Preview: UFC 264 ‘Poirier vs. McGregor 3’

Poirier vs. McGregor

By Tom Feely Jul 9, 2021

Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC 264 live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship after a rare off week returns to a live crowd in Las Vegas for UFC 264, which figures to be one of the biggest cards of the year. Those hopes rest almost entirely on the back of its headliner, which sees Dustin Poirier complete his trilogy with Conor McGregor after evening his score with the Irishman in January. Otherwise, this follows the usual pattern of cards involving McGregor, with the main draw not offering much in the way of depth. Still, the co-feature provides an excellent pairing, as former welterweight title challengers Gilbert Burns and Stephen Thompson collide at 170 pounds. Beyond that, the Irene Aldana-Yana Kunitskaya clash carries some stakes but not much in the way of sizzle, and Sean O’Malley gets a showcase opportunity in the opener.

Now to the preview for the UFC 264 “Poirier vs. McGregor 3” main card:

Lightweights

#1 LW | Dustin Poirier (27-6, 19-5 UFC) vs. #5 LW | Conor McGregor (22-5, 10-3 UFC)

ODDS: Poirier (-130), McGregor (+110)

What does McGregor have left? The “Notorious” Irishman is firmly ensconced as a transformative fighter in the history of the sport, for better or for worse. His rise had many ripple effects throughout mixed martial arts. The combined promotional weight over McGregor and Ronda Rousey set up the UFC’s sale to Endeavor, and the SBG Ireland mainstay’s willingness to use his leverage and chart his own course set a blueprint for star fighters in the future and led the UFC to make sure no one star becomes bigger than the company. McGregor’s stardom was obviously in part due to his natural charisma and rapier wit, but an underrated part of his success was having the perfect fighting style to back up his claims in the most impressive way possible. McGregor, particularly at his peak, clicks into his fights in impressively quick fashion, instantly having command of his offensive weapons and his ability to read his opponents. That ability to get quick wins over elite competition only added to the myth, particularly after his 13-second win over Jose Aldo ended the Brazilian’s reign as featherweight champion. From there, came the memorable feud against Nate Diaz that saw McGregor suffer his first UFC loss, only to emerge from the proceedings as a bigger star. The dynamic between the two was instant money, and McGregor’s ability to pace himself and fight much smarter to win the rematch led to him regaining his momentum and becoming regarded as a better fighter. That also set him up to challenge for the UFC’s lightweight title—the original plan before the Diaz fight came together—and after a one-sided win over Eddie Alvarez, McGregor was on top of the MMA world as the UFC’s first simultaneous two-division champion. From a sporting perspective, that was McGregor’s peak as a fighter, though he has only become a bigger star since on the backs of his unlikely boxing match against Floyd Mayweather and subsequent return to MMA against Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Nurmagomedov fight was a game performance in an inevitable loss, and from there, McGregor seemingly settled in to a particular cycle: Spend a few months getting into some sort of considerable legal trouble, then show up once a year to show off his wares in a big-money fight. January 2020 saw McGregor blow through Donald Cerrone in a fight that now looks like part of the latter’s considerable late-career slide. Then there was his fight rematch against Poirier in January, and things did not go quite exactly as planned.

The most recent iteration of McGregor-Poirier was a rematch of a 2014 bout, which was part of the Irishman’s march up the featherweight ladder toward his shot at Aldo. From there, McGregor quickly became a promotional supernova and one of the biggest stars in the sport, while Poirier took the much longer and harder road to the elite. The McGregor loss marked the end of Poirier’s days at featherweight, as Louisiana’s “Diamond” moved up to 155 pounds and was immediately better off for it. With a better gas tank allowing Poirier to keep a pace and unload on opponents, he started his lightweight run with four straight wins, three of which came via quick and one-sided knockouts. It took a loss that came quicker than any of those wins—a 95-second knockout suffered at the hands of Michael Johnson—for Poirier to start adjusting his approach and become a top-tier fighter. For his next few fights, Poirier himself even talked about his need to be mindful and avoid getting sucked into a brawl; it was advice that he did not always take. However, he still kept winning, and by the time he was scoring 2018 wins over Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez, it became apparent that Poirier had found the perfect mix of violence and intelligence to keep his hardcore fan cred and keep himself out of fight-ending danger. The lightweight title was not in the cards just yet—Poirier was one of the many victims of Nurmagomedov’s reign—but after rebounding with a win over Dan Hooker, Poirier got a chance to affirm to both McGregor and the public that he was a much-improved fighter from 2014. Poirier still got blasted—that is one part of Poirier’s fights that has often remained the same—but he stayed composed and mixed in wrestling and leg kicks to break down McGregor and give the Irishman something to think about. The end result felt similar to McGregor’s first fight against Diaz; McGregor was winning the fight until he suddenly was not, and Poirier unloaded a fight-ending barrage in the second round for the biggest win of his career. With Nurmagomedov vacating the lightweight title and retiring, Poirier seemed to be the obvious choice as a contender for the vacant belt, and indeed, he was offered the shot. However, he has instead opted to take a trilogy fight with McGregor, then hopefully challenge for the title with some extra change in his pocket.

Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC 264 live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

January’s fight really did feel like McGregor missing out on a generation of evolution, both from Poirier and the sport at large. McGregor does tend to bank on being able to get his opponents out of the cage early, and it was understandable that he figured he could do so against Poirier. After all, he had already done just that once before. Even beyond the fact that Poirier was composed and stuck to a smart game plan, McGregor was woefully unprepared for his calf kicks, particularly with that move’s status as the current technique du jour. If McGregor-Poirier 2 felt like the first McGregor-Diaz bout, it is up to McGregor to bring the same form he showed in the Diaz rematch, namely in his ability to adjust. Even though it is only one of McGregor’s two UFC wins to make it to the scorecards, the rematch may have been his best performance, as he showed an ability to fight against type and pace himself, eking out a back-and-forth fight without gassing over the course of 25 minutes. For as shockingly unprepared as McGregor looked in aspects of this last Poirier fight, he has shown that when the chips are down, he can put in the work to solve those problems in an immediate rematch. However, one big factor looming over this fight is where McGregor falls at this point in his career, both in terms of motivation and in terms of physical wear. Then there is the fact that even if McGregor makes all the necessary improvements—or at least as many as he can make over the course of six months—Poirier may still just be the better fighter with more weapons with which to work. There is a chance that McGregor makes all of this unnecessary and just finds another first-round knockout, but shoring up his weaknesses and trying to pace himself at the expense of his power might just mean that Poirier has an even better chance of surviving and outlasting him for the win. The bet is that McGregor fights smarter at first, slowly loses the fight and then tries to sell out for a finish, at which point this bout probably looks similar to the last one. The pick is Poirier via fourth-round stoppage.

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