Seven minutes and twenty-eight seconds. That’s all it took for the UFC’s plans to be completely flipped on its head after Dustin Poirier became the first person to knock out Conor McGregor as the two closed out UFC 257 Saturday night. The Louisiana native avenged his 2014 loss against McGregor, and with that has essentially guaranteed his next fight to be for undisputed UFC gold.
Poirier landed an early takedown just moments into the first round, halting the fast-starting McGregor in his tracks early on. As the two worked to their feet, McGregor was able to land his patented shoulder strikes and clinch work which decimated Cowboy Cerrone a year prior. When the fight was at a striking distance in the first, both men had their moments. Poirier’s counter boxing was effective throughout but many people, including the three ringside judges, believed McGregor won the first.
The fight turned in Poirier’s favor as the two returned to their corners after the first. Poirier followed his American Top Team coaches’ orders as he went on in the second to land a barrage of calf kicks, zapping the life and bounce out of McGregor, leaving him critically hurt which led to the eventual finish. Dustin Poirier not only avenged his 2014 loss to Conor, but he was also the first man to finish him via strikes. He now adds McGregor’s name to his all-time great resume as he has beat the likes of Justin Gaethje, Max Holloway (x2), Eddie Alvarez, and Dan Hooker.
As for his opponent McGregor, the former two-division champion has now lost two out of his last four bouts and is now 1-2 at 155 pounds. Both McGregor’s inactivity and reluctance to stay true to a division now have him at a pivotal crossroads in his career. McGregor’s somewhat shocking loss has his SBG Ireland head coach John Kavanagh angling for a third crack at Dustin Poirier. Also, with Khabib’s vacating of the belt looming, although the fight would be great to market for the casual fan, it would hold up a division that has been held up for the last couple of years. Between Khabib fighting only once a year for the last three calendar years, and Conor leaving MMA for Floyd Mayweather, arguably the promotion’s best belt has been defended three times in the last three years, and that has to change. Money and marketing we assume will get in the way of the right contender getting the proper fight, but this is one way this division could get booked going forward.
Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor III for the vacant UFC Lightweight Title.
This isn’t the fight that necessarily deserves to be made, but this seems inevitable at this point. With the 3-1 underdog Poirier emphatically putting the world on notice on Saturday, why wouldn’t he want another chance at another massive payday? Between Poirier giving McGregor a bottle of his hot sauce at the weigh-ins, to the performance he put on, to him shouting out his non-profit The Good Fight Foundation after the fact, Dustin Poirier hit a home run during his trip to Fight Island. He returned to the place where he lost his first title shot over two years ago and proved that he deserves to be a massive star, and this is a time where a good guy actually finished first.
On the Conor side of the discussion, there have been many discussions about where he goes from here. Many were expecting McGregor to fight Manny Pacquiao after this bout, but now with this loss that seems off the table. Conor is now in a position where one more loss can leave him in a situation that Ronda Rousey was in after her consecutive losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes. Watch UFC President Dana White try to maximize the Conor bandwagon while it is still running because he is not getting any younger, and the lightweight division is only getting tougher.
Justin Gaethje vs. Nate Diaz
Similar to the McGregor vs. Poirier fight, this is another fight that has massive marketability. The former UFC title challenger recently spoke with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto and had very choice words for both McGregor and Diaz. He clamored at the bit at the idea of the Diaz match up and the lead up to the fight would be absolutely special due to their trash talk. If Gaethje were to win this, it would keep him in high standing among the lightweight top three and have a signature win among one of the most popular names in the sport. If Nate Diaz were to play spoiler, he would immediately be would likely be in for a massive payday against either a man he fought twice in McGregor, or Poirier, a man he was once booked to fight at UFC 230 back in 2018. This Gaethje-Diaz fight makes sense for both fighters and this is a fight that surely benefits Gaethje on the feet, but if Diaz is able to get this fight to the mat, he can surely catch him due to his high-level jiu-jitsu prowess.
Michael Chandler vs. Charles Olivera
The biggest storyline coming out of Saturday night not named McGregor or Poirier has to be the debut of former Bellator champion Michael Chandler. The newest UFC free agent signing and former All-American wrestler at Missouri was able to finish Kiwi Dan Hooker in under three minutes followed by a cringe-worthy pro wrestling style promo calling out McGregor, Khabib, and Poirier all at once. Although Chandler came out and made a bold statement on this card, it would be absolutely criminal to have him fight for a world title next, but if he was able to stop Olivera’s seven-fight win streak there will be a discussion to be had. Out of Olivera’s seven-straight wins, only one of them is against a fighter currently in the top 10 and it was via decision, while Gaethje and Poirier both have finishes against top 10 foes. This fight would be a great showcase fight for both guys, and the stylistic match up of jiu-jitsu vs wrestling would be amazing to watch play out. If either guy were to win, there would be a discussion to be made for a title shot and a fight like this could easily co-main a pay-per-view just like Chandler did this past Saturday.
Dan Hooker vs. Tony Ferguson
With both men are coming off two straight losses for the first time in their career, this would be a great fight to see towards the back end of the calendar year. Ferguson lost his interim belt in a war with Justin Gaethje in the first fight back following COVID-19, followed by 30-26’s across the board against Olivera in December. Dan Hooker has had the same string of bad luck, he went from having two wars of his own in 2020, beating Paul Felder and losing to Dustin Poirier respectfully, to his quick 2:30 loss to Chandler on Saturday. The amount of damage both fighters have taken within the last calendar year isn’t ideal, and both fighters could benefit from a long layoff and let the division play itself a bit before jumping back into the mix. With Hooker’s usual City Kickboxing coaches absent from his corner due to strict quarantine restrictions in New Zealand, Hooker has to make sure whenever he makes his next walk to the cage, that head coach Eugene Bareman will be behind him. Bareman over the recent years has put the Oceanic region on the map in the MMA world, cornering both Israel Adesanya and Alex Volkanovski to world titles and leading emerging talent such as Kai Kara-France, Brad Riddell, Shane Young, and Carlos Ulberg to the UFC.
For Tony Ferguson, the clock is ticking. The 38-year-old went from an eight-fight win streak and being booked to fight for the UFC title in April of 2020 against Khabib Nurmagomedov, to two straight losses and it seems like he will never get to see “El Cucuy” fight for undisputed lightweight gold. Ferguson’s recent bumps have been brutal to watch since he would’ve finally gotten a shot to fight Khabib if it wasn’t for COVID-19, a fight which was originally booked four other times previously. If he can get on track against a game opponent in Dan Hooker, it could at least set him up for a money fight as his career comes to a conclusion.
(Cover Photo: Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)