UFC real or not: McGregor vs. Poirier 2 is the upcoming Fight Island bout with the most intrigue

McGregor's strong fan base impacting betting line vs. Poirier (0:42)

Doug Kezirian explains why Conor McGregor's fans placing a wave of bets on him to beat Dustin Poirier is impacting the odds. (0:42)

The UFC shouldn't be short on excitement to open 2021.

The promotion will head back to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to kick off its January schedule, with two compelling main events in an eight-day span. And both of those fights has title implications.

The one that surely will get the most attention is the UFC 257 headliner between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, two of the top lightweights in the world.

Adding to the intrigue is that it's a rematch of their UFC 178 fight in September 2014. They were up-and-comers then, and while Poirier has had a fantastic career, including winning the interim lightweight title, McGregor's popularity and success skyrocketed not long after he finished Poirier in the first round.

The UFC begins 2021 with what should be a featherweight thriller: former champion Max Holloway taking on Calvin Kattar on Jan. 16, with the winner possibly earning a title opportunity.

Holloway lost his only fight in 2020. He dropped a split decision versus champion Alexander Volkanovski, a bout that many thought Holloway had won. Kattar, meanwhile, had two impressive wins in 2020. He stopped Jeremy Stephens and won by unanimous decision over Dan Ige, who entered that fight on a six-fight win streak.

ESPN's expert panel of Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim discusses those fights and more, breaking down what's real and what's not.

Real or not: The Fight Island main event I'm most excited about is McGregor vs. Poirier.


Holloway: Loss to Volkanovski doesn't sit right

Max Holloway says that as a competitor, his UFC 251 loss to Alexander Volkanovski doesn't sit right, and Holloway wants them to fight 10 times to prove he's better.

Okamoto: One hundred percent. And that is saying something, because Holloway vs. Kattar is an exciting matchup. But McGregor vs. Poirier 2 still overshadows it, for me, by a mile. And that's because I am truly hopeful we could see McGregor pick up where he left off in 2016.

McGregor was so hot at the end of 2016. He had just won his second UFC championship in dominant fashion. He wasn't the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but he looked like he could be the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. It felt like he was on a special run ... and then that run was interrupted by a cash-grab fight with Floyd Mayweather. I've always wondered what McGregor might have accomplished had he not left the sport for money and boxing in 2017. It feels like, finally, we might find out in 2021.

Real or not: Max Holloway is one win away from a trilogy fight with Alexander Volkanovski.

Okamoto: Real. The UFC had interest in booking a trilogy between Holloway and Volkanovski right away, right after Volkanovski beat Holloway for the second time in July by unanimous decision. And I have to say, I was surprised the UFC wanted to do that. I understand there was some controversy around that fight -- many observers felt Holloway won the rematch -- but to book the same title matchup three times in a row? I didn't think the UFC would go for that, but that was the plan until Volkanovski said he wanted a different challenge.

Holloway vs. Kattar is the first main event of 2021. It will attract a lot of eyeballs, and the timing lines up (Volkanovski is likely to defend his title against Brian Ortega in the first quarter of 2021). If Holloway and Volkanovski both win -- and that's a legitimate if, as Kattar and Ortega are both very, very good -- then yes, I do think we'll see the trilogy as the next 145-pound championship fight.

Real or not: Rob Font and Kattar will put the New England Cartel on the map in 2021.

Raimondi: Absolutely real, and coach Tyson Chartier's master plan has already begun. Font finished the year with a shocking knockout win over Marlon Moraes last weekend. Suddenly, Font went from being considered a solid fighter coming off ACL surgery to a newly christened, legitimate bantamweight contender. If that performance against Moraes was any indication, Font could be in for a huge 2021. He might already be just one or two wins away from a title shot. Then there's Kattar, who went 2-0 in 2020, including an incredible elbow knockout of Jeremy Stephens. Kattar is already an elite featherweight fighter, and if he manages to beat Holloway on Jan. 16, we'll likely be talking about him being next for the belt opportunity.

While Kattar and Font are already top-five-caliber talents in their division, the New England Cartel could have some more rising stars hit the scene in 2021. William Knight, one of the pound-for-pound strongest men in the UFC, is someone to watch in the light heavyweight division. Don't be surprised if 22-year-old prodigy Mitch Raposo finds his way into the UFC at some point next year. The region will be cold this winter, but the New England Cartel is red-hot right now.