Editor’s Note: This was updated with Thursday’s news that Conor McGregor signed his combat agreement against Dustin Poirier on January 23rd.
UFC superstar Conor McGregor will return to the Octagon on January 23rd and face Dustin Poirier as the main UFC 257 event. The site has not yet been announced, but UFC President Dana White has suggested that it could take place on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.
McGregor wanted to fight three times in 2020, but the pandemic changed those plans. McGregor hasn’t fought since his 40-second win over Donald Cerrone in January. Since that time, he has withdrawn on Twitter, saying he played Manny Pacquiao in a boxing match and called numerous other UFC fighters, including Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov. All of the public negotiations resulted in McGregor apparently getting what he wanted in a high profile fight that is going to get the attention of the sports world.
Poirier will seek redemption for his knockout first round loss to McGregor in 2014 (see ESPN +). In this featherweight fight, McGregor worked fast, knocking Poirier down with a left and finishing him with hammer fists just under two minutes from the end of the first round. There is no doubt that both fighters have moved on, and while the climax of McGregor’s win over Poirier continues to be played up front, Poirier presents an intense challenge as McGregor tries to earn his way back to a title shot.
However, the easy title is in a state of uncertainty. Nurmagomedov said he retired after defeating Justin Gaethje on October 24. White said Nurmagomedov would fight again. The UFC has long wanted to book a rematch between Nurmagomedov and McGregor. Will it finally get its chance?
Ariel Helwani, Marc Raimondi and Phil Murphy evaluate what is real and what is not.
Real or not, if McGregor beats Poirier, you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a rematch against Khabib.
Helwani: White continues to claim that Nurmagomedov will fight again. Nurmagomedov doesn’t refute these claims, so I definitely think the UFC will look into Nurmagomedov’s possibility against McGregor 2 next year if McGregor beats Poirier on January 23rd. After all, we know that was the UFC’s plan / hope for 2020 before you know the rest.
Could you imagine Nurmagomedov playing against McGregor 30-0? No kidding, I think that could generate nearly 3 million pay-per-view purchases, which would make it the best-selling PPV in UFC history. It would be massive and the UFC would no doubt explore it. The UFC knows how big that is. But first McGregor has to get past Poirier, which is no easy task. Poirier is a much more confident and better fighter than the one McGregor beat over six years ago.
Real or not, this is the fight for McGregor.
Raimondi: I wasn’t sold initially, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. First, any fight for McGregor is a good thing for the UFC and McGregor himself. He knew he wanted 2020 to have a “season” of at least three fights – maybe four. And in the end he only had one. The inactivity was a sticking point for the UFC, which seemed careful to bring McGregor back without the crowds.
McGregor quickly knocked Poirier out when they first met, but that might as well have been a lifetime ago. It was featherweight and both men have been fighting lightweight for years (welterweight also in McGregor’s case). Poirier has been one of the best lightweights in the world since 2017. Fans can’t say McGregor picks an easy contest here – Poirier is as legitimate as it gets. You could say that McGregor would make more money for the UFC against someone like Diaz. Probably, but this trilogy fight will be there in the future. McGregor vs. Poirier is extremely competitive and likely an action fight. MMA enthusiasts and casual fans alike should look forward to it.
Real or not: With a win, Dustin Poirier gets a title shot through this fight
Dustin Poirier explains how after his loss to Conor McGregor in 2014 he began to change his view of the fight, which made him happier overall.
Murphy: Regarding his next fight for a title, Poirier deserves the shot by defeating McGregor.
Six of Poirier’s last seven fights – in which he plays 5: 1 (1 NC) – have competed against previous or current champions or interim champions. Beating McGregor would make seven out of eight and take Poirier’s stellar power to a whole new level. In the deepest section of the UFC, that resume is out of the question. With two or three fights a year since his pro debut in 2009, Poirier’s level of activity is beyond question.
But Nurmagomedov holds the cards, and of Poirier’s loss to Nurmagomedov at UFC 242, there wasn’t much that calls for a rematch.