UFC has docked for a third time at Fight Island, and this time a pair of old rivals are primed to make the trip -- with a few thousand fans set to attend fights for the first time in 10 months.
They might cheer the loudest for Conor McGregor.
The first of three straight fight nights at Etihad Arena on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island starts on Saturday when Max Holloway (21-6) fights Calvin Kattar (22-4) in a 145-pound bout in the main event. UFC welterweights Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny fight in the main event of Wednesday's card.
That's just an appetiser for UFC 257 on January 24 when McGregor returns from a year-long layoff for a rematch against Dustin Poirier in the promotion's first pay-per-view of the year.
By then, McGregor might know if another rematch is potentially on the table, this one against the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov, who called it quits in October with a 29-0 record after he retained his lightweight championship.
McGregor's last loss was against Nurmagomedov in October 2018 in a bout known more a post-fight melee that spilled outside the octagon.
Saddened by the recent death of his father and mentor, Nurmagomedov surprisingly retired in his prime after he beat Poirier in Abu Dhabi.
UFC President Dana White wants one of his top box office draws to fight again, perhaps get to 30-0 and take it from there. The two are scheduled to meet at some point in Abu Dhabi.
"It's yes or no," White said from Abu Dhabi. "I felt like going into that last fight, he obviously was very emotional, he was banged up, he was hurt. He was under a tremendous amount of pressure.
"Now he's had plenty of time off. He's healed up. He knows whether he wants to fight again or not. I think it will be a very quick conversation. If he says no, it's no. I won't even say another word."
White's gut feeling? "I feel like he's got one more in him and he'll say yes."
White could only wish his relationship was that simple with McGregor.
McGregor (22-4) fights for the first time since his knockout win against Donald Cerrone last January and for only the third time since 2016. The 32-year-old McGregor, who became the biggest star in MMA with his heavy fists and self-promotional acumen, stayed away from the cage in large part because of his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, his blossoming liquor venture, retirement claims and multiple arrests.
McGregor and White sparred in public last year when the former featherweight and lightweight champion released a series of Instagram direct messages in a "he said-he said" exchange over potential fight opponents.
They've buried the hatchet -- as businessmen are inclined to do with multi-millions of dollars at stake -- and White said McGregor seems as focused and confident about fighting as he's been in years.
"I don't know if I'd say he wasted (prime years) because if you look at what he's accomplished in the short amount of time that he was here, and, listen, the kid made, and still makes a ton of money a year," White said. "He leveraged his celebrity and what he's done here in the UFC to make money outside the UFC, which is tough to do, for anybody. He didn't just make some money. He made a life-changing substantial amount of money."
Australian Associated Press