Conor McGregor v Dustin Poirier: Assessing the three headline bouts at UFC Fight Island 3

Irish superstar to make his return to the Octagon in Abu Dhabi on January 23

The UFC has confirmed its return to Abu Dhabi next month, for a third Fight Island series. Featuring three events across eight days from January 16-23, each show’s headline bout has been announced. They’re all blockbusters, concluding with Conor McGregor’s eagerly anticipated comeback.

Max Holloway v Calvin Kattar, Fight Night 1 (Jan 16)

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 10: Max Holloway poses on the scale during the UFC 251 official weigh-in inside Flash Forum at UFC Fight Island  on July 10, 2020 on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The former featherweight champion, one of the most popular athletes in mixed martial arts, plots his path back to another title shot. Holloway (21-6) was defeated on points against champion Alexander Volkanovski in their rematch at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi in July, the second encounter between the pair going the way of the first.

Again, it was viewed as a controversial result. Holloway, a record-breaker at featherweight, ranks eighth on the UFC's pound-for-pound list. In Kattar, he faces a fighter very much on the rise: the American recorded two notable victories in 2020, including his own appearance on Fight Island in the summer, when he saw off the dangerous Dan Ige by unanimous decision. Ranked 6th in the division, this represents a golden chance for Kattar (22-4) to leapfrog Holloway in title contention.

Leon Edwards v Khamzat Chimaev, Fight Night 2 (Jan 20)

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 19: Khamzat Chimaev of Chechnya celebrates after his knockout victory over Gerald Meerschaert in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Originally booked for earlier this month, Edwards had to withdraw from the bout after contracting Covid 19. The Englishman, the welterweight division’s No 3-ranked challenger, is one of the most talented athletes in the division, but hasn’t fought since July last year. Boasting an 18-3 record, he rides an incredibly impressive eight-fight win streak.

As for his opponent? Chimaev is the breakout star of 2020, blitzing through his first three fights in the UFC. He won comfortably twice in 10 days on the inaugural Fight Island in July – a promotion record – then needed only 17 seconds to triumph on US debut in September.

His profile has grown exponentially, with Chimaev (9-0) now must-see TV. Now ranked 15th at welterweight, this is arguably the Chechen’s first real test – and what a challenge it presents.

Dustin Poirier v Conor McGregor, UFC 257 (Jan 23)

FILE - In this Sept. 27, 2014, file photo, Conor McGregor, left, and Dustin Poirier, exchange hits during their mixed martial arts bout in Las Vegas. UFC President Dana White confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday, Nov. 19,2020, that McGregor has officially signed an agreement for a probable 155-pound fight with Poirier, ending McGregor's latest retirement from mixed martial arts. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

What a way to end the UFC’s latest residency. A rematch of their 2014 encounter, when McGregor cruised to a first-round TKO, this constitutes an altogether different challenge. And not just that it plays out at lightweight, instead of featherweight.

Poirier has grown to become one the division's most dangerous athletes, a former interim champion who last time out in June contested a Fight of the Year contender against Dan Hooker, where he won on points. The No 2-ranked challenger (26-6) has Abu Dhabi experience, too, losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242 in September last year.

McGregor, ranked at No 4, remains an enthralling fighter, inside and outside the octagon. The former two-division champion (22-4) last fought in January, marking 14 months away from the sport by crushing Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds. Returning from another short-lived "retirement", still arguably the UFC's biggest draw.