Tagged in: Dana White

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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Conor McGregor willing to fight Dustin Poirier but says it has to be in 2020

Conor McGregor is closer to returning to the Octagon than he has been in months.

McGregor tweeted Thursday that he “accepted the UFC offer” to fight Dustin Poirier.

But while McGregor accepted the rematch versus Poirier, whom he beat at UFC 178 in 2014 via TKO, he insisted that “it must happen in 2020.”

UFC had offered the fight to McGregor two weeks ago for UFC 257 — the Jan. 23 pay-per-view event.

McGregor asked UFC to book the fight on either the Nov. 21 or Dec. 12 pay-per-view card. Sources said McGregor’s team is now awaiting a reply from UFC on its counteroffer. Both upcoming pay-per-view cards — UFC 255 and 256 — have openings at the moment.

Last week, Cody Garbrandt was forced to pull out of the UFC 255 main event versus flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo due to a torn biceps. As a result, he has been replaced by the lesser-known Alex Perez.

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As for UFC 256 on Dec. 12, ESPN reported earlier this week that it had lost its main event after welterweight champion Kamaru Usman asked for more time to train for Gilbert Burns.

UFC has attempted to book a Stipe Miocic-Francis Ngannou fight for the heavyweight title or a Jorge Masvidal-Colby Covington fight instead, but neither was locked in.

McGregor hasn’t fought since his 40-second TKO triumph over Donald Cerrone in January. Before that fight, he said he was hoping to fight three times in 2020. However, the coronavirus pandemic and failed negotiations with UFC have stalled his return, leading to a public feud of sorts with UFC president Dana White.

McGregor also tweeted that he will still donate $500,000 to Poirier’s Good Fight Foundation charity, as he promised to do when the pair tried to set up a charity sparring match last week.

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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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Jones teases multiyear holdout, expects UFC deal

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones said if he needs to sit out several years to stand up for what he considers is right, it’s something he will be remembered for more than his fighting. But he is optimistic the UFC ultimately will meet him halfway in negotiations.

Jones has said he would be willing to vacate his belt after talks for a superfight with heavyweight knockout artist Francis Ngannou fell through. Jones and fellow UFC superstar Jorge Masvidal are waging social media battles with the UFC and promotion president Dana White to get more money and rise revenue sharing among fighters.

“I’m not asking for anything outrageous, and I know we’re in a pandemic, and I know when you’re a multimillionaire and you’re asking for more, it makes you seem like this greedy person,” Jones said on Steve-O’s “Wild Ride” podcast. “I’m very aware of all of this, but I’m also very aware that I have the voice and the platform to make difference.

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“Most of the guys who are doing the absolute worst are not in the position that they can say publicly, ‘I have a second job, I’m borrowing money from my parents.’ I know so many fighters who are living in the Jackson Wink MMA gym because they can’t afford to have their own apartment, and they’re UFC fighters. So this is sad.

“And if I have to have a bad relationship with Dana, sit out for two years, three years, to bring light to what’s happening, then these are the things people remember you for more than winning belts. I stood for the younger fighters.”

White, who has described Jones as the greatest MMA fighter of all time, recently stated Jones can fight whenever he wants.

He said Jones and Masvidal both signed new contracts within the past year.

“Being the greatest of all time doesn’t mean you get $30 million. It’s being able to sell,” said White, who added that UFC walked Jones through the recent numbers on his fights. “[Jones] said, ‘I don’t give a f— what the numbers are. I want what I want.’

“That’s not how life works.” Jones said he wished he had a better relationship with White.

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Nevada suspends combat events until March 25th

The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) conducted a meeting Saturday and suspended all fight permits until March 25. The Athletic’s Mike Coppinger reported earlier on Saturday that the NSAC had suspended all combat sporting events indefinitely due to the threat of coronavirus. 

NSAC executive director Bob Bennett released a statement to MMA Fighting regarding The Athletic’s report:

”I don’t know where they received that information,” Bennett wrote. “Our next commission meeting is March 25 and we will have factual information to share with you and the public. The chairman and commissioners will make that decision at the appropriate time.”

The UFC is expected to hold two events at their APEX facility in Las Vegas on March 28 and April 11. If the ban is extended past March 25 into April, it would also impact Premier Boxing Championships and Top Rank Boxing events currently scheduled.

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Dana White vows to hold fights somewhere else

Despite the NSAC ban, and nearly every other sports league in the country postponing or canceling events due to the pandemic, UFC president Dana White is vowing to still hold the fights.

White, appearing on ESPN on Saturday night, insisted that he would find new venues for the two rescheduled events that were moved to the APEX facility.

“We’re working to find new locations, but the fights will go on. They will continue,” White stated on ESPN. “We’re not stopping. We will keep finding a way to put on the fights. I’m in the fight business. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and this stuff happens to me every weekend. I’m used to this stuff, not at this level obviously, but this is what we do. We always make sure that the fights happen and they’re going to continue to happen.

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