Well, now we know. In the second round of the pay-per-view headliner on Saturday night, Poirier answered any such questions definitively, viciously knocking out McGregor with a series of punches against the fence.
McGregor has lost before – a lot, in fact, over the last few years. But this one felt different. Aside from the fact that this is McGregor’s most meme-able loss, it’s also his least explainable one. Nate Diaz? He had little time to prepare for a different stylistic matchup and he blew his gas tank. He then came back and won the rematch. Khabib Nurmagomedov? It’s Khabib. No one beats Khabib.
But Poirier? McGregor already had a knockout win over Poirier, and he was predicting a finish inside of 60 seconds. He spent much of the build up for this fight talking about how prepared he was and that this was the best version of himself. And he got knocked out in 8 minutes.
That’s not an accident. Poirier didn’t finish McGregor because he “had attributes” or because he is a bad stylistic matchup for him. He did it because for the last seven years, Poirier has been steadily improving. Because, in essence, Poirier took to heart the mantra of McGregor’s own team, “win or learn.”
In many ways, Saturday night was the culmination of that journey. McGregor is not just the biggest star in the sport, one who lifts others into the realm of wider public perception. For Poirier specifically, he was the archetypal villain, the man who handed Poirier his worst loss and forced him to reconsider his career in a fundamental way. After their first fight, Poirier moved up to lightweight and reinvented himself. He became a very good defensive fighter who boxed instead of brawled. He put together wins. In his own words, he became mentally stronger by learning to “stop caring about the noise”. He steadily kept improving. He won an interim title. He lost in his title shot. He bounced back with one of the best fights of the year. And then, finally, he conquered the man who set him down that path to begin with. It’s the plot of a Disney movie. The only thing missing was the championship, and that shouldn’t be far off.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is currently the UFC lightweight champion. But Poirier will not fight him next. No one will. Khabib retired after his win at UFC 254, and since then, he has made his thoughts on returning pretty clear: he’s not going to do it.
Now that the prospect of a pay-per-view shattering rematch between Khabib and McGregor is off the table (such that it ever was on the table in the first place), the UFC can move on to crowning a new champion, and Poirier will be one half of that fight. He certainly deserves it. Poirier now has wins over numbers 1, 4, 6, and 9 in the current UFC rankings (and the top-ranked featherweight). That’s more wins over ranked opponents than anyone in the division, other than Khabib.
If Poirier goes on to win the undisputed title and finally get “paid in full,” it would be the perfect conclusion to his career. There is literally not another person in MMA who would deserve it more. Poirier is universally respected by the MMA world, and the reason this fight even came about was Poirier and McGregor began publicly negotiating for a fight to benefit Poirier’s charity, The Good Fight Foundation. But even if Poirier loses in his next fight and never does end up capturing the undisputed UFC lightweight champion, that won’t take away from what he accomplished on Saturday night. He vanquished his demons and ascended to a rarified level of stardom. As the saying goes, pressure makes diamonds, and on Saturday night, none shone brighter than Dustin Poirier.
UFC 257 Quotes
“Khabib reiterates he doesn’t want to fight any more – dude, I’m the champ. I’m not going to fight, some – and like I said, respect to Chandler – a new guy to the UFC who just beat a guy that’s coming off a loss that I just beat for the belt. That’s not exciting to me.” - Dustin Poirier on possibly fighting Michael Chandler for the UFC lightweight title.
“Just because he’s never had the opportunity. Gaethje just came out here and got beat, as I did. Not a knock on Gaethje, but he lost. I think Oliviera, probably, or let them fight to see who gets it.” - Dustin Poirier on why he thinks Charles Oliveira deserves the title shot.
“If he wants to have his disrespectful comments, come back and let’s go again, my man. I’m here for it. That’s fighting talk. If you’re coming back, come back. You try and do it. That’s that.” - Conor McGregor on Khabib.
“I did talk to Khabib. He said to me, ‘Dana, be honest with yourself. I’m so many levels above these guys. I beat these guys.’ I don’t know. I don’t know what he’s—it doesn’t sound very positive, so we’ll see.” - Dana White giving up that Khabib is ever going to fight again.
“I’m by no means a perfect man inside that octagon, but I promise you I can beat that man. I promise you I can beat Khabib, so I told him… I didn’t tell him personally, but I told him through the camera lens. You’ve earned every right to be able to sail off into the sunset and continue living your life and making your impact because you’ve done it thus far. But, man, if you ever do come back, there’s a man over here waiting for you from High Ridge, Missouri.” - Michael Chandler on Khabib.
Dustin Poirier: For all the reasons listed above. Poirier not only got back his worst loss, he did so on the biggest platform of his career. Poirier is set to receive the Conor McGregor bump in a huge way, and maybe even the lightweight title to go along with it.
Michael Chandler: Chandler had doubters coming into the UFC. Many of them. He has substantially fewer now. Chandler ran through Dan Hooker in a way no one else really has an immediately put himself in the lightweight title conversation.
