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UFC 257: Conor McGregor makes unique return with legacy in mind against Dustin Poirier

Conor McGregor during the UFC 257 press conference

Conor McGregor during the UFC 257 press conference event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 21, 2021 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Credit: Zuffa LLC via Getty Images/Jeff Bottari

He held UFC titles in two weight classes at the same time. He boxed Floyd Mayweather and made millions. He elevated the sport’s profile and set forth a blueprint for future fighters who may be able to command the global masses. And he’s had several hiccups along the way, both occupationally and legally.

Still, a calm and controlled Conor McGregor offered this perspective about his return to the octagon at Thursday’s UFC 257 news conference in Abu Dhabi.

"All the money, all the belts, all everything, that comes and that goes. You know what lives on? Highlights. A fighter’s highlights," McGregor said. "You look at Roy Jones Jr.'s highlights, Mike Tyson’s highlights. I still look at them today. [Muhammad] Ali's highlights. I want my highlight reel to be like a movie."

McGregor returns for the first time since last January, with another retirement proclaimed on social media somewhere in between, and just the third MMA fight since beating Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12, 2016. He is 32 and talking like he plans to compete on a far more frequent basis after facing Dustin Poirier on Saturday night in a lightweight main event.

"I'm looking to get in and perform and put on amazing highlights that I can sit as an old man with my son and just watch back and just enjoy life," McGregor said. "I'm just loving my life. Please don't be trying to get rid of me guys. I love it here. I helped build this."

McGregor and Poirier (26-6, 1 no contest) faced each other as featherweights in 2014, with McGregor winning by TKO in 106 seconds. McGregor (22-4) predicted he would stop Poirier in 60 seconds this time but also said he looks forward to "a good, long bout."

No fighter is the same six-plus years later. They all evolve in one aspect or another. After the loss, Poirier moved up to lightweight. He’s 10-2 with 1 no contest at 155 pounds, including wins over four former or future UFC champions. The 32-year-old Louisiana-raised Poirier also won the interim lightweight title in 2019.

"He's putting in the work, I’ve been highly impressed. I think the whole business has been highly impressed," McGregor said of Poirier. "After that loss many, many years ago, he rose up and became champion. He's given so much back. I'm honored to share this octagon with this man. I know we have this competitive fire and it's still there. There's still that, there's no denying that we have a clash and it's going to be a good firework-filled bout. But, the respect is admirable for this man from me."

Poirier returned the act of kindness.

"I don't want to make it seem like we're up here giving each other back massages, but I just want to clear the air," Poirier said. "Conor’s team, McGregor Sports Entertainment, did reach out to my foundation and they are starting the donation to the Good Fight Foundation and we have huge, huge plans for that."

And if Poirier can get the win on Saturday night, he has big plans for that windfall as well.

"I know what a win over Conor McGregor means in combat sports," he said. "And I know that whoever wins this fight is fighting for gold. And that's why I fight."

That leaves the question of whose gold the winner would be fighting for next. Khabib Nurmagomedov, the undefeated Russian mauler, retired after stopping Justin Gaethje last September to move to 29-0. But he still is listed as the UFC lightweight champion and UFC president Dana White met with him this week in Abu Dhabi to try to convince him to return.

"I would make the case, if that man is continuing to dodge this and dodge the commitment of competing again, the title should be stripped and we should be engaging in a title fight," McGregor said. "After this bout, I'm interested to hear what the excuses are, or what will be said after the fight, but I predict a title strip."

UFC 257 will have a limited amount of ticket-buying fans in attendance in Etihad Arena, a first for the promotion since an event in Brazil last March 14. All events in between were contested with no fans in the crowd. The addition of fans did give McGregor one small McGregor-esque reason for pause.

"I really wanted to see and hear my power and my velocity and my precision," he said. "I wanted to hear my shots whistle through the air with no background noise."

McGregor will need to fight through that noise.

"I keep showing up here," McGregor said. "You know, someone's going to be able to stay in the pocket with me and stay in there and fight with me. And I hope it's this Saturday night. Do I think so? I do not. I mean, I'm in some shape here at the minute. And I tell you this now, I am coming to put on a masterpiece."

Dana White's warning to UFC 257 streamers

UFC president Dana White long has spoken out against the illegal streaming of their pay-per-view events. In the lead-up to UFC 257, White warned that he wanted to catch a few streamers to send a message. At Thursday’s news conference, he doubled down.

"We got one," White said. "We got him. We're watching this guy right now. All you have to do is turn it on on Saturday. And we got you, [expletive]. I can't wait. Turn it on on Saturday streamers and see what happens."

New York Sports