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Making the Grade: UFC 264: Poirier vs. McGregor 3 edition

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UFC 264: Burns v Thompson Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

In a somewhat anti-climactic conclusion to the UFC 264 main event, Dustin Poirier was victorious over Conor McGregor after the Irish superstar was unable to continue after suffering a gruesome broken leg at the end of the first round.

Poirier had largely dominated the fight up to that point outside of an early guillotine attempt from McGregor and there were a few moments during some ground and pound flurries that it appeared the former interim lightweight champion was nearing a finish.

Unfortunately, McGregor’s leg broke before Poirier could get the satisfying stoppage he sought after but he still walks away with a victory that will undoubtedly lead him into a UFC lightweight title fight later this year.

In the co-main event, Gilbert Burns bounced back from a title fight loss in his last outing to beat Stephen Thompson by unanimous decision in a back-and-forth battle. Burns turned back to his grappling to ground the always dangerous Thompson as he returned to the win column in his quest to get back into title contention.

All told, there were quite a few memorable moments at UFC 264, but with all eyes on the main event, did the card still live up to expectations in the end?

Let’s find out as we discuss what passed and what failed on Saturday night. This is Making the Grade for UFC 264: Poirier vs. McGregor 3.

PASSES

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

The end of the UFC 264 main event didn’t exactly give Dustin Poirier the closure he wanted in a third fight against Conor McGregor, but he still managed to prove a point.

While one round doesn’t determine the fight, Poirier was completely dominant during that five-minute session outside of a lone guillotine choke attempt from McGregor. On the feet, Poirier looked fast and powerful as always and then he showed off another facet to his game while bludgeoning McGregor with vicious punches and elbows on the ground.

There were a couple of dicey moments where it appeared McGregor might not survive to round two anyways as he ate a lot of shots from Poirier, who looked determined to finish the fight in impressive fashion.

Beyond his performance, Poirier also shined after the fight as he tried to take the high road against McGregor, who was still cursing and shouting at him while laying on the canvas with a broken leg. McGregor had made some truly heinous comments about Poirier and his wife leading into the fight and the Lafayette, La. native largely ignored everything and just went about his business.

After the fight was over, Poirier took a couple of digs at McGregor while also dropping the line of the year while addressing the crowd in Las Vegas jeering his victory.

“Everybody booing, you can kiss my whole assh*le,” Poirier said.

Even before Saturday night started, Poirier was already ranked as the No. 1 lightweight in the world according to the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, ahead of reigning UFC champion Charles Oliveira. That should tell you just how impressive Poirier’s body of work has been over the past few years and with a second win over McGregor — controversial or not — he can now move onto a title fight with Oliveira later this year.

Will Poirier ever need to revisit the rivalry with McGregor again?

There’s a good possibility that might happen once McGregor recovers from the broken leg and at that point Poirier can hopefully cash another massive payday just like he deserves.

That’s Australian for Knockout

UFC 264: Tuivasa v Hardy Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

No one currently competing in the sport of mixed martial arts looks like they are having as much fun before, during and after a fight than Australian slugger Tai Tuivasa.

At UFC 264, the man known for drinking beer out of a shoe after his wins — aka “The Shoey” — flattened ex-NFL defensive end Greg Hardy just 67 seconds into the first round in their fight on the pay-per-view main card. The knockout followed Tuivasa dancing his way into the cage as he was serenaded by the sounds of the song “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls.

If that wasn’t enough, Tuivasa might have been the most excited person to have fans back in attendance as it appeared he was ready to go out and hug every single person in the T-Mobile Arena following his stunning knockout win.

He then walked to the back while stopping to drink beer from every shoe shoved in his face — including once garnished by Dustin Poirier’s signature hot sauce — and he had a smile on his face the entire time.

Prior to a three-fight losing streak, Tuivasa appeared to be one of the fastest rising stars in the UFC’s heavyweight division. He’s now bounced back with three wins in a row and while there’s no telling if he’ll ever be a serious threat to the best fighters in the world at heavyweight, there’s one thing for sure — Tuivasa is going to have an absolute blast and make every one of his appearances feel like a party.

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia is producing some serious talent these days and we’re not talking about the state where the Atlanta Hawks and the Georgia Bulldogs call home.

Instead, this is Georgia — the former Russian republic sitting in Eastern Europe — that’s responsible for some of the best prospects competing in the UFC today.

The latest to make waves is featherweight powerhouse Ilia Topuria, who dispatched noted grappler Ryan Hall in relatively easy fashion in their fight at UFC 264. Hall, who was undefeated in the octagon prior to Saturday night with a long list of opponents who wouldn’t face him, struggled to get Topuria to the ground and control him during any of their exchanges during the fight.

When Topuria finally did engage with Hall on the ground it was to deliver a series of blistering shots to the head that led to the first-round knockout.

Topuria is now 3-0 in the UFC and 11-0 overall in his career and he appears to be a serious threat to anybody currently occupying a spot in the top 15 rankings.

