This weekend sees the first UFC Pay Per View of 2021 and it’s the return of “The Notorious” Conor McGregor. McGregor has been absent from UFC Fight Cards since his demolition job of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone last January. Conor initially set out for 2020 to be “a season” in which he would fight multiple times across the year. This proved to be a non-starter regrettably, due both to the coronavirus pandemic and a fraught relationship with UFC President Dana White.
With not much to do due to lockdown restrictions, McGregor let loose on his Twitter account in the 2nd half of the year, as is standard with Irishman, taking aim at the entire lightweight division, welterweight division and everyone in between. Conor during this tirade took it upon himself to organize an exhibition MMA bout with former opponent Dustin Poirier in Dublin to benefit their chosen charitable efforts. An admirable idea in theory but something the UFC realistically was never going sanction with both fighters signed to air tight contracts. The UFC was however more than happy to book the fight under their banner.
So that brings us to this weekend, McGregor will be hoping that he can get 2021 off to flyer by knocking off the #2 ranked Lightweight in the world and finally getting his “season” back on track. Poirier will be relishing the opportunity to have a 2nd crack at McGregor and avenge his 2015 loss at UFC 178. A lot has changed since that bout. Both men have left the Featherweight division, Poirier has fought the best of the best Lightweights and captured the Interim Title. Conor of course became the first champ-champ in UFC history, made hundreds of millions of Euros and became a global icon. With all that being said, how have the two men changed as fighters in that time? It would be easy to simply look at the first fight and base our assumptions and predictions on that but both men have developed their skillsets endlessly and adjusted their mind-sets since then so we’ll delve a bit deeper.
In order to properly predict the outcome of this fight, I’ll look at both fighter’s résumés since their first encounter and see what we can glean from that evidence. Conor is predicting he outdoes his first performance and gets Dustin out of there in 60 seconds. Well let’s see if he’s right!
It would be foolish to not look at the first fight just for reference so let’s see what went down.
Rather than being decided by the physical and technical attributes of both fighters, the result of this fight was decided by the mental warfare that took place in the weeks leading up to the fight. McGregor was at his cutting best, goading Dustin and reiterating simply that the Louisiana native was not on his level. At the face offs and in the octagon pre fight you could see the fury and pent up rage that had manifested inside Poirier. Both men start the fight with an aggressive pace but there’s just more control to Conor’s movements. He knows that he’ll eat a few shots but when there’s an opening he’ll be ready to take it, and take it he did. That patented left hand shot grazing Poirier’s temple was all it took to completely incapacitate him and after some routine follow up strikes, the fight was over after 106 seconds.
This fight while an interesting look back on the competing history of both men could not have less of a bearing on their upcoming bout. Dustin’s emotions got the better of him that night and we’ll most definitely see a much more calm and composed fighter on Sunday morning.
Next up let’s look at Conor vs Diaz 2. The reason I’ve chosen to look at this fight is that it sees both the best of McGregor and some potential flaws that Poirier can expose.
In the first round McGregor who is a notoriously (Pardon the pun) strong starter dominates Diaz on the feet. Including scoring a quick knockdown with that vicious left hand. Diaz though who is known for his freakish chin and unlimited stamina is left unfazed after a clear 10-9 round for McGregor (You could even debate a 10-8 taking in to account the knockdown). This is what Poirier is going to have to withstand if he’s to conquer the Notorious. Dustin himself isn’t a noted strong starter, he tends to show his best work in the later rounds. So if he can survive the onslaught in the first couple of rounds, that’s when we could see Poirier start to come into the fight.
At the end of the 2nd and in the 3rd rounds we can see McGregor’s cardio, a big question throughout his career, really start to wane. Poirier is yet to show too much of a vulnerability on that front so this should be an area he is most likely to exploit. Of course McGregor would go on to take a majority decision win but for my money barring his unbreakable chin, Poirier has a much stronger skillset than Nate. If the cardio issues rear their ugly head and Conor is unable to get an early finish, the fight 100% swings in Dustin’s favour.
We’ll now take a look at Dustin Poirier’s latest fight against Dan Hooker.
Whilst we’ve seen Dustin have some phenomenal wins in recent years over the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje and Max Holloway, his latest fight will give Conor a lot of hope that he can replicate his performance from UFC 178. Whilst Hooker is slightly longer and rangier than McGregor and his boxing is undeniably formidable, he does not possess the striking acumen and knockout power that McGregor does. So if Dustin gives up the openings to McGregor that he does to Dan throughout this fight, then unfortunately “The Diamond” will be ending the evening on his back looking up at the lights in the Etihad Arena. One plus point however to take away from this fight for Poirier was the heart and determination he showed to weather a pretty heavy storm from the Kiwi and in the end take the unanimous decision. It also can’t be understated the impressiveness of the shots that Poirier was able to absorb in this fight. It would stand to reason that Poirier’s chin has strengthened since the first fight which should mean that McGregor’s left may need to land clean more than once this time round to put Poirier away.
Finally, we’ll look at McGregor’s finishes throughout his career.
Chad Mendes, José Aldo, Eddie Alvarez and Donald Cerrone. We’ve seen many highlight reel KO/TKOs from McGregor during is UFC tenure. This unfortunately for Dustin is the x factor of this fight. If McGregor can recapture the form of these nights, then Dustin won’t have a say in the outcome of this fight.
With all that being said, McGregor has been away from the Lightweight Division for over 2 years. He also in the past year has only an accumulative minute in the octagon, so ring rust could be a factor. Poirier has also shown an undeniable growth both as a fighter and as a person from the first fight and will be a completely different proposition this time round. His aim will be to drag McGregor into the later rounds, wait for his gas tank to empty and look for a finish or to take rounds 3,4 and 5 on the scorecards. This is a distinct possibility, as is the prospect of this being a back and forth 5 round war in which McGregor takes the decision like we saw in McGregor vs Diaz II.
For me though, I believe McGregor will take the fight to Poirier and if he can recapture the magic that took him to double champ status this will be a relatively quick evening for the Dubliner.