UFC 264 is going to be special. With two of the biggest names in lightweight history coming together for a third time to determine their destiny on the night of July 10th, the level of anticipation and excitement is going to be ecstatic as greatness unfolds before our eyes.
Some fighters strive their whole careers trying to generate and instill this kind of stimulation and exhilaration, just to fall short due to their lack of success, unpopularity, or quiet, reserved personality presence in the media. But for others, it comes quite naturally. And it so happens that two of the best fighters to produce this kind of effect are none other than “The Notorious” Conor McGregor and “The Diamond” himself, Dustin Poirier.
However, what makes this tale of the tape so intriguing is far greater than both of these lightweight fighters and the raw talent they put on display every time they set foot in the octagon. When legacy, greatness, and ambition collide together all in one night in an epic showdown within the octagon, the atmosphere, energy, adrenaline, and intensity, elevates to a whole other dimension. This is a sensation that’s not new to UFC fans who have had the privilege of experiencing this feeling with several other iconic fighters across the sport’s history. But what UFC fans will experience on July 10th is going to be entirely different and for one big reason: Conor McGregor.
Whether you hate him or love him, McGregor has a special place in the UFC history books, achieving a level of success and glory many MMA fighters only dream of accomplishing in their careers. Making his UFC debut on April 6th, 2013, McGregor took full advantage of his opportunity and flat out dominated the Featherweight division for the next two years (ESPN). Starting with his debut, McGregor won his first seven fights in the UFC, which included his Featherweight Interim Title showdown against Chad Mendes in 2015, followed by his legendary knockout against Jose Aldo to solidify his grip on the Featherweight belt that same year (ESPN).
After going undefeated in the Featherweight division, McGregor felt he needed a new challenge and turned his eyes towards the Lightweight division as he sought to make UFC history: Becoming the first Two-Belt UFC Champion. After receiving his first UFC loss to Nate Diaz in his Lightweight debut on March 5th, 2016, McGregor quickly bounced back, beating Diaz in an immediate rematch followed by his history-breaking Lightweight Title victory over Eddie Alvarez a mere two months later (ESPN). To achieve all of this in just three and a half years was flat-out astounding and unheard of. And despite being as young as he was, McGregor had already stamped his legacy in UFC history.
However, the power of legacy is longevity. When you look at some of the greatest mixed martial artists in UFC history, past and present, not only are many of them decorated with various title defenses within their respective divisions. But for those that we truly consider some of the best we’ve ever seen, they’ve maintained their success for not just one, two, or three years, they’ve maintained it for several years over the vast majority of their careers, if not, the entirety of it. Whether it’s Anderson Silva, who wreaked havoc on the Middleweight division for 6+ years, to Georges St-Pierre obliterating the Welterweight division for 6+ years as well, to Amanda Nunes, who’s been dominating the best female mixed martial artists since 2015, greatness and excellence have always been determined based on how long it’s maintained (ESPN). And even considering McGregor’s success, his three years of glory came and went pretty quickly, with his prominence taking a massive blow ever since.
Following his victory against Alvarez in 2016, McGregor not only went through his fair share of legal troubles but he also got mauled by Khabib Nurmagomedov two years later in 2018, conceding his Lightweight belt to the undefeated champ. After suffering a crushing defeat and running into more legal issues, leading him to take a leave of absence for another two years, McGregor managed to get an impressive KO/TKO against Donald Cerrone in his return to the octagon earlier last year. But just about a year later, McGregor endured a vicious KO/TKO in the second round to Poirier, confronting another major setback yet again in the heart of his career. In short, after coming off a three-year time frame between 2013 and 2016 where he was logging in 2-3 fights almost every year, McGregor has only accumulated a total of three fights since 2017, a severe drop in activity in comparison to the phenomenal run he had (ESPN). When that happens, you lose your touch and feel for not only the level of competition in your division but also for the sport as a whole. And McGregor’s last two losses really brought that concern to life.
So, with all of this in mind, does McGregor still have that “it” factor in him to get the job done and uphold his fading legacy against the man who knocked him out six months ago? Believe it or not, the answer is no, and it really comes down to a few key reasons. To begin with, when you stand Poirier and McGregor side-by-side, and you look at the distinguishing differences that separate them as the fighters they are right now, the biggest and most significant discrepancy is that Poirier has evolved into a much better fighter whereas McGregor has not. And you can even argue that McGregor already peaked following his fight against Alvarez back in 2016. On the contrary, Poirier is debatably in his prime right now and has been logging in 2-3 fights at the bare minimum since 2016 (outside of 2020), whereas Conor is competing in only his fourth fight in four and half years (ESPN). To put it simply, McGregor’s touch and feel for the sport, more or less his division, is not nearly the same than it was 5-6 years ago. And this will directly impede upon his success against a much-improved Poirier.
Secondly, McGregor has not diversified his arsenal of skills enough to the extent that he needs to. Outside of being a deadly striker and nasty in the clinch, McGregor is not good on the ground and has yet to record his first submission victory in the UFC. On the other hand, Poirier is an elite grappler and wrestler and has even spent time training with Amanda Nunes to prepare for his trilogy fight against McGregor. If he chooses to take the fight on the ground, McGregor could struggle immensely and hasn’t proved he can withstand tough, exhausting wrestling matches.
Lastly, McGregor’s physical endurance and ability to go five full rounds has been virtually non-existent throughout his career. Outside of his rematch against Diaz, which went five rounds and resulted in a nail-bitingly close majority draw, McGregor has usually ended his fights in the first or second round and has hardly ever fought long bouts that have surpassed the third round. As a result, not only is he dealing with a lot of pressure to execute that one clean shot he needs in the first round against a really good counter striker in Poirier, but if the fight goes any further than the first two rounds, McGregor’s lack of endurance will cost him, it’s just a matter of when. Poirier, on the contrary, is a workhorse and has been in two big, five-round fights over the last two years. And if he needs to rely on that option to secure this victory against McGregor, he very well can.
Either way you look at it, Poirier has the upper hand in a variety of different ways entering this fight, and significantly so. And despite McGregor’s waning legacy, these core advantages are precisely what will allow Poirier to secure this decisive victory on July 10th as he continues to pursue his destiny in the Lightweight division.