He’s also the latest fighter from Georgia to make serious waves in the UFC alongside his countrymen Giga Chikadze, who is about to headline his first event opposite Edson Barboza and Merab Dvalishvili, a bantamweight mauler about to face former title contender Marlon Moraes in his next outing.

There’s also Guram Kutateladze, who is another top prospect from Georgia after he defeated former two-division KSW champion Mateusz Gamrot in his octagon debut this past October.

As it stands, Georgia seems to be a new hot bed for mixed martial arts, especially judging by the talent tearing through the competition in the UFC right now. Topuria is just the latest name to watch and chances are he won’t be the last Georgian fighter to steal the spotlight in the UFC.

FAIL

Sixth Degree Burns

Dana White says a lot of things that can make you scratch your head or occasionally roll your eyes, especially when it comes to his opinions on certain fighters in the sport but as arguably the most powerful person in all of mixed martial arts, he’s obviously entitled to his opinion.

Following UFC 264 on Saturday night, White was asked about the co-main event that saw Gilbert Burns win a unanimous decision over Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson as he got back on track following a loss in a title fight against Kamaru Usman earlier this year.

Burns definitely had his hands full as “Wonderboy” attempted to catch him off guard with the bag full of tricks that looks to use in all of his fights. To counter the flashy style employed by the karate specialist, Burns turned to his grappling game while becoming one of the only fighters to ever put Thompson on the ground and keep him there for any significant amount of time.

He also did a fantastic job punishing Thompson any time he started to get back up to his feet, which was a key way Burns scored points with the judges over the course of three rounds.

While it wasn’t a knockdown, drag out war, Burns and Thompson both had their moments and it was a compelling bout over three rounds.

That’s not the case according to White, who ripped the performance from both fighters afterwards while commenting on Burns by saying “he won, what else I should say about the fight? It wasn’t a good fight. But he won.”

Now White is no stranger to tearing down the performances of his own fighters but this one was a little more confusing than many others, because while Burns vs. Thompson wasn’t a Fight of the Year candidate, it was far from a terrible or boring affair.

Perhaps Burns vs. Thompson seemed somewhat pedestrian when surrounded by Tai Tuivasa’s first-round knockout or watching Sean O’Malley tee off on newcomer Kris Moutinho for nearly 15 minutes, but it was anything but a bad outing from either fighter.

Many applaud White for his brutal honesty when assessing his own talent and there are definitely times when his candor is refreshing when compared to the vanilla, “Bull Durham” like responses offered by most executives across major sports. That said, White tends to offer this kind of harsh criticism quite often and it’s a little confusing considering he’s going to have to turn around and try to convince an audience to watch the next card where Burns and/or Thompson fight again.

By comparison, White’s problem with Burns vs. Thompson is far less egregious than his opinion on other fights in the past but it’s really hard to understand why this particular matchup got under his skin so much. Burns definitely deserved better from his boss after he gutted out a hard-fought win over one of the trickiest fighters to face on the entire UFC roster.

EPIC FAIL

When Trash Talk Is Just Trash

At his best, Conor McGregor is undoubtedly the best trash talker in the history of the UFC and he’s left a long list of bodies in the wake of his performances at press conferences and media days. Jeremy Stephens is likely still trying to soothe the sting he felt after making the mistake of piping up to challenge McGregor during a press conference back in 2016.

Unfortunately in the past couple of years, McGregor’s taunts have turned from smart and cutting to just down right mean, nasty and really just over the line.

The latest example came in the days leading up to his trilogy with Dustin Poirier as McGregor was trying to pull every trick possible to get into his opponent’s head — including the publication of a direct message request he claimed to receive from Poirier’s wife Jolie on Instagram. McGregor then ran with that narrative at the pre-fight press conference, taking shots at Poirier and his wife and then carrying on and on about how he planned to murder him in the octagon.

Then came Saturday night when McGregor suffered the gruesome injury that stopped the fight with Poirier and sent him out of the arena on a stretcher.

Even as medical personnel tended to McGregor as he sat on the ground, the Irish superstar was still shouting at Poirier while lobbing senseless threats against him. When UFC commentator Joe Rogan then climbed down to the canvas to speak to McGregor, his awful diatribe continued as he kept taking shots at Poirier and then rattled off even more insults aimed at his wife.

Of course, the Poirier family was just the latest victims of McGregor clutching at straws when trying to dissect an opponent before a fight because he pulled out a similar verbal attack ahead of his fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018.

For all the ways that McGregor made his name through mental warfare and delivering some of the most seething yet hilarious trash talk while becoming the biggest draw in the sport, it seems like lately he’s just run out of anything interesting to say.

Of course it was going to be hard for McGregor to attack Poirier’s skill set after he got knocked out by him in their last meeting back in January but going after his wife and making actual death threats wasn’t trash talking — it was just trash.

As much as everything seems to be fair game when promoting a fight, McGregor used to be far more creative when he was tearing an opponent apart before ever stepping into the cage against them. Lately, however, McGregor’s attacks that include promising to kill the Poirier family in their sleep seem to be his only recourse because in his past two fights — as noted by comedian Adam Hunter — “he definitely can’t seem to do it when Dustin is awake.”

Overall Grade for UFC 264: C+