Taking a look back at this week in mixed martial arts, the majority of the headlines were grabbed by the UFC’s return to an active schedule for the first time since UFC Vegas 17 on December 19th. last.
Approaching a UFC Fight Island return this week — the promotion kicked off its 2021 schedule with a massive featherweight main event clash between former champion, Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway and surging challenger, Calvin Kattar.
The week was also occupied by the long-awaited meeting of promotional president, Dana White and undisputed lightweight champion, Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov, with the fighting future of the Dagestan native the subject of discussion. White had claimed prior in the week that he would press Khabib about one more fight as hard as he could.
Ahead of his UFC 257 headliner against one-time opponent, Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier, former two-weight world champion, ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor predicted he would better his first effort against the American Top Team trainee, scoring a knockout win inside the opening sixty-seconds.
White also claimed that if afforded the opportunity, he would book a light heavyweight pairing of incumbent middleweight best and incoming 205-pound championship challenger, Israel ‘The Last Stylebeneder’ Adesanya and former champion, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones.
The longtime UFC leader also questioned how he could possibly turn his back on a rematch between the above-mentioned rivals, Khabib and McGregor, if the former snapped his retirement and the latter defeated Poirier again.
For the UFC’s strawweight division, White has plans for current champion, Zhang ‘Magnum’ Weili to attempt the second title defence of her reign in a return to Asia against either former champions, ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas and Carla ‘Cookie Monster’ Esparza.
Rescheduled once again after a pair of positive COVID-19 tests hampered matchups, welterweight contender, Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards is slated to headline a UFC Fight Night showcase against the undefeated starlet, Khamzat ‘Borz’ Chimaev on March 13th. Also added to the same event, a barnburner between heavyweight finishers, Jairzinho ‘Bigi Boy’ Rozenstruik and Ciryl ‘Bon Gamin’ Gane. 145-pound grappling ace, Ryan ‘The Wizard’ Hall is also slated to return as he draws Honolulu finisher, ‘Dynamite’ Dan Ige.
White also announced that the promotion were working on a lightweight division return for Stockton veteran, Nate Diaz following a recent four-fight stay a division higher at welterweight. While White electing against announcing an opponent for the Cesar Gracie standout, former two-time opponent, McGregor claimed he’d be interested in a lightweight rubber-match against Diaz — with a title of some form on the line.
In welcome news for many of the promotion’s athletes, the UFC along with USADA made a well overdue revision to their anti-doping policy, removing marijuana from a potential violation list — unless the anti-doping agency has reason to believe based off evidence that an athlete was purposely using marijuana for a performance-enhancing effect.
The aforenoted McGregor also claimed that he believes arch-rival Khabib called time on his career out fear regarding a possible rematch with him, labelling the longtime American Kickboxing Academy member “afraid“.
On Saturday night, the above mentioned, White finally shed some light on the immediate fighting future of Khabib. It’ll take “something spectacular” from next weekend’s UFC 257 card for him to snap his retirement, noting the main event clash of Poirier and McGregor, and the co-main slot of Dan Hooker and Michael Chandler. Khabib also said his interest is piqued by the surging incoming contender, Charles Oliveira.
Somewhat overshadowing Khabib’s announcement, the aforenoted, Holloway displayed hands down one of the greatest performances in Octagon in a five-round bludgeoning of Methuen native, Kattar over five rounds.
In some upsetting news, veteran UFC alum and pioneer, Paul ‘The Polar Bear’ Varelans sadly passed away due to complications after he had tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks. Varelans had competed at UFC 6, 7, and 8, besting Cal Worsham, Gerry Harris, Mike Hall, and Joe Moreira across the three events. Varelans was placed in a medically induced coma and sadly passed away at 51-years-of-age on January 16th in Atlanta, Georgia.
Following Holloway’s massive victory over Kattar, UFC president, White confirmed that a heavyweight title rematch between champion, Stipe Miocic and one-time challenger, Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou has been set to headline the aforenoted UFC 260 card on March 27th.
Tune in next Sunday afternoon as we look back on what promises to be a busy week in the world of mixed martial arts.