UFC bouts return to Fight Island; McGregor back in octagon

AP – UFC docked for a third time at Fight Island, and this time a pair of old rivals are primed to make the trip – with a few thousand fans set to attend fights for the first time in 10 months.

They might cheer the loudest for Conor McGregor.

The first of three straight fight nights at Etihad Arena on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island kicks off Saturday when Max Holloway (21-6) fights Calvin Kattar (22-4) in a 145-pound bout in the main event of the first combat sports card aired on ABC since 2000. UFC welterweights Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny fight in the main event of Wednesday’s ESPN card.

That’s just an appetiser for UFC 257 on January 24 when McGregor returns from a year-long layoff for a rematch against Dustin Poirier in the promotion’s first pay-per-view of the year.

By then, McGregor might know if another rematch is potentially on the table, this one against the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov, who called it quits in October with a 29-0 record after he retained his lightweight championship. McGregor’s last loss was against Nurmagomedov in October 2018 in a bout known more a post-fight melee that spilled outside the octagon. Saddened by the recent death of his father and mentor, Nurmagomedov surprisingly retired in his prime after he beat Poirier in Abu Dhabi.

UFC President Dana White wants one of his top box office draws to fight again, perhaps get to 30-0 and take it from there. The two are scheduled to meet at some point in Abu Dhabi.

“It’s yes or no,” White said by phone from Abu Dhabi. “I felt like going into that last fight, he obviously was very emotional, he was banged up, he was hurt. He was under a tremendous amount of pressure. Now he’s had plenty of time off. He’s healed up. He knows whether he wants to fight again or not. I think it will be a very quick conversation. If he says no, it’s no. I won’t even say another word.”

White could only wish his relationship was that simple with McGregor.

McGregor and White sparred in public last year when the former featherweight and lightweight champion released a series of Instagram direct messages in a “he said-he said” exchange over potential fight opponents.

“I honestly, at that point in time, didn’t think we were ever going to get over that,” White said. “I was really unhappy about it. I was wrong. He and I ended up talking and we got it worked out.”