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Coach Firas Zahabi: Conor McGregor faded in face of Dustin Poirier attack – ‘he’s not used to weathering storms’

UFC 257: Poirier v McGregor
Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Conor McGregor’s penchant for fast, emphatic wins may have caught up to him.

That’s one of the reasons “The Notorious” fell short in his rematch with Dustin Poirier at UFC 257, according to Tristar head coach Firas Zahabi. McGregor has a long reel of first- and second-round finishes on his resume, but it was Poirier who ended the bout via strikes in round two this past Saturday.

Zahabi broke down the main event clash in a recent live chat, and one thing that stuck out to him was McGregor’s reaction to adversity. McGregor had success with his boxing and even landed his famed left hand on Poirier, but unlike in their first encounter, it was not enough to put Poirier away. When Poirier returned fire, Zahabi saw signs that McGregor had checked out early.

“I think in the second round when McGregor was getting hit along the fence, I found it strange that he wasn’t – it seemed that he already gave up on the fight before he hit the canvas,” Zahabi said. “I felt that he had given up on the fight because things were getting tough. The fight was getting tough, his left hand didn’t work, and he’s not used to that. He’s not used to hitting guys with the big left and then keep fighting. He’s used to hitting guys with the big left and then dropping down to the floor. They drop to the floor and they’re frantic and they don’t know what to do and they don’t know how to deal with it.

“McGregor, in the second round, dropped his best card. He landed that perfect left hand, the one he’s relied on his entire career and for one reason or another it didn’t work. Poirier did not go down. And it seemed that McGregor got emotional about it. He started covering up, he was getting hit, he didn’t look he was trying to circle out and survive. He looked like a guy who was like, look, this is the end, I better do something. He kind of threw a few punches, but they were almost desperate. He seemed to get very emotional, where as you contrast that with Poirier. When Poirier got hit, he looked cool, he kind of shrugged it off, he kind of kept boxing. He was playing a game. He was cool and he was looking for his next move.”

Zahabi compared Poirier to storied movie boxer Rocky Balboa and praised “The Diamond” for his poise. He added that he had actually picked McGregor to win and was so confident in that outcome, that he was actually not interested in seeing Poirier and McGregor fight a second time.

On paper, Zahabi thought of McGregor as the more skilled striker, but there was no quantifying the heart and grit of Poirier.

“[McGregor’s] a better boxer, he’s a better counter puncher, he’s got a longer reach, he’s faced Mayweather in boxing,” Zahabi said. “He has so many advantages. But one thing I said, Poirier has the biggest heart. You can’t deny that. Watch his Hooker fight, watch his fight with Eddie Alvarez, watch both of them. The man has tremendous, tremendous heart and a will to win. And we saw the will to win overcome skill and technique.

“Because McGregor has beautiful skill and technique. He has beautiful punching mechanics, his head movement is excellent. Even until the end, his head movement actually was beautiful. However, he did get caught with a good hook, and it caught him by surprise, I don’t think he saw it coming. But the way he fell also tells me that he didn’t see it coming. It has a lot to do with the way he fell and in my opinion, he’s not used to weathering storms. All the hard fights Poirier had, they all led him this win last weekend. All those hard fights, those blood and guts fights he’s had, they’ve toughened him up mentally because the barrage of punches he was taking, would have put a lesser seasoned fighter out.”

Zahabi specifically pointed to Poirier’s June 2020 scrap with Dan Hooker as evidence of the kind of fight where Poirier took incredible amounts of damage and still went on to win. It was the third time in six fights that Poirier had to compete past the third round, the other two being a decision win over Max Holloway and a fourth-round TKO of Justin Gaethje.

McGregor has won one five-round fight in his career, a majority decision nod over Nate Diaz in the second fight of their series. In his most recent fight before Poirier, he defeated Donald Cerrone in just 40 seconds last January. Zahabi theorized that McGregor’s ability to end fights quickly has left him ill-prepared for when the action does not go his way.

“Some guys are really tough when the fight’s going well, and when the fight gets tough, some guys they crumble,” Zahabi said. “Poirier’s not one of those guys. Poirier as the fight gets tough, he thrives on it. McGregor, the fight gets tough, it seems like he can drop real quick. You almost feel—You see the emotions on his face. You see his eyes kind of get filled up with emotion. That’s something from if you win a lot of fights in round one, it’s hard to develop that heart, that toughness, that grit.

“Poirier didn’t have it easy getting to the top. I’m not saying I’d want to win my fights like that. I think if I had a choice between the two I’d like to win clean fights. But there is a benefit in both, winning clean there’s a benefit and then winning with blood and guts also has its benefits and that benefit shined last week.”

As for the future of McGregor as contender, Zahabi thinks it all has to do with if he can still motivate himself after achieving such enormous financial success and stability. McGregor said post-fight that he would welcome a third fight with Poirier should the opportunity arise, though it’s unclear what the path is to another title shot for the popular Irishman.

Add in the fact that McGregor has both a growing family and multiple business interests outside of fighting, and Zahabi isn’t sure if the two-division champion ever sees gold around his waist again.

“At this time in your career, you want one good win and retire, because you’re probably at this point, generally speaking, fighters are tired of putting their family on hold,” Zahabi said. “Tired of putting everything on hold. You want to watch your kids grow up, go through different phases of your life, go to family dinners, have that family time, that recreational time. But fighters who are competing at the highest level who are climbing up the ladder, they’ve got to push pause on that all the time.

“It’s very tiresome, it’s very psychologically tiresome. But it all depends on the individual. Are you ready to give all that up? Are you ready to do all this?”

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