Never underestimate a fighter that has nothing to lose.
In the finale of a three-event week at UFC’s “Fight Island” Dustin Poirier was booked as the B-side of the main event of UFC 257 against media kingpin, Conor McGregor. Most sports books had the Irishman a nearly 3-to-1 favorite in a rematch of the original McGregor/Poirier bout from 2014, which he won via TKO in the first round.
But, in the more than six years since that initial meeting, both are different fighters and took very different paths to get there. McGregor, a former two-division champion, made himself the top draw in the sport with a combination of dynamic striking and brash charisma. On the flip side, Poirier continued to fight contenders and even won an interim 155 LBS belt when he won a decision over Max Holloway in 2019 before he was defeated by Khabib Nurmagomedov in the unification bout later that year.
Speaking of Khabib, the now-retired undefeated Russian provided the background for this event, as he was in attendance on Fight Island to discuss his future with UFC President, Dana White. Khabib’s father passed away from COVID last year, and after Nurmagomedov successfully defended his title against Justin Gaethje this past October, he announced his retirement with an unblemished record of 29-0. Dana White, being the true promoter he is, didn’t want to pass up the chance to sign a rematch of Khabib/Conor, an event that became the highest-drawing pay-per-view in MMA history with a 1.4 million buy rate. Of course, the infamous bus incident is what helped generate that number, and the wild post-fight brawl between the two corners would surely hype another major draw for the rematch.
In many ways, Dustin Poirier became an after thought, as the focus shifted on if Conor could win in a dynamic enough fashion to entice Khabib to ink another contract, instead of if McGregor could defeat his actual opponent at UFC 257. Truthfully, Poirier didn’t have anything to lose because he was going to make a big payday to headline the pay-per-view and even if he was defeated, it’s the result that most fans expected so a loss wouldn’t have diminished his status within the UFC. He was always in the conversation because he had victories against solid competition, but the only top-tier challenger that he beat was the previously mentioned Holloway bout. Ahead of this clash with Conor, he defeated Dan Hooker via decision in mid-2020, but lost to Khabib prior to that so he didn’t really have a lot of momentum before the fight. Conor’s most recent performance was a devastating knockout win against Donald Cerrone in just 40 seconds on the first round, which renewed the hype around him after the one-sided loss to Nurmagomedov in October 2018.
Again, the focus was on Conor and Khabib, not the competition against Poirier. The opening round saw a brief takedown from Poirier, who is primarily known as a striker, and the two exchanged punches and kicks during the majority of the round, with McGregor landing more shots and probably winning the round on points. However, Poirier landed a series of calf kicks during some of the exchanges and looked to continue that trend in the second round. For whatever reason, Conor tried to throw more kicks than usual and unintentionally left himself vulnerable to more leg kicks from Poirier. Nearly the half way point of the second round, the calf kicks took their toll and McGregor didn’t have the mobility to avoid the punches of his opponent. Poirier landed half a dozen unanswered punches, including a right hook that sent McGregor to the canvas before he landed a few more punches before the referee stopped the fight.
— UFC (@ufc) January 24, 2021
When the referee stepped in to stop the fight, it simultaneously stopped any discussion of a Conor/Khabib rematch. Keep in mind, Nurmagomedov their first meeting, and unless McGregor looks dangerous, what’s the selling point of potentially another one-sided defeat, especially when the price tag of UFC events was recently increased on the ESPN+ streaming service? It’s simplistic, but it’s a reality of the fight game, the UFC is in the entertainment business as much, if not more so than they are in the fight business so this Poirer fight was a chance to showcase Conor before an eventual Khabib rematch.
To be fair, even if Conor won, it wasn’t automatic that Nurmagomedov would’ve considered the bout. Khabib has a rather simple lifestyle and already made his money so if a bigger payday isn’t a motivation for him then Dana White doesn’t have much leverage in negotiations. Furthermore, it might be a situation where Khabib wouldn’t want to sign a contract that would also bring McGregor another major payday because of the legitimate hostility between them.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 24, 2021
Now, I’d say the narrative shifts to a potential trilogy fight between McGregor and Poirier to see who wins the series. That being said, Conor must have a good performance in that bout because another loss could hinder much of his star power. Don’t get me wrong, Conor McGregor is a dynamic athlete and a tremendous striker, but he isn’t as well-rounded as most of the other top names in the organization. His lack of ground skills was exposed in the Khabib fight, and 4 of his 5 defeats are via submission. Granted, the general public isn’t going to look at a lack of submission skills are a reason not to tune in, but at some point, too many defeats to have some of the shine wear off of his star power. McGregor hadn’t found in a year before this UFC 257 pay-per-view and it’s possible that ring rust was a factor, but all things considered, he made more headlines outside of the octagon than he did inside of the cage the past few years so it might be a scenario where McGregor’s career has become more sizzle than substance unless he can deliver a solid performance for his next fight. That being said, you have to give Dustin Poirier credit because most didn’t give him a chance and he won with a KO in the second round of the fight.
Never underestimate a fighter that has nothing to lose.
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Until next week
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