When you talk about the evolution of the sport, it’s hard not to mention Conor McGregor’s name in today’s market. There are numerous athletes with superior ability, but very few with the superior chain of command to change the landscape. McGregor has made a career of it in a very short time. He began as a fighter who picked up his welfare check on the way to one of his early fights and became a fighter with seemingly endless earning potential.
Despite all of his success and a huge international fanbase that views him as unstoppable, the hardcore fans knew after his fight with Nate Diaz that there was a blue print for exposing McGregor. After coming back and losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a completely lopsided fight, McGregor seems mortal.
If you think this is about money, you are wrong. McGregor doesn’t need to fight — he wants to sand away his tarnished legacy by making the necessary run to get him one final crack at redemption. Keep in mind there are two authors to this story, and Dustin Poirier largely has a say in how the rest of this chapter plays out.
The nightmare that haunts him still the first time these two met in the cage years ago can be wiped away Saturday night. One of the most prolific and polarizing fighters in the sport takes on the blue collar sniper that very rarely fights in a boring bout for a shot at very different redemptions in a rematch that was bound to happen again. Time to run it back one last time.
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McGregor is a fighter that has talked much in the past, but he backs up the talking. With four first-round and four second-round finishes in his last 10 wins, McGregor doesn’t like wasting a ton of time. He is calculated in his approach. He is sharp, creative and understands the art of range and how to get the most of what he throws by measuring opponents at the full extension of his strikes.
However, if McGregor has shown two pitfalls they have been his ability to keep up with very good chain-wrestlers and conditioning. One is very fixable and one is largely wired within his genetic code.
The first person to really expose the wrestling end of it was Chad Mendes. Mendes came on super late notice and was not in fight-ready shape, However, right out of the gate, Mendes was able to control Conor in spots, but he tired quickly and Conor took over. You have to wonder what that fight would have looked like if Mendes had a full camp.
Then there was the Nate Diaz short-notice upset. The Diaz brothers are always in very good conditioning shape and that is what truly won him that fight. Then there was Khabib, and we all know what happened there.
Now, coming off a very quick victory over Cowboy Cerrone, we really didn’t have a big enough sample size to see exactly where McGregor is at this point in his career, but one thing is for sure: the UFC is praying he wins this fight.
This is a business at the end of the day, and him losing would be a financial miss for the UFC. As likable as Poirier is, the name of the game is money, and a possible rematch with Khabib would cause a breaking of the dam in money influx. However, he still needs to fight the fight and the man standing in front of him has been looking to erase that night in 2014 where he was sparked out in the very first round by the Notorious One.
You will often hear, “Dustin has never been in a boring fight.” That is not necessarily a good thing.
For the viewer, it’s great. However, for the fighter, that means damage, because it takes two people to make that happen and exciting fights take their toll after a while. These bouts also show that Poirier is very hittable.
He has some of the best boxing out there. He’s a slower starter but he’s extremely accurate, and once he gets his wheels under him, it’s almost like he has magnets in his wraps. He’s got good footwork, angle manipulations and perfect trajectories on his striking patterns. However, being hittable against McGregor is something you really don’t want, especially early when McGregor has a full tank of gas in his system.
Before his loss to Khabib, Poirier was on a 7-0-1 tear, with three of the seven wins coming by way of finish. The last time he was finished before Khabib was against Michael Johnson in 2016. The sharpshooting striker caught Poirier in a violent exchange that you could hear from the cheap seats.
Despite being rocked in many of his fights, Poirier has only been finished twice by way of KO, but not everyone has McGregor’s left hand, either. Poirier is wiser these days and much more mature as a fighter. I am looking forward to seeing a much different combatant than I did in 2016, but the path needs to change a bit. He is the better technician on the ground and if he can somehow find a way to drag this into the sandbox and draining some of McGregor’s energy, this fight can become extremely interesting.
The most important aspect of this fight for Poirier is the way he mixes things up. Showing McGregor looks on the feet and also threatening grappling exchanges will make him have to defend two levels. By doing that, you are drawing the hesitation card and it will cause the other fighter to be a bit more cautious of letting their hands go so freely due to the threat of being grounded. However, if he stands in the pocket with McGregor or plays the tic-tac-toe game with him, he could be in trouble.
How I’m Betting
I see this playing out in two ways. One is very similar to the first time they met but a little more extended, where McGregor catches him cold before the historically late-starting Poirier can get his timing and rhythm.
The other is that Poirier extends this fight into the deeper rounds and gains confidence as the fight goes on. When he starts to see a visibly tired McGregor with his mouth open, hands on his hips in between rounds, and a lack in production, Poirier will start to dial in his punches and push McGregor onto his back foot until he gets his redemption.
I honestly wouldn’t be shocked at either outcome, but I do think the more likely outcome here is McGregor closing the chapter on their history. Like I said above, this is a business, and there is no secret who the UFC wants to win this fight. I can see Poirier moving well, throwing some good jabs with some testing combos early, and really just trying to keep McGregor honest while reading his reactions and timing.
In turn, McGregor will be downloading and calculating scenarios in real time just waiting for his moments and choosing his spots. From a striking perspective, I think you will see a very sharp McGregor.
The Pick: Conor McGregor.
McGregor $9,100 / 21 / 5
McGregor is back and he’s coming in to prove a point. With eight of 10 fights over 100 points, Conor is always in the run to crack the 100-point barrier, even with the high price tag. I do think he has a window here because he is not a volume striker, however, Poirier will extract some numbers out of him in this one. The longer this fight goes, I feel the advantage will slowly start weighing in Poirier’s favor, but the sniper is going to look at that left hand on a guy he knows can be hit. Be prepared for heavy ownership here just on name value alone, but if he wins in the fashion that he has in the past, the points will be there.
Poirier $7,100 / 18 / 3 (Better value on DraftKings)
Seemingly a high-upside punt if you really want to look at the magnitude of this fight. The value is there for a kid that is starving for a chance at redemption. Seven of his last 10 fights have gone over 100 and the deeper this fight goes, the better he tends to get. He will need to get by the first two rounds to start taking some of that sting away from McGregor’s left hand, but if this hits the championship rounds, Poirier does his best work in those waters. Last time he was KO’d was by Michael Johnson in 2017, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been put on skates in between and he is there to be hit. However, fading him at this price with so much on the line would be foolish.