The lightweight showdown will headline UFC 257, which takes place Saturday at the new Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. The pair first met at UFC 178 at 145 pounds in September 2014 with McGregor finishing Poirier via strikes in the first round.
Both competitors competed just once in 2020, each picking up victories. McGregor made quick work of Donald Cerrone, putting him away in just 40 seconds at UFC 246 in January, while Poirier defeated Dan Hooker in one of the year’s most entertaining bouts in June at UFC on ESPN 12.
Although their first matchup was one-sided, the UFC’s lead play-by-play voice believes, like most MMA pundits, that both fighters are vastly different than they were more than six years ago.
“I think Conor McGregor doesn’t get the credit he deserves as being one of the best strikers in MMA,” Anik told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “His distance management, his power, knowing what to throw and when to throw it, adding layers, getting better constantly, the shoulder strikes against Donald Cerrone, it’s not every day you say that as a method of victory. By the way, he mixed in a head kick for good measure.
“When some people talk about what Conor McGregor did in 2020, he was the perfect fighter. Circumstances prevented him from making that walk again but I’m just excited to see McGregor at 155 pounds, where he hasn’t competed all that often in the UFC. It’s crazy to think he only has one 155 pound win in the UFC and that was the champion over Eddie Alvarez. It’s a fascinating number.”
“Obviously, Dustin Poirier is a completely different beast than he was in 2014,” Anik said. “It’s amazing how good Poirier was back then, and if you talk to him now, he just knew so much less than he knows now, and I think it’s been a mental evolution as much as a physical one for him.”
Prior to their 2020 victories, both fighters looked to bounce back from submission losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov. “The Diamond” has clearly been the more active fighter since McGregor’s loss to the current lightweight champion, who announced his retirement following his UFC 254 win over Justin Gaethje, with three appearances since then, including a decision over Max Holloway at UFC 236 to capture the interim 155 pound title.
With the activity, and high level battles that Poirier has been involved in over the years, Anik believes the results of those encounters could have a bearing on how the second meeting with McGregor could play out.
“I think the miles on the Poirier tank could be a benefit, and could be a detriment,” Anik explained. “That Hooker fight was an absolute war, and there were wars on top of wars. So I do think it stands to reason that Conor McGregor will be the fresher fighter. You know both Poirier and McGregor have [been putting] themselves through hell and it’s as good as it gets.
“The only sprinkle would be if the championship was on the line, but it certainly feels like a championship fight to me.”
Since their first meeting, Poirier’s evolution has gone beyond the physical. The 31-year-old has shown over recent years that he can withstand dangerous situations. In one of the best rounds of the year, Poirier found himself in big trouble in the second round of his fight with Hooker. However, he was able to stay in the fight and deliver punishment of his own, which led to the hard-fought win.
As impressive as Poirier’s composure was, the stakes, the fight, the location, and the moment will be vastly different on Jan. 23.
“I do think the UFC APEX has an effect on certain fighters, this tremendous calming influence and I think Poirier walked out and felt like he was better than Dan Hooker everywhere, as humbly as he would say that,” Anik said. “He just felt very comfortable in that environment, you saw him talking sh*t to the broadcast team, mouthing off to Bisping if I’m not mistaken, and then going up to Dan right after the fact and it’s a very intimate setting.
“Fight Island is different. I don’t know how many fans are going to be in the building, how many VIP’s will be in the building, but I do know the 30 foot octagon is gonna be in the goddamn building and there are gonna be at least a couple of hundred people around the octagon. It’s a different setting. And by the way, Conor McGregor is gonna be walking through that door and not Dan Hooker.”
Anik made the trip to Abu Dhabi a week early to work the UFC Fight Island 7 event earlier this month. Regardless of how many fights he’ll have to call ahead of time, there is no other place he would rather be than cage side to call the first of many massive fights to take place in 2021.
“I can’t wait to see how it plays out,” Anik stated. “I haven’t had the chance to call all that many of McGregor’s fights. I feel like I’ve been step by step with Poirier throughout his entire UFC career. I’m excited to see Conor make that walk and come hell or high water, however many COVID tests I gotta beat, I’m gonna be there Jan. 23.”