Tagged in: abu dhabi

Conor McGregor’s chance to lure Khabib Nurmagomedov back; Max Holloway’s lock on title shot

The UFC’s 2021 debut on ABC was big news for everything that happened inside the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Saturday, and everything that didn’t.

Max Holloway put on one of the most punishing, one-sided displays of boxing in UFC history, landing a record 445 significant strikes in his unanimous decision triumph over Calvin Kattar. Despite absorbing all of that damage, Kattar stood up to the barrage and made it to the final bell.

But just as big as Holloway’s declarative statement for a return shot at the featherweight championship was, the biggest question going into the night centered around the recently retired Khabib Nurmagomedov.

While Nurmagomedov announced his retirement after defeating Justin Gaethje in October, Dana White has been actively trying to draw him back into the fold for one more megafight, with Conor McGregor the likeliest opponent.

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White promised an update on Nurmagomedov’s position on a return fight, and while there wasn’t a definitive answer either way, White’s assertion that Nurmagomedov could be persuaded back into action with a particularly dominant performance in either of two key fights at UFC 257 — set to be headlined by McGregor and Dustin Poirier — left the door open a crack.

With an eye toward the fallout of Saturday’s events, Brett Okamoto answer some of the UFC’s most pressing questions as they project what’s to come.

A rematch versus Khabib Nurmagomedov is Conor McGregor’s to lose

Okamoto: One million percent. Nurmagomedov has spent the past two years basically saying he has no interest in McGregor, but the narrative around McGregor has changed in the past two years. After Nurmagomedov defeated him in 2018, McGregor’s career was really up in the air. It was not a question of whether he was about to retire but rather what he wanted out of the sport at that point.

A money fight once a year? Or did he want to try and get back to where he was in 2016, at the top of the lightweight division?

Would that loss to Nurmagomedov reignite his desire to be the best in the world, the same way he was obsessed with evening the score with Nate Diaz in 2016? It appears to have done the latter. McGregor looks motivated, just as he appeared motivated in 2020, before circumstances out of his control interrupted his plans for the year.

If he looks great versus Poirier and someone hands him a mic, McGregor is going to be the obvious choice to fight Nurmagomedov; and based on White’s comments on the matter, I now expect Nurmagomedov to take that fight, if offered.

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Conor McGregor-Dustin Poirier UFC 257 bout to be on Fight Island Jan. 23

The UFC is formally headed back to Fight Island for its first slate of events in 2021, and it includes the return of former two-weight champion Conor McGregor at UFC 257.

UFC president Dana White informed on Tuesday that McGregor’s nontitle lightweight fight versus Dustin Poirier on Jan. 23 will take place on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The pay-per-view-event will cap off a series of three events in seven days: UFC Fight Night events on Jan. 16 and Jan. 20, followed by UFC 257.

A previously announced featherweight fight between former champion Max Holloway (21-6) and Calvin Kattar (22-4) will headline the card on Jan. 16. According to White, a welterweight matchup featuring 2020 breakout star Khamzat Chimaev (9-0) and title contender Leon Edwards (18-3) will serve as the main event on Jan. 20.

Per sources, the UFC is also finalizing a new welterweight matchup between Michael Chiesa (16-4) and Neil Magny (24-7) for the Jan. 20 event. Chiesa or Magny would presumably serve as a potential backup option for the main event, should anything happen to that 170-pound fight.

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Mike Jackson (1-1) will also return to action on the Jan. 20 card in a 170-pound fight versus Dean Barry (3-1), who will be making his UFC debut, per sources. This will mark Jackson’s first fight since his June 2018 victory over former WWE star CM Punk at UFC 225 in Chicago.

This will mark the UFC’s third trip to Abu Dhabi since the promotion’s operations were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in March. The UFC has held its events exclusively in either Yas Island or Las Vegas since mid-May.

Previously, events in Yas Island have taken place without fans inside Flash Forum; however, there has been discussion around moving events to Etihad Arena and including fans. Those details are not yet completed.

This will also mark the second year in a row that McGregor (22-4) headlines the UFC’s first pay-per-view event of the year. He headlined UFC 246 in January 2020, and knocked out Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in just 40 seconds.

That would turn out to be McGregor’s only appearance of 2020. He has fought only twice since capturing the 155-pound title in 2016.

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Hamilton set to race in Abu Dhabi after negative COVID-19 test

Lewis Hamilton is set to return to action with Mercedes at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after testing negative for COVID-19.

The seven-time world champion missed last weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for COVID on the Monday before the race and was substituted by Williams driver George Russell.

Before the completion of 10 days in isolation in Bahrain, Hamilton tested negative for COVID on Wednesday, letting him to travel on Thursday to Abu Dhabi, where he tested negative for a second time on arrival in the United Arab Emirates.

“The FIA, Formula One and Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team can today confirm that Lewis Hamilton has returned a number of negative COVID-19 tests,” an FIA statement said.

“He has completed his ten-day quarantine in Bahrain and was free to leave the country according to the Bahraini health authority regulations.

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“Lewis has now arrived in Abu Dhabi following confirmation from the authorities that he could do so and after quarantining has now received a further negative test result.

“The FIA COVID-19 protocols remain clear and have not changed. A negative pre-test result is necessary to be given access to the Formula One Paddock as set out in Appendix S to the International Sporting Code and another negative test result no more than 24 hours following arrival is required.

“Lewis, having now tested negative in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi will be granted access to the paddock.”

Hamilton’s return to the paddock means he will be able to take part in the first practice session for this weekend’s season finale.

