More than four years ago, the UFC rolled into Anaheim with a triple title-fight UFC 214 card and rewrote the Honda Center record books with a sold-out attendance of 16,610 and a live gate of $2,448,870.
With a prolonged paucity in Southern California due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MMA promotion returns with UFC 270 on Saturday at Honda Center, featuring championship fights in their heaviest and lightest men’s divisions.
Francis Ngannou (16-3), in his first heavyweight title defense, meets interim champion and former training partner Ciryl Gane (10-0) in the main event. A trilogy showdown between flyweight champion Brandon Moreno (19-5-2), also in his first title defense, and former champion Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1) is the co-main event.
And if absence makes the heart grow fonder, UFC fans are proving to be head over heels.
“How is UFC 270 shaping up? Our ticket sales … we’re sold out! We’re going to destroy the gate record there,” UFC President Dana White said.
White anticipates the gate for Saturday will be $5 million, which would easily eclipse the arena record of approximately $3.4 million set by the Rolling Stones. “Listen, man, you beat the Stones. That’s a whole ‘nother level,” he said.
In an exclusive interview Tuesday, the longtime MMA executive weighed in about his two champions – Ngannou, the colossal Cameroonian who has been ruffling feathers with contract demands while teasing a boxing crossover, and the happy-go-lucky Moreno, a true rags-to -riches story out of Tijuana – as well as finally coming back to Southern California.
Q: It’s been nearly two and a half years since the UFC was in Southern California for UFC 241, which was at Honda Center as well. Does that card seem like yesterday for you? Or like forever ago?
A: Yeah, it seems like forever ago, especially, you know, going through the pandemic, and, you know, spending so much time over in Abu Dhabi, and you know, all the other stuff that’s gone on. It seems like it’s been so long since we’ve traveled to California and a lot of other cities too. Any time we can go down to Southern California and do an event, for us to go there this time again, break the record, massive heavyweight matchup, it’s awesome.
Q: What is it about heavyweight title fights that make them so much bigger than everything else?
A: Because the guys have so much power, that the fight can end any moment. And when you’re inside the room, and those guys that size are fighting, you can feel the power, you can hear the punch. It’s just, it’s just a whole different level when you got heavy weights. And especially, you know, this one’s champion versus champion, literally the two best heavyweights in the world, going at it on Saturday night.
Q: How great is this storyline between Francis Ngannou and Cyril Gane? Former training partners, now they’re each champs and they’re fighting to be the top dog. Doesn’t get any better.
A: I mean, I’ve said this a couple times in my career. (WWE CEO) Vince McMahon couldn’t have wrote a better script for this one.
Q: How do you see this fight shaping up?
A: I don’t know – and that’s what makes this fight so fun. I mean, like, you’ve got this incredible storyline between these two, the bad blood. You got Ngannou with 100% finishes, right? And then you got Cyril Gane, who’s undefeated and arguably the greatest striker in heavyweight history. I mean, it doesn’t get any better.
Q: How would you characterize the relationship right now between Ngannou and the UFC?
A: You know…Francis and I have had our moments during his time here, and, you know, the other day, we bumped into each other. At a restaurant, we’re having dinner, and it’s almost like the universe made it happen and needed to happen. It did. And, you know, we’re cool. We’ll see what happens on Saturday and we’ll go from there.
Q: Shifting gears, there haven’t been too many trilogy title fights in the UFC. Where does this one rank for you at 125 pounds?
A: I love this trilogy. You know, Deiveson Figueiredo is a savage. Moreno has become a huge star for us, man. People don’t realize. So you see this guy out at signings and things like that. You’re gonna see it on Saturday night. When this kid enters the building, man, the place is gonna go crazy. Moreno has become a big star for us, do you know?
Q: Once cut from the promotion, with the flyweight division nearly dead in the water, and now Brandon Moreno is the champ and the 125-pound division is thriving. Is Brandon Moreno one of the best success stories in UFC history?
A: One hundred percent. And one of the coolest, you know what I mean? Everything you just said, plus first Mexican-born champion ever? Yeah… he’s just a hard worker. You know what I mean? He does the things that we ask him to do. He does the things that he needs to do. As the champion. He does the things he needs to do as the first Mexican-born UFC champion. He just, he checks all the boxes, man.
Where: Honda Center
How to watch: prelims (3 p.m., ESPN+); prelims (5 p.m., ESPN/ESPN+); main card (7 pm, PPV via ESPN+)