Updated November 23, 2020 - 3:17 pm
UFC president Dana White consistently has said he will not allow fans into his events until he can do it with full capacity.
That time has come.
White said Saturday night after UFC 255 that he expects full attendance for Conor McGregor’s return against Dustin Poirier on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Jan. 23.
The bout will serve as the main event of UFC 257, which also includes a women’s flyweight contender bout between Las Vegas residents Jessica Eye and Joanne Calderwood.
White isn’t sure if tickets will be sold to the general public or if the event will be invitation only, but he does believe the Etihad Arena is ready to host full capacity. White said the Abu Dhabi government is on board.
The fight will mark McGregor’s return to competition for the first time since a 40-second knockout of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in January.
At the time, he said he planned to fight as many as four times in 2020. Those plans were wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, which eliminated the potential to capitalize on the massive amount of money generated by ticket sales when McGregor competes.
The UFC has averaged nearly $12 million in live gate receipts over his last six main events, not including his historic boxing match with Floyd Mayweather.
Unable to book a fight, McGregor announced his retirement from competition in the summer. He started negotiating for a rematch with Poirier through social media over the last several months. The agreement was formally signed this week.
“Those two basically did it themselves,” White said of booking the matchup. “They said they wanted to fight. The contract not getting signed for a while by Conor doesn’t mean anything. He’s never said he wanted to fight and then changed his mind. It was never even a concern for me.”
McGregor and Poirier first fought in September 2014 when McGregor was still a rising star. He knocked out Poirier in just 1:46, but Poirier is 10-2 since. He captured the interim lightweight title last year before suffering a loss to undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, a fight that also took place in Abu Dhabi.
White expects the fight to do big business. He said he would have booked it even if fans couldn’t attend.
He still has no plans to do fights anywhere besides the Apex in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi, the two locations the UFC has been hosting events since a brief run in Jacksonville, Florida, in May.
“I’ll go anywhere where I can sell out the whole arena,” White said of when he plans to expand operations. “What I’m not going to do is take a 10,000-seat arena and sell 5,000 tickets. I’d rather stay here.”
McGregor already may have a second fight lined up for 2021, as well.
His manager, Audie Attar, who also represents boxing star Manny Pacquiao, believes his two clients will meet in the ring at some point.
“(McGregor’s) going to be handling business against Dustin first,” Attar said during an appearance on Bloomberg TV. “But Conor has come out and said he wants to fight Manny, and Manny has come out and said he wants to fight Conor.
“As I stated publicly before, we have had conversations. So that is a fight we are definitely going to make because both fighters want it, and there seems to be an interest from the fans all around the world.”
McGregor is 0-1 as a boxer.