UFC 257 Preview
“Surprise, surprise! … The King is back!” The UFC returns this weekend, kicking off the year with a Conor McGregor show featuring exciting supporting acts, starring the debutant lightweight Michael Chandler and Scottish Flyweight Joanne Calderwood. Will ‘The Notorious’ continue his return to the lightweight throne? Or will ‘The Diamond’ Dustin Poirier have revenge? Niall Schiefler Fancey has a look at the main event of the card, and what it could lead to.
2020 wasn’t a year to remember for most companies, but the Ultimate Fighting Championship was an exception. When all other live sporting events were put on hold with no prospects of returning, Dana White continued with business in a way that put much larger organisations to shame. Embracing the crowd-less format, the UFC successfully put on 41 events behind closed doors between ‘UFC Apex’, a production centre in Nevada, and ‘Fight Island’, otherwise known as Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.
Like 2020, this year will commence with a Conor McGregor spectacle. ‘The Notorious’ will face ‘The Diamond’ Dustin Poirier in a rematch which, at first, seemed to be an underwhelming fight for the first McGregor pay per view in over a year, especially when it was confirmed that the lightweight title would not be on the line. However, as the promotion builds, the attraction, and importance, of this match becomes apparent.
Poirier has improved drastically since 2014, when he first faced the Irish superstar at UFC 178. He himself knows it, sounding confident in saying: “I believe I am the number one contender…when those lights turn on and Bruce [Buffer] introduces us, I’m gonna stop Conor.” Since that meeting, it is the American who has amassed more wins, many of those against top ranked lightweight contenders. His tough chin and fast hands have earned him the number three spot in the lightweight rankings, and represent an exciting stylistic matchup with the MMA’s boxing king.
“I have transformed my body into a lightweight frame again, I have done it healthily, I’m full of energy, full of vitality and I’m ready to showcase myself at 155lbs, at my absolute best,” says a calm, focused McGregor of his slimmer physique. Both Conor and his coaches claim the ‘Champ Champ’ is in the best shape of his career, citing stamina and endurance in particular: historically an area of weakness in an otherwise well rounded arsenal.
The absence of a belt at Saturday night’s main event is significant to the storyline of this fight also, because in conjunction with positive talks between Dana White and Khabib Nurmagomedov this week, it suggests that the Dagestani champion hasn’t hung up the gloves after all. “If these guys can do something spectacular – show me something spectacular and make me wanna come back and fight,” demanded ‘The Eagle’, who retired in October.
Both Conor and Dustin have suffered bitter defeats to Nurmagomedov. This weekend therefore represents the opportunity for one of them to avenge that loss. Should McGregor emerge victorious from the octagon in the early hours of Sunday the 24th, mixed martial arts fans around the world will scramble to clear their diaries in anticipation of the biggest MMA fight of all time: Conor vs Khabib II.
The co-main event at 257 is a 155-pound bout between rising star Dan Hooker and former Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler, who is making his debut in the UFC. Hooker lost to a unanimous decision against Dustin Poirier in June last year after a grueling fight, in which the New Zealander established himself as one of the toughest men on the roster. Chandler, on the other hand, finished the last opponent on his Bellator contract in the first round, bringing yet another world class skill set to a UFC division already overflowing with talent.
Elsewhere on the card, especially for ENRG readers, Joanne Calderwood will be of particular interest, as the number seven-ranked flyweight hails from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire. The 34-year-old takes on the number six-ranked American Jessica Eye in a tense comeback fight of her own. The Scot had signed on to challenge the flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko for the title in 2020, but while waiting for the Russian to recover from an injury, the challenger took on Jennifer Maia in order to stay active and lost. She will hope that Sunday morning holds the keys to another title shot.
Also on the main event: Matt Frevola (USA, 8-1-1) vs Ottman Azaitar (Morocco, 13-0-0) at Lightweight, and Marina Rodriguez (Brazil, 12-1-2) vs Amanda Ribas (Brazil, 10-1-0) at Straw-weight.
UFC 257 will take place in the Etihad Arena on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, at 11:30pm GMT on Saturday the 23rd of January. The main card is scheduled to begin at 3:00am GMT the next morning and will be broadcast by BT Sport in the UK, costing £19.95 on pay-per-view.