UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor, the Rematch

Back in 2014, a buzzed-up, brash Dustin Poirier faced a skinny, pale, braided-hair Conor McGregor at UFC 178 in Las Vegas.

Back in 2014, a buzzed-up, brash Dustin Poirier faced a skinny, pale, braided-hair Conor McGregor at UFC 178 in Las Vegas. At the time, McGregor’s Ric Flair-esque trash talking and “Mystic Mac” predictions had started to turn some heads, but he had yet to become a household name. On the other hand, Poirier was merely an average 145-pound fighter; though he was far from a journeyman, he certainly wasn’t a championship-caliber featherweight. As much as it was a fight, it was also a psychological war. By hurling quick-witted verbal jabs at Poirier in pre-fight press conferences and hotel lobbies, McGregor threw Poirier’s game plan off track. Leading up to the fight, Poirier was seen on video saying, “I’ve never disliked somebody that much.” With half the battle already won outside the cage, McGregor inevitably finished the aggressive and noticeably overthinking and hesitant Poirier in a mere two minutes. At the time, it would have been hard to imagine both McGregor and Poirier meeting again seven years later, but as both fighters have trudged through highs and lows, they will merge paths once again at UFC 257 in a contest for lightweight supremacy.

After suffering defeat to McGregor, Poirier has found great success after moving up to the 155-pound lightweight division. His championship run started in 2017 after consecutive wins over former champions and contenders. He pounced on his opportunity for gold, as he secured the Interim Lightweight Championship over then-Featherweight Champion Max Holloway. Poirier’s trademark ability was to bite down on his mouthpiece, withstand shots, and overwhelm his opponents with some of his own heavy-handed blows. He had retained his brawler mentality, but with much more poise. However, like many other elite 155-pound fighters, Poirier ultimately suffered a devastating defeat to Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019. Poirier was utterly dominated, and it was clear he was levels behind the champion.

McGregor, on the other hand, took a one-way trip to superstardom. Just a year after defeating Poirier, he would win the Featherweight Championship with a 13-second knockout (KO) over Jose Aldo. But McGregor was in constant search of bigger and better things. In 2016, he became the “Champ-Champ” after moving up to lightweight and becoming the first fighter ever to hold two championships simultaneously. The year after that, he pursued a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather, which he lost, but earned roughly $85 million in the process. However, his path to glory went astray, as he returned to the octagon against Nurmagomedov in 2018 just to suffer a humiliating defeat. Worse than his performance was McGregor’s over-the-top insults, criminal behavior, and lack of discipline.

But last year saw both fighters bounce back in signature ways; McGregor returned in another spectacular first round KO over Donald Cerrone, while Poirier triumphed over lightweight contender Dan Hooker in a 5-round slugfest. More importantly, both fighters have gone through changes as men over the years. The Poirier of 2014 felt that it was he against the world; he took critics to heart and tried to fuel his performance with that criticism. Since then, though, Poirier has taken a different approach to his public persona: charity. In 2018, Dustin and his wife Jolie Poirier started The Good Fight Foundation that auctions off fight-worn memorabilia and donates the profits to underserved Louisiana communities. If there’s one word to describe Poirier now, it’s authentic. As Poirier changed his focus in fighting, he quickly became a fan favorite that fueled his performances with love for the sport, family, and his hometown, Lafayette, Louisiana.

For a man of McGregor’s status, the main question would be: why does he keep fighting? At one point, all the fighting scene could offer to McGregor was money; he bragged that he was the only man to triple his net worth for a night’s work when he fought Mayweather. But at this point in his career, the fighting is not so much a financial opportunity as it is a preferred mode of life. He told The Mac Life, “[Competition] is when I do all of my best work.” McGregor has rekindled a passion for the sport—the same passion that captivated fight fans early in his career.

Insults, flared-up emotions, and reckless behavior are behind both men, and certainly their shared role as fathers has a lot to do with that. The fight was originally proposed by McGregor as a charity match for Poirier’s The Good Fight Foundation until the UFC ushered a deal between the two. Since then, McGregor has donated $500,000 to The Good Fight Foundation, and in interviews, there has been mutual respect between the two.

As for the fight itself, the more technical McGregor is favored. Poirier contains an arsenal full of neck submissions, but McGregor, despite his reputation for losing via submission, is a capable defensive wrestler, especially in open areas. McGregor also wields superior striking both with his hands and feet, and most importantly, he has what legendary trainer Firas Zihabi calls “the touch of death,” in which he can finish his opponents with one clean shot. Combined with agile movements and timing, he lands precise counter-attacks and overwhelms his opponents when he smells blood. Poirier is a notorious head-hunter and often lunges into his shots which makes him a counter-fighter’s ideal opponent. Though his brawling style can yield adrenaline-pumped brawls, against a technician like McGregor, it could once again serve as his demise. However, much of what made the first bout a doozy was McGregor’s psychological edge; Poirier became too predictable as he overcommitted with looping hooks. With McGregor’s verbal assault nullified, it’s possible Poirier plays the long game with volume striking, considering that McGregor’s “touch of death” has at times come with the cost of his conditioning.

So, as a crew-cut Poirier and a bald McGregor face off in 2021, we’re likely to either see a repeat of their first outing or a five-round war. As the sport has evolved besides them, they’ve stood the test of time; both have become champions, changed their approach to the sport, and become fathers. UFC 257’s main event will warmly welcome two familiar faces that have matured through the sport.

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