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Dustin Poirier explains why he let Conor McGregor up in first round at UFC 264

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If it looked like Dustin Poirier backed off from an advantageous position in his rubber match with Conor McGregor, there was a reason he made that decision.

In the first round of UFC 264’s lightweight main event, “The Diamond” had McGregor in trouble after securing a takedown and posturing up to attack with ground-and-pound. He drove punches and elbows down at a busy McGregor, but eventually let McGregor stand while appearing to say something to referee Herb Dean.

At the evening’s post-fight press conference, Poirier explained that McGregor had illegally grabbed his glove, which prompted Poirier to change position rather than risk catching a kick to the face.

“That’s why I let him up,” Poirier said. “I let him up because he had three fingers in my glove, the cuff of the tape, so it’s a good grip, and he’s pulling me down into upkicks. He’s pulling me down and kicking up at the same time. I’m not surprised that he does that stuff though. I’m telling Herb, ‘I can’t get out of it.’

“When I told Herb, maybe Conor pulled his fingers out,” Poirier continued. “I gotta go back-You know fighting’s crazy, I gotta go back and see. But that’s what I was trying to tell Herb.”

Any in-fight ugliness was to be expected given the pre-fight trash talk that saw McGregor claim he would “murder” Poirier when the two met inside the octagon for a third time. Poirier, for his part, rarely sunk to McGregor’s level, though he didn’t shy away from answering the taunts of the fallen McGregor after their fight. The bout ended at the end of the first round when a leg injury left McGregor unable to continue.

Poirier reiterated that he wishes McGregor nothing but safe travels home and even had praise for “The Notorious” when he was asked about his opponent’s positive qualities.

“He’s an incredible athlete,” Poirier said. “His timing is great. His power is great, his speed. He has a lot of great attributes. His ability to thrive under pressure and cameras and lights is amazing as well. But he’s just a human being, like I was saying at the press conference. He bleeds just like me.”

Poirier, the No. 1 lightweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, is now poised to challenge UFC champion Charles Oliveira at a future date. Though Poirier admitted he hasn’t done a deep dive into the dynamics of a potential matchup with Oliveira yet, it sounds like there will be plenty of mutual respect between the two should that fight be booked.

“He’s not just a guy in the division who happens to have the belt,” Poirier said. “He’s a guy who’s picked himself up off the canvas time and time again. Fought through adversity through two weight classes, been in the UFC a decade. He’s not just a guy with a belt. He’s earned every ounce of gold he has around his waist and I have nothing but respect for guys like that. I don’t know him personally, but his work history, I can’t hate on anything he’s done. It’s incredible.

“That’s tougher to do than, I think, to go undefeated, because you never learn things about yourself. You learn so much about yourself in those losses and of climbing back up to the top and getting motivated again. That’s when you find out you’re a real fighter. I’m not saying these undefeated guys aren’t, but I’m just saying I have respect for somebody like that who’s climbed back up and won a world championship.”