Conor McGregor is not looking past Dustin Poirier, but “The Notorious” definitely had a big picture in mind as he prepared for their UFC 257 main event Saturday on “Fight Island.” And that big picture includes staying active and eventually fighting for the lightweight belt.
Current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov has made it clear he intends to retire, and it seems a matter of if — not when — Nurmagomedov relinquishes the belt, so Saturday’s main event has huge title implications.
ESPN has Poirier ranked No. 3 and McGregor ranked No. 10 in the world at 155 pounds. It’ll be McGregor’s first fight since a 40-second knockout over Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 in January 2020, and his first time at lightweight since a 2018 loss to Nurmagomedov. McGregor and Poirier fought before, with McGregor winning a featherweight fight by first-round TKO at UFC 178 in 2014.
McGregor (22-4) has won three of his past four fights, with the only loss during that span coming to Nurmagomedov in a title bout. The Ireland native was the first concurrent double champion in UFC history, winning the lightweight belt against Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November 2016 while holding the featherweight title. McGregor, 32, is the biggest moneymaker in UFC history and even transcended MMA in 2017, crossing over to boxing in a match against Floyd Mayweather.
Poirier (26-6, 1 NC) has just one loss in his past eight fights, also to Nurmagomedov. The Louisiana native, who trains out of American Top Team in Florida, is coming off a unanimous-decision win over Dan Hooker last June. Poirier, 32, is 10-2 (1 NC) since that 2014 loss to McGregor and has been a perennial contender at lightweight.
In the co-main event, former Bellator three-time lightweight champion Michael Chandler will make his long-awaited UFC debut against Hooker. ESPN has Hooker No. 6 and Chandler No. 7 in the world at lightweight. The winner would also put himself in the title conversation.
Also on the card, Jessica Eye and Joanne Calderwood meet in a women’s flyweight grudge match; Amanda Ribas faces Marina Rodriguez in a women’s strawweight contender bout; and top prospect Arman Tsarukyan takes on Matt Frevola in a lightweight contest.
Fight in progress:
It’s early in his UFC career, but Albazi sure seems like he’ll be a handful for even the best fighters in the flyweight division.
Albazi defeated Zhumagulov via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a complete performance to open UFC 257 on Saturday. Albazi got it done with every aspect of MMA, from striking to wrestling to grappling.
“I like to finish fights to be honest,” Albazi said. “But Zhalgas is very tough. I hope to get a finish next time.”
Amir Albazi dedicates his win tonight to city of Baghdad, which was recently hit by a pair of suicide bombings. Albazi has a great story, his family fled from Iraq when he was 7, but he still loves it and wants to be a symbol of hope for his birthplace.
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) January 24, 2021
Albazi was in Zhumagulov’s face from the opening bell. Zhumagulov got some licks in early, swinging with hard punches and landing a few of them in the first round. Albazi, though, would not be deterred. He moved forward with feints followed by combinations and never let Zhumagulov truly get comfortable in the cage. He took Zhumagulov down briefly at the end of the round and then did so again in the third, taking Zhumagulov’s back.
Albazi, 27, has won three straight, including his first two in the UFC. The Sweden-born fighter of Iraqi descent has only lost to former UFC flyweight Jose Torres in his career. Zhumagulov, a 32-year-old Kazakhstan native, has dropped two in a row and is still searching for his first UFC victory.
Still to come:
Lightweight: Dustin Poirier (26-6 1 NC, 18-5 1 NC UFC, +250) vs. Conor McGregor (22-4, 10-2 UFC, -310)
Lightweight: Dan Hooker (20-9, 10-5 UFC, -140)vs. Michael Chandler (21-5, 0-0 UFC, +120)
Women’s flyweight: Jessica Eye (15-8 1 NC, 5-7 1 NC UFC +100) vs. Joanne Calderwood (14-5, 6-5 UFC, -120)
Middleweight: Andrew Sanchez (13-5, 5-3 UFC, +120) vs. Makhmud Muradov (24-6, 2-0 UFC, -140)
Strawweight: Marina Rodriguez (12-1-2, 2-1-2 UFC, +260) vs. Amanda Ribas (10-1, 4-0 UFC, -330)
Lightweight: Matt Frevola (8-1-1, 2-1-1 UFC, +475) vs. Arman Tsarukyan (15-2, 2-1 UFC, -650)
Middleweight: Brad Tavares (17-7, 12-6 UFC, -125) vs. Antonio Carlos Junior (11-4 1 NC, 7-4 1 NC UFC, +105)
Women’s bantamweight: Julianna Pena (10-4, 5-2 UFC, +110) vs. Sara McMann (12-5, 6-5 UFC, -130)
Light heavyweight: Khalil Rountree Jr. (9-4, 2-2 UFC, -330) vs. Marcin Prachnio (13-5, 0-3 UFC, +260)