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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 8 March 2021

Exclusive: Conor McGregor promises a performance 'like a Picasso painting' against Dustin Poirier at UFC 257

Irishman prepares to make his UAE bow in Sunday's headline event at Etihad Arena

Conor McGregor is promising a masterpiece of Picasso proportions on his UAE debut in Abu Dhabi on Sunday that will have lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov “hiding under his bed watching it”.

The former two-division champion, 32, makes his long-awaited comeback to the octagon in the rematch against Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 at Etihad Arena.

McGregor, who last fought more than a year ago, prevailed in the pair’s 2014 encounter at featherweight at UFC 178, sealing the TKO in one minute 46 seconds.

The Irishman has said he’s "preparing a masterpiece" this time around, as he seeks to power through Poirier and set up a shot next for his old lightweight belt.

“It’s going to look like a Picasso painting,” McGregor told The National. “I’m going to go in and do my work, paint my picture. I’ve many shots in my book, in my arsenal, and I will utilise them all. Whatever Dustin can take, he will be getting."

Asked how much he envisaged Poirier would be able to handle, McGregor said: “I don’t think much, to be honest. Not any more than he could last time.”

McGregor predicted last week that he would knock out the former interim lightweight champion inside 60 seconds. However, Poirier’s coach, Mike Brown, told the MMA Junkie website that the longer the fight goes the more it favours the American. Brown questioned McGregor’s perceived past struggles with conditioning, saying it is “not his strong suit”.

McGregor, though, said: “I’m going to aim for a cleaner shot and a better time. That’s the goal. However, the goal is also more octagon time.

“And then their side is saying things about endurance and durability in the later rounds, so I may bust him up, take a back step after it and just go into those later rounds and we’ll see what’s up then.”

McGregor has spent the past couple of weeks in the UAE having been based in Dubai for the final stretch of his preparations, including a week of “hard sessions” before coming to Abu Dhabi. Now acclimatised, his focus was on making weight on Friday.

“If you fail to prepare you’re preparing to fail,” McGregor said. “We prepare for a dominant victory, a flawless victory. We put it on the time zone, we’ve been on the clock, we’ve been leaving no stone unturned.

“Very excited, very driven. There’s a fire in my belly and I look forward to performing on Sunday morning.”

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McGregor destroys Cerrone at UFC 246

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McGregor said he has not felt this motivated since the beginning of his famed featherweight run, a period highlighted by notable victories against the likes of Dennis Siver, Poirier and Chad Mendes. The run concluded with the defeat of then-champion Jose Aldo in 13 seconds to unify the title.

McGregor said he is fuelled now partly by a disappointing 2020 in terms of competition. Having targeted a three-fight “season” that began with the 40-second knockout of Donald Cerrone last January, McGregor retired from the sport in June – the third time he had done so in four years - citing frustrations with the options made available to him by the UFC.

Yet he said he is excited by a wealth of possible match-ups ahead, with the lightweight division his priority. Potential opponents include the winner of Sunday’s penultimate bout between Michael Chandler and Dan Hooker, No 1-ranked contender Justin Gaethje, fast-rising Charles Oliveira, or even a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz or a rematch with Max Holloway, should the Hawaiian move up again to lightweight.

McGregor said he plans to compete three more times this year after securing victory on Sunday.

“I’m going to put in a stint at 155 lbs,” he said. “I’ve got my frame down to 155; was a lot of hard work and I’m not prepared to give it up. I’m about continuing.

“Two days after this bout I’ll be back training, preparing and then we’ll see what happens. Hopefully more opportunities arise, and quick.”

For the moment, that doesn’t seem to include a rematch against Nurmagomedov. The unbeaten Dagestani, also 32, retired in October, but met with UFC president Dana White in Abu Dhabi last week to discuss his future.

White later announced that Nurmagomedov would be watching UFC 257 with interest, apparently telling him should “something spectacular” happen in the two lightweight clashes that it could tempt him back into the octagon. Nurmagomedov, who defeated McGregor by fourth-round submission in 2018, is unbeaten in 29 professional bouts.

“He’s going to be hiding under his bed watching it; he’s going to be hiding under his duvet watching it,” McGregor said. “So don’t be minding that. That was a flat, blank no [about a comeback], and it’s dragged out.

“So I look forward to seeing what’s being said after this. So we’ll see; the world will see what it is soon enough.”

McGregor said competing in Abu Dhabi, where Nurmagomedov enjoys huge support, does not concern him at all.

“Our beef is strictly between myself and himself,” he said. “I have many friends and many comrades out here, and I look forward to performing for them.”

Even given the uncertainty regarding Nurmagomedov, McGregor views Sunday as the clear prelude to a title fight.

“It’ll be a lightweight world title next,” he said. “Who will it be, will the question.”

On whom he wants to face next, McGregor said: “It actually doesn’t matter. The who doesn’t matter, to be honest. Competition, and me performing - that’s what I’m excited about.”

Like the first two events in the latest Fight Island series, UFC 257 will be open to fans. Local organisers released another batch of tickets late on Wednesday, lifting the attendance closer to 3,000. The other two events were capped at 2,000.

“That’s excellent. Of course, it’s very exciting,” McGregor said. “I’m happy to be giving the fans entertainment and people around the world also. It’s always great to have fans in attendance. It’s always a different pop, and especially when I’m fighting.

“It’s still not mega for me, but I’m sure the 3,000 fans will make themselves heard and I’m ready for it.

“They’re avid fight fans. I know they’re avid grappling fans as well. I believe it’s taught in schools out here, which is phenomenal and I would love to see that in my own country.

“They’ve been very hospitable towards me since I’ve been here. So I’m excited to go in and put on a performance for them.”

McGregor described his first visit to the UAE as “amazing” – he has previously fought in Jordan, with the Cage Warriors promotion in 2011 – and has been working also on a number of business opportunities alongside his management company Paradigm Sports Management's regional office while in the Emirates.

“It’s all systems go for sure,” he said. “And I wouldn’t change a goddamn thing. I love it. It keeps me busy, keeps me active. And I’m very happy with where I’m at.

“It’s certainly big business out here in this region. The opportunities are endless, for sure. So I’m going to come out and going to put on a show.

“There’s a lot of talks going on. And obviously they’re saying this is the new fight capital of the world, so a lot to look forward to.”

Updated: January 22, 2021 03:34 PM

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