McGregor wanted to fight three times in 2020, but the pandemic has ruined those plans. McGregor hasn’t fought since his 40-second win over Donald Cerrone in January. Since that time, he retired on Twitter, said he faced Manny Pacquiao in a boxing match, and called up many other UFC fighters, including Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov. All public negotiations resulted in McGregor apparently getting everything he wanted in a high-profile fight that will grab the attention of the sports world on January 23, 2021.
If the fight goes, Poirier will look for redemption for his first-round knockout loss to McGregor in 2014 (Watch on ESPN +). In that featherweight fight, McGregor worked quickly, knocking down Poirier with a left and ending him with hammer fists with just under two minutes left in the first round. There is no doubt that both fighters have moved on, and while the climax of McGregor’s victory over Poirier will continue to be played in the preseason, Poirier presents an intense challenge as McGregor attempts to return to the title.
But is it the right fight for the biggest star in sports? Is he taking too many risks by not waiting for a possible title shot against the winner of the October 24 fight between Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje?
Ariel Helwani, Marc Raimondi, Phil Murphy, and Jeff Wagenheim assess the fight, looking at what’s real and what’s not as we begin to prepare for a possible major light battle.
Real or not: it’s the right fight for Conor McGregor
Raimondi: I wasn’t sold initially, but the more I think about it, the more I love it. First of all, any fight for McGregor is good for the UFC and McGregor himself. It was clear that he wanted a “season” of at least three fights – maybe four – in 2020. And so far he’s only fought once, a quick knockout of Cerrone in January. . Inactivity was a sticking point for the UFC, which seemed reluctant to bring McGregor back without a crowd. There was a similar problem with pay-per-view boxing. The rate of investment has to make sense, and without the millions of dollars that come from ticket sales, is it worth having someone who gets paid as much as McGregor competes without that income?
McGregor quickly took out Poirier when they first met in 2014 at UFC 178, but it might as well have been a lifetime ago. He was at featherweight, and the two have now fought at lightweight (welterweight too, in McGregor’s case) for years. Poirier has been one of the best lightweight in the world since 2017. Fans can’t pretend McGregor is choosing easy competition here – Poirier is as legitimate as it gets. You could argue that McGregor versus someone like Diaz would make more money for the UFC. Probably, but this trilogy fight will be here in the future. McGregor vs Poirier is extremely competitive and likely to be an action fight. MMA enthusiasts and casual fans alike should be delighted.
Real or not: Conor McGregor risks unnecessarily title shot by taking this fight
Helwani: No. McGregor just wants to fight. I think he made it clear at this point. He is frustrated that he only fought 40 seconds total in 2020 and can’t wait to return. He also recognizes that he is a draw larger than the belt. I think the contender in him certainly wants to fight Nurmagomedov again, but the businessman in him also knows that he doesn’t need to wait for a title shot or worry about “risking” one. title shot. I also think he would be confident for this one, especially since he already has a victory over Poirier, and he knows that a victory will give him a chance at the title anyway.
Real or not: with a win, this fight will give Dustin Poirier a chance at the title
Dustin Poirier explains how, after his loss to Conor McGregor in 2014, he started to change his perspective on fighting, which made him happier in life.
Murphy: As for his next title fight, Poirier absolutely wins by beating McGregor. His immediacy, however, depends on the winner when Nurmagomedov and Gaethje unify the light belt – and with what sincerity Nurmagomedov plans to retire after 30 fights.
Six of Poirier’s last seven fights – in which he is 5-1 (1 NC) – have clashed against former or current champions or interim champions. Beating McGregor would be a seven of eight, and that would take Poirier’s power to a whole new level. In the deepest division of the UFC, there is no doubt about this summary. At two or three regular fights a year since his professional debut in 2009, we do not question the level of activity of Poirier either.
The only outlier is who holds the belt when Poirier hypothetically knocks down the Notorious One. If Nurmagomedov holds the gold, is a final chapter fight against SPG on the table? Could Nurmagomedov want to challenge Kamaru Usman in a superfight instead? Nurmagomedov holds all the cards, and Poirier’s loss to UFC 242 did not require a rematch.
If Gaethje wins, however, the door widens much more. Poirier knocked out Gaethje two years ago, prompting intrigue for a sequel. But would Gaethje grant Nurmagomedov immediate revenge? Shared management makes it something less than absolute meritocracy.
With a victory over McGregor, Poirier will go on to fight for the title. But exceptional unforeseen events could force him to wait until the end of next year to do so.
Real or not: A McGregor fight at AT&T stadium would be the perfect way to welcome fans back to a live UFC event in the United States.
Wagenheim: No one in MMA creates M-capital moments like McGregor, and fans have always played a huge part in creeping up. There is no such thing as an arena filled with chants and chants and Irish flag waving fanatics who have come to town to support their man. Other fighters have hordes of followers as well, but the scene of a McGregor fight is simply a higher level of spectacle.
McGregor feeds off the energy inside the venue, so he understands better than anyone the impact of directing his performances in front of fans. Otherwise, why would he insist that his return take place in a stadium which, in non-pandemic times, has more than 100,000 seats? Now who knows what that event would look like – how many fans would be allowed in, and how travel restrictions and these economically tough times could keep many who would love to be there.
There are a lot of variables to tune – the most important of them, of course, is whether the UFC will accept McGregor’s stipulation on locale. But if the fight is in Dallas, how appropriate would that be. The folks at Lone Star State love to do it big, and McGregor’s return after a year out of the Octagon, in a fight against a legitimate lightweight contender, with a number of fans in attendance at a UFC event for the first time since March 7 – it would certainly be a Texas-sized extravaganza.
Real or not: this is the main PPV event on the horizon that I look forward to the most
Raimondi: It’s hard without knowing for sure what else the UFC might have on the schedule for November and December. Could a deal be made for former friends Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington to settle their vendetta? If so, it would certainly be highly anticipated. Or how about something involving Israel Adesanya? He said he wanted to fight again before the end of 2020.
McGregor vs Poirier would surely be at the top of the list no matter what the UFC has up its sleeve. But I’d probably still say the UFC lightweight title unification game between Nurmagomedov and Gaethje is No.1 for me. It has a chance to be a truly amazing high stakes fight including Nurmagomedov’s unbeaten record. Many experts believe Gaethje is a better match for Nurmagomedov than anyone – and I think there is some validity to that.
You should also take into account that Nurmagomedov is still mourning the death of his father, the legendary Dagestani trainer Abdulmanap. And we don’t know how long Nurmagomedov, who talked about retirement, will be there. Every chance we have to see “The Eagle” is special. He is one of the greatest fighters in the history of sport, a master of his art. Everyone knows he will struggle, but no one can stop him. Gaethje, meanwhile, is the main purveyor of violence in the sport and has honed his technique over the past year. I absolutely can’t wait for UFC 254 on October 24.