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John Kavanagh: Dustin Poirier fighting a ‘tough, uphill battle’ in rematch with Conor McGregor

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McGregor/Poirier (EL, MMA Fighting)
Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

A lot has changed for Dustin Poirier since his first meeting with Conor McGregor. It was directly after his loss to the Irish superstar in 2014 that he moved up to 155 pounds, where he became a force of nature in the lightweight division.

Since then, Poirier has amassed an impressive 10-2 record with one no-contest in his past 13 fights. He’s defeated three former UFC champions in Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis and Max Holloway with the latter also earning him an interim lightweight title. Over his past six fights, Poirier has gone 5-1 with wins over Justin Gaethje and Dan Hooker.

In that same stretch, McGregor has competed just twice in the UFC. He is 1-1 with a win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and a loss to reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Considering Poirier’s resume compared to McGregor’s, he’s more than earned a rematch. But the Irishman’s head coach John Kavanagh isn’t sure those accolades will ultimately change the result when they meet again in the UFC 257 main event on Jan. 23.

“I think he’s definitely gotten better,” Kavanagh said about Poirier in an interview with The Mac Life. “There’s a few more takedown attempts now in his fights. I hadn’t seen it before, he has a good guillotine. We can see that. Then his volume, his conditioning is looking on point. You can see in his fights he has an ability to take a lot of punishment and still come forward. Pick any of his last few fights to see that quality.

“However, he’s fighting a different animal than any of those guys. Somebody with true one-punch knockout power that he’s already felt. I think you could spend a lifetime talking to sports psychologists and talking to this person or that person, that’s not going to be erased from his mind.”

The last time they faced off, McGregor spent weeks taunting Poirier, and that verbal assault only ratcheted up in the days leading up to the fight. Once they set foot in the octagon, McGregor made quick work of Poirier with a stunning TKO at just 1:46 into the opening round.

Afterward, Poirier admitted he was too emotionally charged and allowed McGregor to get into his head.

This time around, McGregor has shown nothing but the utmost respect toward Poirier, even going as far as offering up a donation to the Louisiana native’s charity, the Good Fight Foundation.

But just because McGregor hasn’t been lashing out in interviews or over social media doesn’t mean the mind games haven’t already started. In fact, Kavanagh believes Poirier needs to look no further than his previous fight against McGregor to feel pressure weighing down on him.

“There’s nothing to be said when you’ve really badly hurt someone like that so fast,” Kavanagh said. “It’s not like it was a decision win or maybe some sort of argument to be made, or it was a bit back and forth and Conor got a shot off. It was a bad night for Dustin. It was very one-sided. When you look at some of the shots he’s absorbed, he’s a bigger man now, and you could say maybe there’s some argument he can absorb more shots now, but he’s fighting a bigger man as well.

“If you remember back to the fight, the opening hook kick, it just whistled by his head. A couple of inches lower and that might have outdone the [Jose] Aldo fight. So look they’ve both matured physically, age-wise, they’re in their 30s now and families. Dustin’s had a couple more contests than Conor since then in the octagon but Conor never stopped training. He’s obviously had a boxing match and has done other stuff. It’s interesting to see how the styles meet up this time.”

While he’s not offering up a prediction, Kavanagh still sees McGregor having a lot of the same advantages in the rematch against Poirier, and he expects that to play out on fight night.

“[Poirier] knows that he is facing somebody who can shut off his lights very, very rapidly and now is a lot more powerful and a lot more experienced than he was even then,” Kavanagh said. “It’s a tough, uphill battle for Dustin, but Dustin’s a phenomenal fighter, a great fighter, and I know him and Conor have certain agreements, charity things outside, which is great. I think that’s what professional sports should be about anyways. But yeah, I’m really looking forward to this one.”