Russell will return to Williams, meaning his replacement for the Sakhir Grand Prix, Jack Aitken, will not drive this weekend.

The news was confirmed by the FIA on Thursday evening when the governing body announced the official entry list for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with Hamilton at Mercedes and Russell at Williams.

Speaking in a video posted on Instagram on Tuesday, Hamilton stated his week in isolation with the virus had been “one of the hardest weeks that I’ve had for some time”.

Russell concluded ninth in Hamilton’s car at the Sakhir Grand Prix. He was on target to win the race before a mistake at one of Mercedes’ pit stops resulted in the wrong tyres being fitted to his car, forcing him to make an additional pit stop before a puncture ruled him out of the running for victory.

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Khabib announces retirement after defeating Gaethje

Nurmagomedov submits Gaethje with triangle choke in round two despite competing with broken foot; Russian reveals shock retirement following the death of his father: “Today I want to say this is my last fight. No way am I coming here without my father”

Nurmagomedov extended his undefeated record to 29-0 with a second-round submission victory in Abu Dhabi – his third successful title defense, having previously beaten Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.

It was also the Russian’s first fight without his father and coach, Abdulmanap, who died from complications caused by coronavirus earlier this year, and one he went into with a broken foot.

In an emotional post-fight interview

Nurmagomedov stated: “Today I want to say this is my last fight. No way am I coming here without my father. When UFC called me about Justin I spoke with my mother for three days. “She didn’t want me to fight without father and I said this is my last fight – and I have given her my word.

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UFC president Dana White revealed after the fight that Nurmagomedov had competed with a broken foot and that by retiring with a 29-0 record he has to be considered as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time.

Nurmagomedov first claimed the UFC lightweight title with a points decision victory over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 in 2018 before defending the title versus McGregor in Las Vegas later that year at UFC 229.

McGregor took to social media on Saturday night to congratulate Nurmagomedov and confirmed he would continue in the sport, even without the prospect of a rematch with the Russian.

“Good performance @TeamKhabib,” McGregor wrote on Twitter. “I will carry on. Respect and condolences on your father again also. To you and family. Yours sincerely, The McGregors.”

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Anderson Silva says Uriah Hall could be final opponent

All signs point to Anderson Silva making his final walk to the octagon on Halloween.

Silva (34-10 MMA, 17-6 UFC) will face Uriah Hall in a the main event of UFC’s Oct. 31 fight card, which is expected to take place at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.

It’ll have been 17 months since the former longtime UFC middleweight champion participated by the time he enters the octagon for what he projects could be his swan song from the sport. UFC president Dana White his expressed multiple times that “The Spider” will retire after this bout, win or lose.

Silva would not 100 percent commit, but at 45, he’s aware this could be the last one. “Maybe this is my last fight,” Silva told ESPN.

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“That’s why I’m training hard everyday and do my best in my training. My whole team came to help me and everybody stayed in quarantine to start training, and I’m very excited because I think this is my last performance inside the cage for my fans, and we’ll see.”

Although Silva says a fairytale ending would be for him to recollect the 185-pound title that he once defended 10 successive times, he knows that won’t be the case.

But in Hall (15-9 MMA, 8-7 UFC), he sees the perfect dancing partner that has him motivated to potentially cap off his storied career in special fashion.

“The good story is Anderson Silva fights again for the belt and win and done, but that’s in the script,” Silva said.

“You can’t do this in real life, and I’m excited to continue working, continue doing something special and this fight helped me to create something huge inside my mind, for my fans, for legacy. Especially because I have a story with the UFC. I have a great story inside the cage, in the UFC too.”

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Usman vs Masvidal agree to UFC 251

It will still take clearing some legitimate hurdles to reach the finish line, but according to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal have completed negotiations and agreed to terms for a last-minute bout to serve as the main event of Saturday’s UFC 251 card in Abu Dhabi. 

With the new UFC 251 main event now essentially being cleared on paper, both warriors will undergo COVID-19 testing in Las Vegas and immediately enter quarantine while awaiting the results. Should Usman and Masvidal both test negative, then they will be en route to Abu Dhabi as soon as possible from there. With 48 career fights under his belt, Masvidal would serve as the fighter with the most MMA appearances before receiving his first title shot. 

Shortly after the news of the agreement broke, UFC president Dana White posted a hype video to Twitter which seemingly confirmed that he was able to secure the new blockbuster main event. 

The inaugural Fight Island card saw its original headliner fall apart Saturday when top contender Gilbert Burns pulled out of a shot at Usman’s title after testing positive for COVID-19.

Masvidal, the ceremonial BMF champion, was the opponent UFC initially targeted for Usman before negotiations went sideways and Masvidal started a public protest over fighter pay. 

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Masvidal (35-13) spent his July 4th holiday undergoing the first of what would be multiple coronavirus tests while negotiating the fight, per photos released on social media by his manager, Malki Kawa.

The 35-year-old brawler rose from journeyman status in 2019 with a trio of stoppage victories which earned him global fame and Fighter of the Year honors. 

Among the major hurdles facing the proposed fight are the logistics of how the fighters would safely arrive in the United Arab Emirates amid quarantine protocols in such a last-minute scenario.

Usman (16-1) did not board a chartered UFC flight which carried fighters, trainers, media and promotional personnel upon hearing the news of Burns (19-3) pulling out. 

In the event the fight does not take place, the original co-main event of featherweight champion Alexaner Volkanovski taking on former titleholder Max Holloway in a rematch would take top billing. The card also contains a vacant bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and former featherweight king Jose Aldo. 

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