Dana White has confirmed his plans for Abu Dhabi to host Conor McGregor’s comeback against Dustin Poirier in January - although the UFC president said it won't be a title fight since he expects lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov to compete again.
Although yet to be officially announced, the 155lb bout is scheduled to headline UFC 257 on January 23 (January 24 in the UAE). Last week, White said Poirier had already signed off on the clash, a rematch of their 2014 encounter, and that he was waiting on McGregor to follow suit.
The former two-division champion has not fought since January, and in June announced his retirement from the sport. McGregor, 32, said he had grown frustrated with the options made available to him by the UFC.
Abu Dhabi has now emerged as the frontrunner to stage the Irishman's return to the octagon, with the new Etihad Arena expected to host the UFC's next stop in the capital, whenever that may be. The promotion's two recent Fight Island series took place at Flash Forum on Yas Island, with the most recent concluding on October 25.
Asked by reporters immediately following Wednesday morning’s finale to his Contender Series if he was working on McGregor-Poirier for Abu Dhabi, White responded simply: “Yeah”.
Pressed if it would be a one-off event or part of a third Fight Island series, White smiled and said: “I’ll let you know when it’s ready to let you know.”
However, White did confirm that the bout would not be for the lightweight belt despite Nurmagomedov announcing his retirement last month.
"Khabib’s going to fight [again]," he added. "I believe he’s going to fight. It’s not for the title.”
An emotional Nurmagomedov shocked the sport by calling time on his celebrated career after his successful title defence against Justin Gaethje at UFC 254, which brought down the curtain on a second Fight Island run. Competing for the first time since his father's death in July, the victory lifted Nurmagomedov's professional record to 29-0.
At the weekend, the Dagestan native took to Instagram to show that he was recently tested by USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) – the 47th time in his career – prompting speculation about a possible comeback. White spoke to Nurmagomedov, 32, not long after the Gaethje win and subsequently said he thought the unbeaten champion would fight once more to fulfill his father's wish of reaching 30-0.
Asked by The Mac Life on Wednesday about Nurmagomedov's recent test, White said: "I didn't know that happened. But I told you guys that I think he's going to go to 30. He's still testing. Why the hell would you want to test if you're not going to fight?
“He hasn’t committed, but I feel like he’s going to. And I’m not really pushing him. We talked about it, and he just fought. Let him take some time, spend some time with his family, spend the holidays. There’s no rush.”