this to you guys all the time: I'm in the fight business. By contract, I have to offer these guys three fights per year, and they can say yes or no. We're working it out. The trilogy with McGregor is always there. That fight could happen. We could make that fight.
On Nate's brother, Nick Diaz: I was very impressed with his comeback in September. I had conversations with Robbie Lawler [who beat Diaz] and he had nothing but respect for him and how he fought. But regardless of how good Diaz looked, what he did after such a huge layoff, I don't think Nick should fight. He's a grown man, he can do whatever he wants. But I just don't think Nick does this because he loves it. He does it because he has to do it. People always ask me what's the key to success. It's all about being happy and doing what you love. When I talk to people who sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic for a job they hate, that's what I feel like with Nick Diaz. When he's getting ready to fight, he's in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It's actually fascinating. But yeah, for a guy who had been off as long as he had been, nothing but respect for Nick.
On Francis Ngannou, who is on the final fight of his contract: These things happen. Sometimes you don't always come to terms with people. When you're a fighter, you have to be careful who represents you. I don't think he's had the best representation. Look, if you want to be with us, we'd love to have you. If you don't want to be with us, no problem. It's all good. I think his contract, and this is off the top of my head, if he wins he still has time with us after this fight. He'd probably have one more fight.