When dissecting an impending bout involving ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor, I tend to revert to what the naked eye can see regarding his approach and mindset. I’ve long held the belief that despite the life-altering spoils that came via his 2017 boxing matchup with Floyd Mayweather, the community as a whole missed out on what could’ve been.
McGregor had just been minted the undisputed lightweight champion, adding to his featherweight gold, and thus, becoming the first combatant in promotional history to raise two titles simultaneously. The fashion in which the 32-year-old went about earning that second championship was nothing short of breathtaking.
Tackling the durable Eddie Alvarez, McGregor was at his shimmering best, and to this date, we’re yet to see a better performance produced from him. Both Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson were flying toward their first promotional title tilts, and you’d have to question how McGregor would’ve faired in a 2017 matchup with both, if not either.
With that out of the way so to speak, let’s take a look at what the naked eye can see right now. All signs point to me, a very similar approach to this weekend’s rematch with Dustin Poirier, as he took when tasked with rebounding from his first promotional defeat to Nate Diaz. A close-knit support crew with the hope and intention of covering every base in preparation for fight night.
McGregor’s coming off a forty-second blitzing of future Hall of Fame inductee, Donald Cerrone in a welterweight headliner, however, there’s not an awful lot to take from the performance. Dominant in the clinch. Dominant on the feet. McGregor emerged without a scratch. And if he doesn’t stop Poirier in similar fashion, the Louisiana native has matured extensively to cause major worry for him the longer this re-run plays out.
History repeating itself in the Octagon is something that comes few-and-far-between. T.J. Dillashaw may have twice stopped Cody Garbrandt in successive bouts, but chalking that one up to anything less than a lack of fight IQ for the latter is naive at best.
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen. The first go-around; Sonnen dismantles Silva for five-rounds before dropping to a late, hail-mary triangle. The re-run; Silva takes home a second-round knockout via a lethal, ferocious barrage at the fence.
Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier. Cormier shockingly stops Miocic in the first outing, before the new challenger rallies in the rematch to stop the now defending champion. Rounding off their trilogy in August last, Miocic takes bragging-rights with a unanimous decision win. Just a couple examples.
Stacking all your chips on McGregor given the fact he’s beaten Poirier already is wishful thinking in regards to doubling your pot. There’s a couple of notable reasons why. UFC 178, September 2014, Poirier and McGregor battle at the 145-pound featherweight limit. Given the fact that Poirier recently detailed how he walks around close to the middleweight stopping point of 185-pounds — draining yourself to featherweight is going to have some real effects on your performance.
Evidence is stacking to suggest Poirier’s move to lightweight following the knockout loss to McGregor brought with it a new durability and ability to withstand punishment comes in his quartet of victories over former world champions, Anthony Pettis, Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, and Max Holloway at the 155-pound limit, as well as June’s barnburner with event co-headliner, Dan Hooker.
What’s also different, so far in this re-run is McGregor’s psychological tormentor approach to Poirier or lack thereof. Against Cerrone last year, it was respect and praise. Against Poirier this year, it’s something similar. Rewind the clock six-years and Poirier can be heard detailing how he’s “never disliked somebody this much that I’ve (he’s) fought before.“
Emotionally invested in his first matchup with McGregor, Poirier was fighting with his heart rather than his head and he’s since admitted that a maturity has helped him to overcome this flaw. A once brash, brawling striker, Poirier will still pour on the pressure when he senses his opponent wilting, however, one aspect of his overall striking game which has improved no-end is his defence.
Incorporating multiple shoulder rolls, as well as a high guard, Poirier has successfully evaded the counter wings from the likes of Alvarez and Gaethje in the past utilising this newfound approach to his defence on the feet.
Poirier seems to have gained some personal respect from McGregor ahead of their rematch, with the Dubliner highlighting how impressed he’s been by the philanthropic efforts of Dustin and his wife, Jolie with The Good Fight Foundation. In the Octagon come the early hours of Sunday morning, Poirier must gain the respect of McGregor in the early striking exchanges.
There was almost a brash approach to the first couple of exchanges from McGregor during his brief 2014 tie with Poirier. Opening up with a hook-kick before a spinning back-kick to the body to halt a circling Poirier in his tracks, despite a decent left hand from Poirier which drew a shake of the head from McGregor, it was more or less plain sailing for the former two-division champion.
Walking into range with his hands down prior to the finish, there was a complete disregard for the possible offensive returns from Poirier before the former landed with a left-hand, clipping Poirier before finishing with some precise ground strikes. I firmly believe that now suited and deeply bedded into his lightweight home, Poirier is going to show a lot more resilience this weekend if McGregor lands similar shots which put him away during their featherweight showdown.
As is customary with a fight involving McGregor, questions seem to flood regarding the Dubliner’s overall conditioning, particularly in the later rounds. Against Nate Diaz in their UFC 196 clash, McGregor drastically fell off a cliff in regards to his cardio and had some worrying moments in their subsequent rematch. But credit where credits due — he grasped hold of a second-wind against the Stockton native the second go-round on his way to a majority decision win.
Against arch-nemesis, Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, McGregor was on his back for the majority of the opening frame, and even in the opening fourth-round exchanges, after claiming the third-round against the Dagestani — McGregor didn’t look as drained as we witnessed in his early 2016 clash with Diaz.
The introduction of the McGregor F.A.S.T. system alongside Dr. Julian Dalby and Colin ‘Serpico Ninja’ Byrne has been an influential addition to Team McGregor. And despite finishing Cerrone with a high-kick and subsequent ground-and-pound flurry, the retention of Crumlin Boxing Club stalwart, Phil Sutcliffe for this camp once again will prove to be a shrewd decision against someone of Poirier’s ilk I believe.
Poirier’s durability at 155-pounds is something that will prove an important factor in this rematch, and I don’t personally believe McGregor will have as much success in the pocket as early this time around due to the simple fact that Poirier’s striking defence has come on leaps and bounds since their 2014 affair.
McGregor’s prediction of a knockout stoppage inside the opening minute is also something I believe will fall wide of the mark, however, I am picking the Dubliner to stop Poirier with strikes — just not as early as the opening sixty seconds. Poirier can go with a pace and pressure, just ask both Hooker and Gaethje, however, I believe he’ll eventually wilt to the offence presented by McGregor within the opening round and a half of this one.