Marina Rodriguez: Rodriguez came into this fight having had two subpar performances against grapplers. Well, third time is the charm, I guess. Rodriguez still got taken down, but when she got up she made it count.
Julianna Peña: Five years ago, Peña seemed destined for a bantamweight title shot, but then she lost to Valentina Shevchenko and hasn’t been able to build any momentum since. Finishing former title challenger Sara McMann is a good start and puts her right back in the mix at 135.
Joanne Calderwood: Calderwood was supposed to fight for the title last year until an injury to Shevchenko prevented it. Instead, “Jojo” took a fight against Jennifer Maia and lost. This win over Jessica Eye probably doesn’t get her back to a title shot, but it does at least keep her in the conversation.
Brad Tavares: Tavares continues to be one of the most consistent fighters in the middleweight division, racking up wins against all but the very best fighters in the world. Another workmanlike performance against Antonio Carlos Junior just affirms his place in the 185 ranks.
Conor McGregor: For all the talk of “win or learn,” McGregor hasn’t been doing a lot of either lately. McGregor has not beaten an elite fighter since the Obama administration, and now the book appears to be out on how to fight him. “Notorious” needs to make some changes.
Dan Hooker: Hooker had a big opportunity to make a name for himself on Saturday, and instead, he got folded up like a lawn chair by a UFC debutant. On top of that, Hooker just looked bad in the fight. He seemed overly concerned about Chandler’s wrestling and presented very little in the way of offense before getting clobbered.
Sara McMann: McMann is a former Olympic silver medalist and widely-respected MMA fighter, but she has a way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and she did so again on Saturday. A win might have gotten McMann a title shot. Instead, at 40 years old she can’t have much time left in the cage.
Nik Lentz winning Eric Colón’s scorecard is not a great look. But at this point, it’s expected that there will be at least one weird decision happening on any given UFC card. Much more troubling, though, is the continued decline of Herb Dean. For many years, Dean was one of the best referees in the sport, but those years are pretty far removed at this point. Lately, he has been plagued by indecision or poor decisions with his choices in stopping fights (and last weekend stood idly by as Max Holloway may have taken years off the life of Calvin Kattar) and that problem reared its ugly head again on Saturday.
In the main card opener, Marina Rodriguez dropped Amanda Ribas with a right hand that had Ribas in all sorts of trouble. Rodriguez followed her to the floor and started rifling punches into Ribas who was holding onto a leg in desperation. Dean hovered by the two, preparing for his moment to jump in. He then appeared to do so, but changed his mind while stepping in. The result was that Rodriguez felt Dean make contact with her and walked away triumphantly, only for Ribas to stand up and for Dean to tell them to keep fighting. Rodriguez obliged and then cracked Ribas with a few more shots before Dean stepped in to waive things off.
There are two things here that make this so bad. First, is that Dean basically changed his mind about a stoppage. Had Ribas recovered and then gone on to win the fight, Rodriguez would have a very strong case that Dean negatively impacted the outcome of the fight, which is a core responsibility of the referee - to remain neutral. Secondly, he should have stopped the fight! Ribas was conscious, but clearly done, and instead of protecting her from taking more unnecessary punishment, Dean created a situation where Ribas stood back up and got lit up again. Overall, it was a terrible performance by Dean, and we’re lucky he didn’t do something similar in the main event.
Fights to Make
Dustin Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira: Poirier deserves to fight for the title, and Oliveira is the man most deserving of the next one. This should be straightforward.
Conor McGregor vs. Rafael dos Anjos: The Nate Diaz trilogy is what everyone is thinking and probably what will actually happen next, but the RDA fight makes more sense. McGregor wants to stay active and he wants to remain in the lightweight title hunt, and with RDA once again a going concern at 155, there is plenty of backstory here to build on.
Michael Chandler vs. Justin Gaethje: For years this was the dream non-UFC fight and now it can happen in the octagon, with a title shot on the line. A no-brainer.
Dan Hooker vs. Tony Ferguson: There will be violence.
Joanne Calderwood vs. Lauren Murphy: Both women need another win to put a stamp on their title claims, and with things trending toward Jessica Andrade getting the next crack at Valentina Shechenko, this seems like the only true option.
Makhmud Muradov vs. Brad Tavares: No need to overcomplicate this. Muradov is on a 14-fight win streak and deserves a crack at the middleweight elite. That is practically Tavares’ job at this point.
Marina Rodriguez vs. Claudia Gadelha: It would be nice to give Rodriguez a break from people who are going to try and take her down but the strawweight division is not very accommodating in that regard. Gadelha would be a huge scalp for Rodriguez and put her on the path to true contention.
Julianna Peña vs. Raquel Pennington: It’s kind of surprising these two haven’t fought already. Both women are coming off wins, so now is the time.
Movsar Evloev vs. Shane Burgos. Burgos was supposed to fight at UFC 257, but an injury to his opponent forced him off the card. If Evloev is prepared to make a quick turnaround, this would be a good introduction for him to the top-15 of the division.
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