6 Questions That Need to Be Answered Heading into UFC 257
UFC 257, the promotion's first pay-per-view of the year, is just around the corner, and it's a big one.
Just like it did in 2020, the UFC will kick off the new year with a blockbuster Conor McGregor fight. This time around, the Irish superstar will be taking on Dustin Poirier, whom he knocked out in the featherweight division back in 2014. The expectation is that the winner of this main event rematch will fight for the lightweight title in their next appearance, whether they're challenging Khabib Nurmagomedov or battling another contender for the vacant throne.
Beyond this high-stakes McGregor vs. Poirier headliner, UFC 257 will feature a number of other compelling contests, most notably the UFC debut of former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler.
Chandler, easily one of the most accomplished fighters in Bellator history, will be welcomed to the Octagon by Kiwi striking ace Dan Hooker, who will no doubt be keen to spoil the party.
In addition to these two fantastic lightweight matchups, UFC 257 will include an interesting flyweight contender fight between Joanne Calderwood and Jessica Eye, as well as appearances from a number of rising fighters looking to make big statements.
Without further ado, here are six questions we hope will be answered by the time the action subsides on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on January 23.
Where Is Conor McGregor's Head At?
Conor McGregor has made more money than he could spend in several lifetimes, and there is no UFC title on the line in his fight with Poirier. So what's driving him?
The people who know him best say it's a love of competition, but is that enough to keep him focused on the task at hand? Was a simple love for his craft enough to keep his nose to the grindstone through another grueling training camp?
Throw in the fact that McGregor absolutely bombed Poirier when they first met in 2014, and there's even more reason to believe he could be taking his next fight somewhat lightly.
Then again, these were the same concerns many people had ahead of McGregor's January 2020 fight with Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, and he ended up winning that in less time than it takes to heat up a plate of leftovers.
McGregor has predicted that he'll knock Poirier out in under a minute at UFC 257. While it's possible he'll make good on that prediction, things could go very differently if he's been anything short of meticulous in his preparation for the fight.
Where Is Dustin Poirier's Head At?
Just as many fight fans are curious about Conor McGregor's headspace ahead of UFC 257, many are wondering about Dustin Poirier's.
As we've covered, McGregor and Poirier first met in the featherweight division back in 2014. On that night, McGregor turned the lights out on Poirier with a blistering punch behind the ear in the first round. It was as lopsided as fights get.
After that loss, Poirier admitted that McGregor got into his head with his ceaseless pre-fight trash talk.
"I've always been an emotional fighter, and that emotion fueled a lot of my early performances," Poirier told Flo Combat in 2016. "I would get angry because I'm about to step in there and go toe-to-toe with someone who is trying to hurt me just like I intend to hurt them, and that energy shifts gears into that kill or be killed mindset.
"I always saw it as a plus, but the Conor [McGregor] fight was the turning point. I remember I was backstage getting ready to walk out and I saw him and he threw this smile and pointed at me. I don't know why but it really got to me, man. It really messed with my head. I mean I'm about to go out and fight this dude and he's back there smiling at me? After that fight I knew I had to find a different way to use my emotion."
Poirier has matured a lot since then, and there's been surprisingly little trash talk ahead of his rematch with McGregor. That being said, he's still fighting a man who absolutely whupped him the first time they met, and played his mind like a fiddle to boot.
Those have got to be tough realities to digest. Does Poirier have the intestinal fortitude to do so? Time will tell.
Can Michael Chandler Become a Contender in the UFC?
While McGregor and Poirier's rematch is dominating the headlines ahead of UFC 257, that's certainly not the only big fight on the bill.
In the card's co-main event, former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler will make his long-awaited UFC debut against New Zealand's Dan Hooker.
Chandler has long been viewed as one of the sport's top lightweights, but he didn't have many chances to prove it over in Bellator. His wins over decorated former champions like Eddie Alvarez and Benson Henderson were impressive, but it's been a long time since he fought an elite lightweight in the prime of their career.
