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White: UFC to make NHL draft at Sphere look like ‘kids with crayons’

UFC president Dana White had some big plans after the conclusion of one of the most chaotic — but successful — fight cards the organization has done to date.

“I’m literally getting on a plane and going to my house in Maine,” White said late Saturday night after UFC 303 at T-Mobile Arena. “I’m turning my phone off. I don’t want to talk to anyone or see anyone. It’s been challenging, but fun.”

The card was supposed to be built around the return of superstar Conor McGregor. His withdrawal earlier this month due to injury triggered a wild series of events that involved each of the top three fights on the card being reshuffled multiple times.

The chaos continued all the way up to fight day. Brian Ortega fell ill and was forced to pull out of the co-main event. He was replaced by Las Vegas resident Dan Ige, who drove from home and weighed in around 6:30 p.m. for a catchweight bout against Diego Lopes hours later.

The event drew an announced crowd of 18,881 despite all that. It also had a live gate of $15.9 million, the fourth-largest ever for a UFC event.

“I think it’s a testament to the trust level we’ve built up with our fan base,” White said. “When they show up, they know they’re going to get a show.”

Up next

Fans will certainly get a spectacle the next time the UFC holds a pay-per-view event in Las Vegas. It’s set to hold the first live sporting event at Sphere on Sept. 14.

“It will be the biggest gate of all time,” said White, who added the fight card would be announced soon. “It won’t be the greatest UFC event of all-time. It will be the greatest sporting event of all time.”

White and his team have already invested $17 million in production plans and the event is still almost three months away. He said, maybe only half-jokingly, those costs are the reason the UFC took on a title sponsor for the card, which will be known as Riyadh Season Noche UFC.

“Our board of directors and a bunch of other people flew in (Saturday) and wanted to see where all this money was going,” White said. “I walked everyone through what’s going to be happening and they were blown away. Everyone is so pumped about this thing. It’s going to be the most incredible thing anyone has ever seen in sports.”

White said much of the money has gone towards bringing in people who will understand how to make the best use of Sphere’s technology for both the live event and the television broadcast. He said the event staff’s credentials includes countless Oscars, Grammys and Emmys.

“We have assembled the most rock-star team,” White said. “What we are going to attempt to pull off will never, ever be replicated. Nobody will ever do it again. It won’t make sense to try because it costs too much money. It will be one of the greatest things you’ve ever seen live in the arena and we’re going to try to pull off one of the greatest things you’ve ever seen on TV, too.”

White scoffed at the notion that he and the rest of the production team learned anything from what the NHL did at Sphere for its draft over the weekend. The event drew overwhelmingly positive reviews.

“That’s going to be like kids playing with crayons compared to what we’re going to do,” White said. “Literally kids with crayons.”

Rising superstar

Light heavyweight champion Alex Pereira, who further solidified his superstar credentials with a spectacular knockout of former champ Jiri Prochazka in the main event, isn’t likely to be on the Sphere card. He is more than willing to be, however.

“He’s ready to turn around and wants to fight again right away,” White said of Pereira, who has headlined the last two pay-per-view cards in Las Vegas and drawn two of the top three UFC gates in T-Mobile Arena history. “He’s a savage. The guy is an absolute stud.

“People in the fight business love guys who want to fight, love guys who want to finish, love guys who want to compete. As a fight fan, he’s the ideal guy you want to follow and become a fan of.”

Lopes and Ige are much more likely to be featured at Sphere after their co-main event battle Saturday. Lopes earned a unanimous-decision victory by surviving a third-round flurry. Both fighters lobbied for a spot on the September card as a reward.

“You couldn’t have two bigger studs than those two guys,” White said. “I’ll do anything for these guys, so yeah.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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