The crown jewel of the UFC's three cards on Fight Island over eight nights in Abu Dhabi takes place on Saturday when a must-see lightweight rematch between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier headlines UFC 257. The pay-per-view card will take place in front of 2,000 socially-distanced fans inside Etihad Arena and will also feature a co-main event at 155 pounds pairing Dan Hooker and former three-time Bellator MMA champion Michael Chandler
With so much star power atop the marquee, there are no shortage of storylines heading into this one as McGregor enters the Octagon for just the third time since 2016. Let's take a closer look at what to watch for entering this weekend.
1. Is Khabib retired or not?
UFC president Dana White's big announcement during last Saturday's broadcast amounted to nothing more than a cryptic "maybe" following his in-person meeting with the unbeaten lightweight champion. Whether Khabib Nurmagomedov truly is going to watch the McGregor-Poirier and Hooker-Chandler fights before deciding if anyone "impresses him" enough to come back for one more fight or this turns out to be a marketing trick from White, the champion's presence looms largely over this card. But it also confuses matters even more at a time when some form of clarity atop this historically-loaded division would be most advantageous to fans.
McGregor-Poirier could've very easily been promoted to being contested for the vacant or interim lightweight titles. Just the same, the UFC could've announced that the winners of both fights on Saturday would face off next for the undisputed title. Instead, fans will exit such a loaded PPV card not knowing who will fight next for the title or whether Nurmagomedov will continue on as champion. From that standpoint, this feels like a rare miss for the UFC at a time when the potential for crowning McGregor as champion one more time seems like an opportunity too rich to pass up.
2. McGregor-Poirier I means nothing and everything
The Poirier who suffered a first-round TKO against McGregor in their 2014 featherweight bout is so different from the battle-tested veteran he is today at age 32. Because of that, trying to predict how Saturday's rematch will play out based on that result feels futile. McGregor, then a rising star during his initial 145-pound run, successfully utilized mind games to get under Poirier's skin and overwhelm him. The loss marked a distinct turning point in Poirier's career as he moved up to lightweight and has gone 10-2 (1 NC) since that defeat while becoming one of the sport's pound-for-pound best.
Yet, for how competitive the rematch is expected to be, McGregor has still been installed as a 3-1 betting favorite. Why is that? For as good as Poirier has become, McGregor's greatest strength as an accurate knockout puncher who is most dangerous in the early going remains Poirier's greatest weakness. Should McGregor defeat him a second time, the method of victory will likely look very similar to the manner in which he first stopped Poirier six years ago.
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3. McGregor should have no performance excuses
Given his inactivity in the UFC since conquering a second weight division in 2016 and becoming a global superstar, exactly which direction McGregor's career was headed at age 32 seemed unknown before the Poirier fight was announced. Thanks to his PPV success, growing whiskey brand and one-night windfall against boxing legend Floyd Mayweather in 2017, McGregor possessed the kind of financial security few UFC athletes ever experience.
Had he decided to become simply a "celebrity fighter" and take on big names for large paychecks until retirement, critics and fans alike would understand. Instead, McGregor showed his true fighting spirit by being so willing to take on a task as dangerous as Poirier, even with the UFC title not being at stake. McGregor's recent social media pictures also show how serious his commitment was to cutting back down to 155 pounds, which is a great sign that he attacked this training camp without cutting any corners — something McGregor admitted he didn't do ahead of his fight with Nurmagomedov at UFC 229.
4. Hooker-Chandler might be sleeper fight of the year
It won't get the hype it deserves behind the large shadow casted by McGregor's return, but this weekend's co-main event is among the best fights the promotion could make on paper in any division. Not only does this lightweight duel have huge stakes in regards to the overall title picture, the savage tendencies of Hooker and Chandler is almost guaranteed to produce fireworks for as long as it lasts.
Chandler's vulnerability to big strikes has long made him an action star, thanks to the dramatic twists of momentum which fueled his two-fight rivalry with Eddie Alvarez. Hooker, meanwhile, has the kind of technical brilliance that could one day see him as a champion. Whether he gets there might depend on if he continues to be as willing to take on damage as he was in absolute wars against Edson Barboza, Paul Felder and Poirier.
5. Chandler couldn't have asked for a better welcome
After spending years as the face of Bellator MMA, Chandler became a sought-after free agent in 2020 and made big headlines by signing with UFC at age 34. Although he was forced to wait initially before being given a debut opponent -- and even served as a backup for the Nurmagomedov-Justin Gaethje title bout -- Chandler has been given every opportunity by White and the UFC to become a star.
While no one is expecting a fight against Hooker to be a picnic, a victory for Chandler could propel him instantly toward a title shot depending upon Nurmagomedov's future. The title fight could also come against McGregor, which would bring with it a shot at crossover stardom. Considering how deep the division is, this one fight might allow Chandler a chance to cut the line immediately.
Who will win McGregor vs. Poirier 2, and how will each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC 257, all from the incomparable expert who's up more than $22,000 on MMA in the past 23 months, and find out.