It might help to think of the two fights atop U.F.C. 257 as a playoff bracket, with Chandler and Hooker on one side and McGregor and Poirier on the other. Chandler’s value in his U.F.C. debut, after all, is that if he wins impressively, he provides another high-stakes option for McGregor later this year, provided that McGregor wins as well.
That matchup, of course, isn’t guaranteed.
A year ago, U.F.C.’s president, Dana White, spoke openly of matching McGregor and the lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, in a football stadium. One year, one pandemic and one retirement later, it appears that a rematch might never happen. So right now, McGregor-Chandler looks like the medium-term goal, and Justin Gaethje could also be an option.
For more than a year, Conor McGregor was under investigation in Ireland, his home country, after a woman accused him of rape. He was not charged criminally, but this week the woman filed a lawsuit. Here is where the case stands:
Two years ago, the woman told law enforcement in Dublin that McGregor had raped her. McGregor was arrested, questioned and released by police, but was not charged with any crime as the investigation continued.
The police referred the case to prosecutors, who ultimately declined to pursue criminal charges against McGregor.
The woman filed a lawsuit against McGregor in Ireland’s High Court on Monday. The statement of claim in the lawsuit, which was obtained by The New York Times, lays out for the first time in graphic detail what she says happened during their encounter. Her claim said McGregor choked and raped her. She was told later by the police, the claim said, that a friend of McGregor’s said he had sex with her as well, but she had no recollection of it and did not consent.
McGregor has denied the allegations. In a statement, a spokeswoman for McGregor said he “will dispute any claims and is confident that justice will prevail.” On Thursday, McGregor himself called the lawsuit “old news” and said that he had been cleared of wrongdoing, even though.
If the lawsuit continues moving forward, the case will eventually be heard by a jury. A jury would have to decide whether what the woman describes more likely than not occurred, a lower burden of proof than in a criminal case, where the offense must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
The focus on McGregor makes it easy to forget Poirier, but it takes two to fight, and his seven-figure guarantee tells you he’s a serious competitor and not just a dummy for McGregor to pummel.
Poirier, 32, has won six of his last eight fights — a stretch that includes one no-contest and wins over top-echelon fighters like Justin Gaethje and the former featherweight champion Max Holloway. Poirier lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov, but a lot of fighters do that — including McGregor.
In 2014, Poirier lost to McGregor, then a rising U.F.C. star, by first-round knockout. And in 2011, Poirier was featured in “Fightville,” a documentary examining the mixed martial arts community in Lafayette, La.
One of his best U.F.C. performances came in July 2018, when he dispatched Eddie Alvarez in the second round.
McGregor last fought 53 weeks ago, blowing out Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds and setting up a potential big-money rematch against the lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov. But then the coronavirus pandemic scrambled those plans. Nurmagomedov defeated Justin Gaethje in October and then retired immediately afterward. McGregor campaigned to return to the octagon but couldn’t line up a bout until this main event against Poirier came together.
But the upside, for the U.F.C., of McGregor’s yearlong absence is that it has been able to sell the fight as a comeback. And the U.F.C. is paying McGregor and Poirier as if their main event is a special occasion.
Last year, McGregor earned a $3 million guarantee for routing Cerrone, who was guaranteed $200,000. This weekend, McGregor (22-4) will earn a minimum $5 million, while Poirier (26-6, 1 no-contest) is guaranteed $1 million. Those figures don’t include performance bonuses or the share of pay-per-view revenue headliners typically receive.
The numbers tell you how seriously the U.F.C. is taking the event — its first pay-per-view card in 2021 — and how much it values the audience McGregor attracts for as long as it can be sustained.
The lightweight contender Michael Chandler will make his U.F.C. debut when he faces New Zealand’s Dan Hooker in Saturday’s co-main event, but he’s not a rookie. Chandler has a 21-5 record and a reputation as a skilled wrestler and a versatile mixed martial arts fighter.
Last year, he signed with the U.F.C. after a decade with the rival promoter Bellator. In October, he served as an understudy for the main event between Nurmagomedov and Gaethje.
He trained as if he were going to fight and even weighed in at the 155-pound lightweight limit, so he could fill in immediately if some last-minute catastrophe sidelined either headliner.