The UFC is heading into 2021 with some big plans in mind. While the promotion only has 3 PPV dates set down so far – among a number of smaller shows – those events include four title fights. And, with the expectation that Khabib Nurmagomedov may be truly, unshakeably retired, there’s been some expectation from fans that the promotion could be heading for a fifth title fight on January 24th, when Conor McGregor takes on Dustin Poirier.
While Dana White has made no secret that his “perfect world” plan for the next twelve months would include a Conor McGregor title shot (and just maybe even a defense), in a recent interview with ESPN, he also made it clear that no matter how negotiations with Khabib go in the coming weeks Poirier & McGregor won’t be fighting for the belt.
“No. No there’s not,” White said quickly when asked if there was any way the promotion would make the UFC 257 headliner for the vacant title, if Khabib can’t be talked back from retirement.
“No matter what you think of Conor, personally, Conor McGregor is not only one of the best in the world, [but] one of the best to ever do it,” White said speaking of his hope of booking McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov 2. “And right now, he’s as focused as he’s ever been.
“I don’t know if this is going to be the same Conor after the Poirier fight, you know? Like you said, Conor goes like this,” White continued, making a roller-coaster motion. “But if this Conor sticks around for the next year, how do you not do Khabib vs. Conor again? Right?
“The division’s stacked with tough guys. And the reality is, if Khabib does retire, then whoever the highest ranked guy is at the time, will end up facing Conor if Conor beats Poirier—and would fight for the title, I’m sure.”
White also talked about the prospect of McGregor returning to boxing and searching for another huge crossover fight with someone like Manny Pacquiao. But even if that offer were to end up on the table, it doesn’t sound like one White would be interested in seeing the SBG Ireland fighter pursue.
“The way that this kid is right now,” White explained, “mentally, physically, emotionally—I mean, this kid is on and ready to fight. I would love to see him focus on what he can do here in the UFC. Whether it’s take another shot at that title against Khabib, or fight for the title against somebody else if Khabib retires and defend that title.
“A boxing match with any of these guys, that kinda stuff is always gonna be there,” White added. “You are the absolute best in the world right now, in MMA. And the timing is right now, [you’re] not getting any younger. I’d love to see him go for it here over the next year. If he wants to fight one of these boxing guys? Do that next year. That fight’s always going to be there.”
For his part, Khabib has sounded resolute in his plans to walk away from mixed martial arts. Which currently leaves Justin Gaethje as the highest ranked fighter in the division. While the UFC has been working to book Gaethje against Charles Oliveira, Oliveira has been dismissive of the idea. Just where that will leave the UFC title picture after UFC 257 is anyone’s guess. But at the moment, it sounds like White is hoping to see McGregor walk away with a shot at UFC gold clearly in his sights.