Editor’s note: This has been updated with Thursday’s news that Conor McGregor has signed his bout agreement to face Dustin Poirier on Jan. 23.
UFC superstar Conor McGregor will return to the Octagon and face Dustin Poirier as the main event of UFC 257 on Jan. 23. The site has not yet been announced, but UFC president Dana White has suggested 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 victory over Donald Cerrone in January. Since that time, he has retired on Twitter, said he was facing Manny Pacquiao in a boxing match and called out numerous other UFC fighters, including Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov. All of the public negotiations resulted in McGregor seemingly getting what he wanted in a high-profile bout that will own the attention of the sports world.
Poirier will try to get some redemption for his first-round knockout loss to McGregor in 2014 (Watch on ESPN+). In that featherweight bout, McGregor worked quickly, knocking down Poirier with a left and finishing him off with hammerfists with just under two minutes left in the first round. There’s no doubt both fighters have evolved, and while the highlight of McGregor’s win over Poirier will continue to be played in the lead-up, Poirier represents an intense challenge as McGregor tries to earn his way back to a title shot.
The lightweight title, however, is in a state of uncertainty. Nurmagomedov said he retired after beating Justin Gaethje on Oct. 24. White said Nurmagomedov will 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’s real and what’s not.
Real or not: If McGregor beats Poirier, don’t discount the possibility of a rematch vs. Khabib.
Helwani: White continues to maintain Nurmagomedov will fight again. Nurmagomedov isn’t refuting those claims, so, yeah, I definitely think the UFC will explore the possibility of Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor 2 next year, if McGregor beats Poirier Jan. 23. After all, we know that was the UFC”s plan/hope for 2020 before, well, you know the rest.
I mean, could you imagine if Nurmagomedov is going for 30-0 against McGregor? No joke, I think that could generate close to three million pay-per-view buys, which would make it the highest-selling PPV in UFC history. It would be massive, and the UFC would undoubtedly explore it. They know how big this is. But first, McGregor has to get by 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 right 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 was clear that he wanted a “season” of at least three fights — maybe four — in 2020. And he ended up with just one. The inactivity has been a sticking point for the UFC, which seemed to be wary of bringing McGregor back without crowds.
McGregor knocked out Poirier quickly when they first met, but that might as well have been a lifetime ago. It was at featherweight, and both men have now fought at lightweight (welterweight, too, in McGregor’s case) for years. Poirier has been one of the top lightweights in the world since 2017. Fans can’t argue that McGregor is hand-picking easy competition here — Poirier is as legit as it gets. One could say that McGregor against someone like Diaz would pull in more money for the UFC. Probably so, but that trilogy fight will be there in the future. McGregor vs. Poirier is extremely competitive and likely to be an action fight. MMA enthusiasts and casual fans alike should be excited for it.
Real or not: With a win, this fight will get Dustin Poirier a title shot
Dustin Poirier explains how after his loss to Conor McGregor in 2014, he began to change his perspective on fighting which made him happier overall in life.
Murphy: In terms of his next fight being for a title, Poirier absolutely earns the shot by beating McGregor.
Six of Poirier’s past seven bouts — in which he’s 5-1 (1 NC) — have come against former or current champions or interim champions. Beating McGregor would make seven of eight, and it would take Poirier’s star power to an entirely new level. In the UFC’s deepest division, there’s no questioning that résumé. At a steady two or three fights per year since his pro debut in 2009, there’s no questioning Poirier’s level of activity either.
But Nurmagomedov holds all the cards, and there wasn’t much from Poirier’s loss to Nurmagomedov at UFC 242 that demands a rematch.