UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway missed out on an opportunity to challenge Khabib Nurmagomedov for the then-vacant lightweight belt in April when he fell ill while trying to cut weight for a fight he took on less than a week’s notice.
He’s excited to be able to earn the right to get a second chance at Nurmagomedov.
Holloway will again move up to 155 pounds to take on Dustin Poirier for the interim lightweight title in the main event of UFC 236 on April 13 in Atlanta.
The winner will fight Nurmagomedov for the undisputed belt when he returns from suspension for his role in a brawl following his win over Conor McGregor in October. Holloway welcomes that challenge, but knows he has work to do in order to secure what could be a massive fight against Nurmagomedov later this year.
“Khabib said he wanted to fight me and he wanted me to prove myself. So I got Dustin,” Holloway said at a news conference in Las Vegas on Friday. “I have a simple relationship with the UFC. I tell them to send me the toughest guy, then I send him back. At the end of the day, first thing’s first, I got Dustin Poirier.”
This will actually be a rematch of a first-round submission by Poirier in 2012 at featherweight, but that was in Holloway’s UFC debut. The 27-year-old enters this bout on a 13-fight winning streak and in a much different place in his career.
If Poirier can secure another win over Holloway, he will wear UFC gold and get the title fight he’s been lobbying for over the last year.
Poirier publicly requested his release last month if he was passed over again for the chance to fight for a belt. This fight did more than enough to soothe his frustration.
“I got the call and right away the switch flipped and I was in championship mode,” Poirier said. “In a division that is top-heavy I didn’t want to be waiting around, I wanted to be fighting. This is gonna be a hell of a fight, this is a high-level fight.”
Top contender Tony Ferguson, himself a former interim champ, turned down the fight, according to UFC president Dana White.
Ferguson has said he believes he has already earned the right to wait for Nurmagomedov and shouldn’t have to go through a roadblock to get there.
“I say all the time: When there’s an opportunity, take it,” White said at the news conference. “I don’t know where this leaves Tony.
“Tony didn’t want the fight (against Poirier). It’s the fight I wanted. We even tried to make the fight (with Holloway), and he didn’t want it. You can’t make anybody fight.”
UFC 236 will also include an interim middleweight title bout between Kelvin Gastelum and Israel Adesanya.
Conor-‘Cowboy’ ‘nowhere close’
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone may have gotten a bit ahead of himself when he insinuated he would fight lightweight superstar Conor McGregor on July 6 in Las Vegas.
Cerrone posted to social media a photo of a bottle of his beloved Budweiser beer next to a bottle of McGregor-owned Proper Twelve Whiskey with an American flag and Irish flag with the date of UFC 239 and a location of T-Mobile Arena where the event will be held.
White scoffed at the notion the fight had been formally booked. McGregor is eligible to return from his suspension April 6.
“These two have been talking about this and I said if they want to fight, I would do it,” White said. “But we’re nowhere close to a fight. We’re actually looking at other opponents for ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone now. (He) was in my office yesterday — you know him. He wants to fight. He’s ready to fight again, he wants to fight again, so we’re looking at another opponent for him. Maybe (Al Iaquinta).”
Hardy set to return
Controversial former NFL star Greg Hardy will get his second chance in the UFC on April 27 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on the UFC on ESPN 3 card against Dmitry Smolyakov, according to a report from the network.
The UFC has not made the fight official.
Hardy won his first three pro bouts before he was disqualified in his UFC debut for an illegal knee to the head of Allen Crowder on ESPN’s first UFC card in January.
■ March 9: UFC Fight Night 146 (ESPN-Plus), Wichita, Kansas
■ March 16: UFC Fight Night 147 (ESPN-Plus), London
■ March 22: Bellator 218 (Paramount), Thackerville, Oklahoma
■ March 23: UFC Fight Night 148 (ESPN-Plus), Nashville, Tennessee
■ March 29: Bellator 219 (Paramount), Temecula, California
■ March 30: UFC on ESPN 2 (ESPN), Philadelphia