UFC 264: Major Crossroads Bout for Poirier and McGregor

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Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor, UFC 264
Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor ahead of UFC 264 Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

MMA superstar Conor McGregor will look to show he can still hang with the elite as Dustin Poirier looks to continue his Fighter of the Year-worthy campaign at UFC 264.

Saturday is more of a can’t lose situation for Dustin Poirier than it might appear on the surface.  He has played his cards perfectly: stopping McGregor emphatically once and setting up an opportunity to do so again and fight for the title later this year/early next year.  This adds a unique opponent: complacency.  Going into the trilogy, Poirier should feel unstoppable.  After all, McGregor is the one who has had to reinvent himself in six months and must change his game after being throttled in the first fight.

Therein lies the risk.  “The Diamond” as a brand figures to reach peak popularity on Sunday morning with sales of hot sauce and support towards his Good Fight Foundation should he defeat McGregor again.  However, he has been here before.  His history of being stopped in dominant fashion in title eliminators is well-documented, as was his one-sided loss in his lone shot at the undisputed title.  Should McGregor pull off the upset, it would unravel the best laid plans of Poirier.  At 32 years old, his chances to win that undisputed title would not be done.  But in a division as competitive as the lightweight division, any step back could be devastating.

For Conor McGregor, Saturday night will be his most pivotal towards remaining the biggest draw in mixed martial arts.  Make no mistake, he will not disappear should he lose in devastating fashion again.  Whatever he chooses to do next, his fame and future is secure behind years of success in the fight game that he has parlayed into the most lucrative business moves in MMA history.  But two losses in a row, and three in his last four overall, could well end his ability to command the kind of historic numbers that have made him the marquee attraction in mixed martial arts for the past six years.

It should be noted, this is still the same individual that tore a path to both the featherweight and lightweight titles.  Simultaneously, no less.  He has defeated two reigning world champions and is fully capable of shocking the world with an upset on Saturday.  He has single-handedly revolutionized the type of revenue that an MMA star is capable of making.  If he is truly in it for the love of the game at this stage of his career, then there is all the reason to believe he is committed to learning every lesson there was to learn from last January.

The challenges for McGregor’s camp have been well-dissected by now: he needed to put on more muscle and come up with a defense for the multi-faceted striking attack of Poirier, all within roughly seven months.  McGregor was undersized in the last fight, and a more even playing field could be the difference if the two get into exchanges.  For Poirier, more of the same should be the key as his ability to more smoothly mix his diverse striking and grappling caused McGregor plenty of problems.  Once again, a patient approach and a healthy diet of kicks to the leg and calf should hamper the former champion and create openings for Poirier to do the most damage on offense.

The future is already set for the winner, with a date against the surging lightweight champion Charles Oliveira expected for late 2021 or early 2022.  Should Poirier lose, he likely will find himself back amongst the throng of contenders where names like Michael Chandler, Beneil Dariush, and others are looking to get into title contention.  For McGregor, he would likely evaluate the next move for his career.  Should he choose to continue, he likely will seek out the best handpicked opponent that will sell well.  A trilogy with Nate Diaz stands out, as well as more showcase fights at welterweight should he face another opponent not looking to cut weight.

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