The UFC will return to action in January, holding its first three events of 2021 over the course of a week on Fight Island.
The 2021 schedule begins with Fight Night events on Jan. 16 and Jan. 20, followed by UFC 257 on Jan. 23. All three shows will take place at the UFC’s new facility on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
McGregor Faces Poirier at UFC 257
UFC president Dana White confirmed the dates and location in an Instagram story, which included a fight poster promoting the events.
The first UFC Fight Night show features a battle between Max Holloway (21-6) and Calvin Kattar (6-2). Leon Edwards (18-3) and Khamzat Chimaev (9-0) will headline the Jan. 20 event.
— UFC (@ufc) December 22, 2020
Finally, Conor McGregor (22-4) will take on Dustin Poirier (26-6) in a non-title lightweight fight for the main event of UFC 257. McGregor will return to the Octagon a year after knocking out Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 246 last January.
McGregor beat Poirier in their first meeting, scoring a TKO win after just one minute and 46 seconds. Oddsmakers see “Notorious” as the favorite in the rematch as well, with FanDuel listing McGregor as the -250 pick over Poirier (+205).
Nunes vs. Anderson Moves to March 6
The UFC also announced dates for several rescheduled fights, as COVID-19 forced the cancellation or delay of many matchups during the pandemic.
In the biggest of these bouts, Amanda Nunes (20-4) will now defend her featherweight title against challenger Megan Anderson (10-4) on March 6. The UFC originally scheduled that fight for Dec. 12 as a part of UFC 256. Nunes backed out of that matchup due to health issues.
One titleholder who doesn’t have a fight lined up is UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili (21-1). While speculation centered on former champion Rose Namajunas (9-4) challenging Zhang, White suggested that Namajunas doesn’t want that fight.
“What I’m hearing is Rose does not want a title shot,” White told BT Sport. “So we’re looking at the rankings and how it plays out. It would play out as Weili vs. [former strawweight champion] Carla Esparza.”
The Namajunas camp disputed that characterization, saying their fighter wants her title shot.
“We absolutely want the title fight,” Pat Barry, Namajunas’ fiancé and coach, told ESPN. “Who would turn down a title fight? We just don’t want to air this out publicly. If there was some confusion, they can call us to clear it up.”
Thompson Reenters Title Picture with Dominant Win
In the final UFC fight of 2020, Stephen Thompson defeated rising star Geoff Neal in a welterweight battle that could have implications for the title picture in that division.
Thompson scored an easy, unanimous-decision victory, with the three judges each scoring the fight 50-45 in his favor.
“’Wonderboy is still here, baby,” Thompson said after the fight. “That title, in 2021, it’s gonna be mine. You’ll see.”
Thompson (16-4-1) came into the fight as the No. 5 contender in the UFC welterweight rankings. The 37-year-old feared the UFC regarded him as little more than a gatekeeper for the upper echelon of the division at this point.
Instead, Thompson showed his ability as a striker over five rounds against Neal (13-3). He regularly landed punch and kick combinations, and darted away from Neal’s attacks. A late Thompson leg injury gave Neal more opportunities in the final round, but Thompson still looked strong until the final bell.
“Geoff is a tough, tough opponent,” Thompson said afterward. “And rock solid. Every punch I hit him with, he just kept coming.”