Fight Island set for 1st of 3 straight fight nights as McGregor’s return to Octagon looms - GulfToday

Fight Island set for 1st of 3 straight fight nights as McGregor’s return to Octagon looms


Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar face off during the UFC weigh-in at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island. Courtesy: Getty Images / UFC

Fight Island at Abu Dhabi will be in the thick of mixed martial arts action for a third time as 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.

The first of three straight fight nights at Etihad Arena on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island kicks off on 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, while the main event of Wednesday’s ESPN card will see UFC welterweights Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny pitted in the octagon.

That’s just an appetizer for UFC 257 on Jan.24 when Conor 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’s gut feeling? “I feel like he’s got one more in him and he’ll say yes.”

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

McGregor (22-4) fights for the first time since his knockout win against Donald Cerrone last January and for only the third time since 2016. The 32-year-old McGregor, who became the biggest star in MMA with his heavy fists and self-promotional acumen, stayed away from the cage in large part because of his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, his blossoming liquor venture, retirement claims and multiple arrests.

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.”

They’ve buried the hatchet -- as businessmen are inclined to do with multi-millions of dollars at stake -- and White said McGregor seems as focused and confident about fighting as he’s been in years.

UFC decided not to pipe in artificial crowd noise, use cardboard cutouts or any other type of gimmicks other sports leagues used to enhance the atmosphere during its broadcasts.

The fight night noise had been simply raw fist-on-face, though starting Saturday, about 2,000 fans are expected to attend each event in Abu Dhabi.

“I’ll do whatever these guys want,” White said. “If they want to put 2,000 or two people in here, I don’t care. But if we’re going into a venue back in the states or anywhere else, I’m not going to put anybody in there unless I can sell it out.”

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