That will change when he fights Hooker, who is a lethal striker and one of the main training partners of UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. While the Kiwi is riding a decision loss to Poirier in a 2020 Fight of the Year contender, he still holds the No. 6 spot in the UFC lightweight rankings and has recently beaten top-flight foes like Paul Felder, Al Iaquinta and Gilbert Burns. He's an extremely tough test for Chandler—or anybody for that matter.
As such, this fight should tell us whether Chandler was just a big fish in a small pond in Bellator or a legitimate contender among the sport's very best lightweights.
Can Anybody Convince Khabib Nurmagomedov to Fight Again?
Conor McGregor remains the biggest star in MMA, but Khabib Nurmagomedov has managed to dominate many of the headlines ahead of UFC 257.
Nurmagomedov announced his retirement after defending the UFC lightweight title with a submission win over Justin Gaethje in October. Despite that announcement, UFC President Dana White repeatedly expressed optimism that he can convince the lightweight champion to come back for one last fight.
Last Friday, White and Nurmagomedov met face-to-face to discuss that possibility, and White revealed how the meeting went during Saturday's UFC on ABC 1 broadcast.
According to the UFC boss, Nurmagomedov will consider returning for a final fight if one of the four top lightweights on the UFC 257 bill—McGregor, Poirier, Hooker and Chandler—can convince him it's the right move with "something spectacular."
It's frankly hard to imagine anybody but McGregor pulling that feat off, but Nurmagomedov's announcement certainly added some intrigue to the UFC 257 card.
Can Joanne Calderwood Finally Earn a UFC Title Shot?
Joanne Calderwood has stood out as one of the best female fighters in the world since before the UFC even introduced its strawweight division. Surprisingly, however, the Scotswoman never earned a strawweight title shot in the UFC and still has not done so since moving up to the flyweight division.
That being said, she's come close. About as close as a person can.
Calderwood was briefly scheduled to fight UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko in July before Shevchenko was forced out of the fight with an injury. Rather than wait for the fight with Shevchenko to be rescheduled, Calderwood accepted a bout with Jennifer Maia and lost via submission in the first round, which of course put a temporary end to her hopes of fighting Shevchenko for the title.
At UFC 257, Calderwood will look to rebound from that loss to Maia against former flyweight title challenger Jessica Eye. If she wins impressively, she could position herself for a crack at the champ. Ordinarily, one win would not be enough to reassert her as the division's next title challenger, but Shevchenko is currently starving for fresh opponents.
Granted, the next flyweight title shot will probably go to Jessica Andrade, but if Calderwood is able to pick up an impressive win over Eye, she might just earn herself a crack at the Shevchenko vs. Andrade winner.
How Far Can Amanda Ribas Go at Strawweight?
The strawweight division is easily the best division in women's MMA at present. Of the many dangerous contenders who populate the division, 27-year-old Amanda Ribas would seem to have one of the brightest futures.
The Brazilian is currently riding a first-round submission win over the fan favorite Paige VanZant. Prior to that, she picked up wins over two other highly regarded foes in Randa Markos and Mackenzie Dern.
Currently ranked No. 9 in the strawweight division, Ribas will look to take another big step in the direction of divisional queen Weili Zhang when she takes on No. 8-ranked contender Marina Rodriguez in the UFC 257 main-card opener.
Rodriguez, who is riding a split-decision loss to former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza, holds wins over solid foes in Tecia Torres and Jessica Aguilar and figures to be a tough test for Ribas.
That said, Ribas will enter the Octagon as a -335 favorite on DraftKings, and if she's able justify that status, she'll cement her reputation as one of the most promising young stars in the strawweight division.
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) (IL).
21+. NJ/PA/WV/IN/IA/CO/IL/TN only. In partnership with Meadows Racetrack & Casino. Eligibility restrictions apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.