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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 8 March 2021

Dana White exclusive: It's my job to make Khabib-McGregor II happen ... if Conor beats Poirier at UFC 257

UFC president tells John McAuley next Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi likely to be in the summer 'with something big

Dana White says if Conor McGregor wins on comeback in Abu Dhabi on Sunday then it’s “his job” to make the rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov, while the UFC president targets the summer for the promotion’s return to the capital “with something big”.

The world’s leading mixed martial arts organisation brings to a close its third Fight Island series with UFC 257, where McGregor enters the octagon for the first time in more than a year when he takes on Dustin Poirier at Etihad Arena.

The former two-division champion is regarded as one of several potential opponents that may tease Nurmagomedov out of retirement. The current lightweight belt-holder, 32, called time on his career in October, immediately after defeating Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi to move to 29-0, but he continues to be linked with a return to the octagon.

Nurmagomedov met with White last Friday, where he apparently said that “something spectacular” from McGregor-Poirier or the co-main event between Michael Chandler and Dan Hooker could tempt him back into competition for one more fight. He reportedly cited also Charles Oliveira as a possible final opponent.

However, despite the wealth of elite talent in the division, a rematch of Nurmagomedov’s money-spinning 2018 clash with McGregor remains the bout that holds most worldwide appeal, with White saying a second encounter between the pair would be the biggest in UFC history.

“Let’s see how this goes [Sunday],” White told The National. “It’s going to depend on what happens then. If Conor goes in there and puts on an unbelievable performance, I’m probably going to have to go get it done.

“Everybody thinks that Khabib doesn’t want to fight Conor. Khabib hates Conor and Conor hates Khabib. If that’s the fight to make that’s my job to get it done.”

McGregor and Nurmagomedov are not only long-term rivals, but they remain the two most prominent athletes in the sport. Their initial match-up little more than three years ago at UFC 229, which Nurmagomedov won by fourth-round submission, set the promotion’s record for the highest pay-per-view event, with 2.4 million buys in the United States.

While White said the fact both fighters are “insanely rich” makes booking a rematch more difficult, he said: “You said it yourself: it’s a massive money fight; both these guys are going to make a lot of money. Call that No 1.

“No 2: it’s an important fight to make, for both their legacies. Because, if you’re Conor, you want to avenge that loss against Khabib. If you’re Khabib, you want to beat him twice, to prove, you know?”

White plans to meet with Nurmagomedov - “one of the best guys to deal with in the sport” - next week in Las Vegas, where he expects to have a definitive answer on the champion’s future.

“He’s the same always,” White said. “If it was he’s never going to fight again or he might fight after this weekend, he always acts the same. He’s very levelheaded and even keel. And like I said, the guy doesn’t have to worry about the financial, in any way shape or form.”

Asked about the likelihood of Nurmagomedov’s final fight taking place in Abu Dhabi, given his affinity to the emirate and his popularity throughout the region, White said: “I don’t know. It depends on where the world is at that time."

More immediately, White ruled out a March return to Abu Dhabi for the UFC. There had been speculation that the promotion had settled on a fourth Fight Island series for then, but White said he was aiming more for June or July – and most probably another three-event stint.

“Let’s just say this: I have a meeting on Friday with the powers that be here,” White said. “I’ve had an incredible relationship with these guys for many years and I’m working on something big right now."

Pressed on what that might be, White added: “A fight. A big fight. Listen, if I get this deal done on Friday, I believe that if we come back here again, no matter who the fight is or whatever it is, we’ll probably be able to have full fans again. You know how the Covid thing is, it kind of dies down in the summertime, so it should be the perfect storm.

“I just don’t need to [do another Fight Island] in March. I probably need to by summer. But we’re still working on them; I’m still putting my plan together. I’ll have it dialed in by Friday before my meeting.”

Although White has previously stated the UFC was looking at events in other parts of Asia, he said the recent track record in Abu Dhabi means he does not need to take the promotion anywhere else.

The UFC signed a five-year deal with Abu Dhabi in April 2019, which guaranteed a title fight once every September or October. Fight Island was born from the need to provide international athletes the opportunity to compete during the coronavirus pandemic, with the UFC alternating between their own facility in Las Vegas and Fight Island. The Etihad Arena opened last Saturday, with UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Kattar. Welcoming a limited amount of fans, it marked the first time the promotion hosted spectators since last March.

“I could stay right at home at the Apex and come to Abu Dhabi,” White said. “I like the set-up that we have, and now these guys built the Etihad Arena out here, I can do this for ever.

"I love this place so much we can do every fight here. We can do every fight for ever, for the rest of my life here in Abu Dhabi.

“Wait until it opens up and we can really bring fans back in and pack that arena. There’s so many cool things that we could do here in Abu Dhabi and I’m looking forward to it. The fans have to experience this.”

Looking ahead to Sunday, and McGregor’s confident mindset going into his rematch with Poirier at UFC 257 – the Irishman has predicted victory inside the first minute, White said: “This kid’s on. He’s ready to go. When you’ve got the Conor saying I’m going to knock Dustin Poirier out in 60 seconds, you know you got the guy that you fell in love with as a fan.

“The kid’s special anyway. But when you can go in and predict what you’re going to do against a guy like Dustin Poirier, against a guy like Jose Aldo, against a guy like Eddie Alvarez, when you go in and tell people before it happens about exactly what you’re going to do, I don’t know if it’s been done since [Muhammad] Ali.

When’s that been done? I don’t ever remember a time where a fighter would call exactly what he was going to do and how he was going to do it.

“Conor has that thing, he has that superstar quality about him that you can’t teach. You either have it or you don’t.”

Updated: January 20, 2021 01:51 PM

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