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UFC 257 Preview: Conor McGregor is in superb shape ahead of his return to the Octagon

January 20, 2021January 7th, 2022

THE king is back! Conor McGregor, the biggest pay-per-view star in fight sports, returns to the Octagon this weekend aiming to kick-off the three-fight calendar campaign he had intended to deliver in 2020.

Leading lightweight contender Dustin Poirier will be in the opposing corner on Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, when former foes collide once more, six years on from their first meeting at UFC 178 where Conor’s first round TKO was the springboard towards a historic champ-champ campaign.

The co-main event also features a fight that’s very much a part of the unofficial UFC lightweight tournament, as former Bellator kingpin Michael Chandler will make his eagerly-anticipated UFC debut against capable Kiwi Dan Hooker.

McGregor was unable to capitalise on last January’s 40-second blow-out of Cowboy Cerrone due to the global pandemic and subsequently spent the last year honing his craft; albeit from aboard private jets, luxury super yachts and in five-star hotel suites.

With lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov this week insisting he will remain retired, the UFC 155lb division has become a duck hunt with Saturday’s quartet joined by former title contender Justin Gaethje and resurgent Brazilian Charles Oliveira all in the mix.

This fight is just McGregor’s second at 155lb in more than four years. After starching Eddie Alvarez to add lightweight gold to his featherweight belt in 2016, he cashed in by boxing Floyd Mayweather in a move that kept him out of the Octagon until 2018’s ill-fated return against newly crowned Khabib.

It took Conor another 15 months to return against Cerrone, which is an outrageous amount of inactivity for a fighter who readily admits he’s at his best when kept busy. Poirier meanwhile has evolved into a genuine lightweight contender in the same time period.

He’s had eight fights since 2016, losing just one – his own title challenge to Khabib here last year; picked up the interim championship belt and cashed six $50,000 fight night performance bonuses.

 

 

The 32-year-old American has improved exponentially since their first fight down at featherweight. But while his recent exploits at 155lb have defined his career, he’s also been in plenty of wars which suggests McGregor – easily the biggest puncher in the division – will land shots often and early.

How Poirier reacts to being back in the McGregor spotlight – one brighter than any other in the history of the sport – along with Conor’s heavy left hand will likely define the outcome. If ‘The Diamond’ can get through the first 10 minutes then McGregor should start to tire allowing the Louisiana native to make inroads into the fight.

But McGregor is in incredible shape. Any question marks about his commitment to his craft seem ridiculous now. A father now, he’s behaving so much more mature than he was when climbing the ladder, as you would imagine. No trash talk required, he’s all business.

When Conor is dialled in like this is when he’s at his most destructive. ‘Mystic Mac’ has suggested the fight may not go 60-seconds, but Poirier’s not going to make the same mistake twice and is much more durable at 155lb. But is his chin durable enough?

Keep one eye on new boy Chandler in the co-main event too. Hooker is a tried and tested UFC veteran, a top contender no doubt, but he won’t have faced anyone quite like Chandler, whose high calibre collegiate wrestling base makes him a real dark horse in this exciting lightweight tournament mix.

My recommendations:

Conor McGregor to win in Round 1 or 2 (21/20

Conor Mcgregor by KO, TKO or DQ in Round 2 (23/5)

Michael Chandler to win by decision