ABU DHABI: UFC 294 will see the all-conquering mixed martial arts promotion return to Abu Dhabi on Oct. 21.
The event will mark the last of the current five-year deal between the UFC and the UAE capital.
There will likely be another partnership announced before a fist is thrown in anger at the Etihad Arena, but as with the previous sold-out shows it is expected UFC 294 will be one of the most talked-about cards of the year.
So far, no official bouts have been announced, but there will certainly be a title fight or two. Here are some likely scenarios that will shape the latest Abu Dhabi showdown.
Islam Makhachev to defend his lightweight title
The Dagestani has happy memories of fighting in Abu Dhabi. At UFC 280 he grabbed the lightweight championship from Charles Oliveira with a dominant display that had the Etihad Arena crowd on their feet.
Similar to Khabib Nurmagomedov before him, Islam Makhachev commands a huge following in the UAE, and it will be no surprise to see him topping the bill at UFC 294.
There is currently no natural challenger from the lightweight division that makes sense. Oliveira (ranked No. 1) is taking on Beneil Dariush (No. 4) on May 5, while Dustin Poirier (No. 2) and Justin Gaethje (No. 3) do not currently have a fight booked.
The most likely option is to book another super fight between Makhachev and the current featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski. Makhachev may have grabbed a unanimous decision victory over the Australian back in February, but the fight was his toughest test to date. Makhachev versus Volkanovski part two would be a worthy headlining bout. But there could be a surprise in the mix for Makhachev. More on that to come.
Khamzat Chimaev finally gets a fight
For various reasons, the undefeated Khamzat Chimaev has not fought since rag-dolling Kevin Holland and beating him within three minutes in September. His bogeyman status in the welterweight division seems to have had an effect on potential matchups.
If the Chechnya-born fighter is to be believed, then he has been ducked by Colby Covington (No. 2) and most of the middleweight division too.
One thing is for certain, he wants to fight in Abu Dhabi.
Chimaev told “The MMA Hour”: “October will be a big show in Abu Dhabi — it’s like, for me, home country. I like that place. It feels good there.”
His target? The current welterweight champion, Leon Edwards. Although this would be what many fans would want, it is unlikely the British fighter would be willing to climb back into the octagon so soon after his March victory over Kamaru Usman.
Barring any injuries, Chimaev will be on the card. Who he fights is another question entirely.
Jiri Prochazka versus Jamahal Hill for the light heavyweight title
Jiri Prochazka had to relinquish the light heavyweight belt following a shoulder injury that a UFC doctor described as “the worst” he had ever seen.
The always-entertaining Czech fighter had to sit on the sidelines and watch Jamahal Hill overcome Glover Teixeira for the vacant title. Prochazka is still recuperating but told MMA Fighting that “it (the injury) is getting much better than people expected” as he targets a summer return.
However, given the nature of the injury, a slightly longer spell is likely required, and Prochazka against Hill could be the second title fight on the UFC 294 card.
The return of Conor McGregor
It is a long shot, and there would need to be an incredible series of events to allow it, but Conor McGregor fighting at UFC 294 is not impossible. Unlikely, sure, but there is a chance.
McGregor has been out of the octagon for the past two years. A broken leg and then a role in the upcoming “Road House” movie reboot has delayed the return of the UFC’s biggest draw. His next fight will be against fellow lightweight contender Michael Chandler.
The pair are currently opposition coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show, the finale of which will see the two square off against each other. The earliest this bout can take place is in August, which would not leave much time to recover and recuperate before UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi.
But, and it is a huge one, if the Irishman was to make light work of Chandler and escape unscathed, then a title fight with Makhachev is possible.
It is not exactly fair to the fighters that have remained active in the division, but putting McGregor at the front of the queue for a shot at Makhachev’s belt breaks all kinds of UFC PPV records. Stranger things have happened.