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Conor McGregor returns to the Octagon this Saturday, Jan. 23, meeting Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi.
This marks McGregor’s first fight in just over a year, and many of the same questions regarding his future have yet to be answered. He also remains surrounded by controversy, as he was just the recipient of a civil lawsuit that comes attached with a number of heinous allegations. But a look into McGregor’s immediate fighting future begins with this Saturday, which is a bout that will directly impact the lightweight championship title picture.
Despite the hype, reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov remains unlikely to return to the Octagon, especially against McGregor or Poirer, two opponents he has already defeated. If Nurmagomedov does return from retirement, the likelihood is far greater for a bout—potentially at 170 or even 185 pounds—against Georges St-Pierre. Nurmagomedov is not expected to take another fight against Poirier, who he defeated in Sept. 2019, and will most likely ignore McGregor even if he calls him out following a win at 257. The caveat, of course, is that a McGregor–Nurmagomedov fight is a massive draw. As unlikely as it is that Nurmagomedov would accept, there is always the possibility that he is offered a check with enough zeros to persuade him to accept.
But any potential future with Nurmagomedov is moot if McGregor loses on Saturday.
McGregor appears to be in top condition and sounds motivated, which is important considering Poirier is his biggest test—with all due respect to Donald Cerrone—since meeting Nurmagomedov in Oct. 2018. So, it will be telling which McGregor shows up: the one that outclassed Eddie Alvarez in 2016, or the one that struggled against Nurmagomedov’s striking and jiu-jitsu?
If McGregor wins, he will undoubtedly want the rematch with Nurmagomedov. If he doesn’t get it, he will instead receive a shot at the lightweight championship, which will have to be vacated. The opponent of that fight will most likely be the winner of the UFC 257 co-main event of Michael Chandler vs. Dan Hooker.
Whenever discussing McGregor and a title fight, the UFC is always focused on the opponent that will lead to the biggest draw. Hooker has been on a hype train for the past two years and looks sensational, so he is in play for a date with McGregor. Chandler, who had been the biggest MMA star operating outside the walls of the UFC, is now right in the mix with a win at 257. Unfortunately, this leaves Charles Oliveira as the odd man out, but he should be positioned as the first in line for a shot at the new champion.
McGregor possesses star power like few others, but that does not mean the fight against Poirier is a lock. Poirier is currently operating at an extremely high level, and he has more ways than McGregor to win this bout. McGregor is the favorite for a reason, but it should come as no shock if Poirier wins. But even if McGregor loses, which would mean his record shifts from 22-4 to 22-5, his ability to draw will remain.
If removed from the title picture, the opportunities for McGregor are incredibly enticing. He could finish his trilogy with Nate Diaz, and the possibility of a BMF bout against Jorge Masvidal is also a marquee headliner. Still, there is no denying that McGregor is even more lucrative for the UFC if he is lightweight champion. And if he defeats Poirier, the safe bet is that he will face the winner of the Hooker–Chandler in a bout to determine a new champion.
Looking a few steps ahead, McGregor regaining his spot as champion would come with a caveat for the UFC. He is not as active as he once was—the last time he had three fights in a year was 2016. An argument could be made that it is better for the UFC’s event schedule to have Poirier as champ and McGregor as a featured attraction. But excitement will be on full blast if McGregor begins a new run with the belt.
There is so much at play, win or lose, with McGregor, and the questions regarding his future will finally be answered at UFC 257.
To stream Poirier vs McGregor 2 and the entire UFC 257 card on Saturday, Jan. 23 on ESPN+, click here. You can save over 30% when you buy UFC 257 and an ESPN+ annual plan for $89.98 here, or get ESPN+, Disney+ and Hulu for $12.99/month and get UFC 257 for $69.99.