Conor McGregor enters UFC 264 facing Dustin Poirier in a trilogy, the first trilogy fight of McGregor’s career. It’s also the most crucial fight of McGregor’s career. Many have already pointed out the negative implications for McGregor if he loses this fight. However, a loss for McGregor could also be bad for the UFC, and for MMA as a whole.
After McGregor started his career 4-2, he went on to win 15 consecutive fights, becoming a two-division champion in U.K. promotion Cage Warriors and earning a UFC contract in the process.
From there, there was the ascent to featherweight gold.
But UFC 196 provided the blueprint on how to beat McGregor. Despite McGregor dominating most of the fight in his first bout against Nate Diaz, it was Diaz who took advantage of McGregor’s weakness, which was quite clearly on the ground.
Although McGregor avenged his loss to Diaz and went on to defeat Eddie Alvarez to become the UFC’s first two-division champion later that year, McGregor struggled immensely against Khabib Nurmagomedov. McGregor lost to Nurmagomedov in the fourth round by submission. McGregor returned 15 months later and defeated Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds.
Then, McGregor was defeated twelve months later at UFC 257 when Dustin Poirier won by TKO. That loss, in January of this year, evened their career series at one fight apiece.
McGregor has gone 3-3 in his last six bouts. A loss could put a small dent on McGregor’s superstar status and could be the start of a decline. Should McGregor lose to Poirier, he will have suffered consecutive losses for the first time in his career.
If that happens, who is the UFC’s biggest name right now?
Jon Jones has fought only four times since UFC 232 in late December of 2018 and has not fought in 17 months. Ronda Rousey has not been a part of the sport since UFC 207 in late 2016. Brock Lesnar is seemingly done, as is Georges St-Pierre.
Although the UFC has some great champions at the moment in Amanda Nunes, Valentina Shevchenko, Rose Namajunas, Francis Ngannou, Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman, none of them have the superstar status that McGregor, Jones or Rousey have or had.
If McGregor loses to Poirier, there is a valid question as to what the Irish star’s next move would be. Many, including McGregor, has tossed around the idea of a trilogy with Diaz, which would attract a wide audience. But outside of that, if McGregor loses at UFC 264, it is hard to imagine a scenario where McGregor would pull in massive pay-per-view buys. His aura would be smashed, his good will with casual fans marred.
There could be a case made that even with a loss, McGregor would still be the UFC’s biggest superstar. Even so, it is far from ideal for the UFC’s top star to have gone 3-4 in their last seven fights.
A victory for McGregor is vital at UFC 264, because it would help keep his superstar crown while the UFC’s top money-maker avoids consecutive losses. As the WWE’s Triple H would say: that is best for business. And MMA is very much a business, one which needs an active, victorious McGregor as much now as it ever did.