The rivalry is tied at 1-1 with a knockout on either side. McGregor (22-5) finished Poirier in the opening round in 2014. Poirier (27-6) equaled the result with a knockout in the round of 16. at UFC 257 in January.
The fight on Saturday will not only be about the bragging rights between the two, but also shape the immediate future of the lightweight construction division. McGregor, 32, wants to prove that despite a 1-2 record since 2016, he’s still an elite talent Charles Oliveiraalthough it is possible that McGregor is considering other options.
Before that critical showdown, ESPN asked the former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidmannwho analyzed the first two fights of this trilogy to break down the keys to the matchup and determine a winner.
Editor’s note: Weidman’s breakdown as communicated to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto has been edited for brevity and clarity.
One of the most important things I noticed during the January fight was that Conor wasn’t in his typical karate stance where he was bouncing up and down trying to pull the guys over to his big left hand. In this fight it looked like he was just trudging forward looking for boxes. This is great for his punches, but it’s harder to control kicks in this position. Poirier took advantage of that.
Conor was in a traditional boxing stance and wanted to put a lot of pressure on Poirier. His hands were up and all the basics were correct, but he wasn’t moving like we saw him before. I mean look at this Jose Aldo struggle [in 2015]. Conor hopped, hopped, hopped. It’s an uncomfortable feeling going up against a guy like that. It creates an overreaction where you throw big punches that he can counter.
Grappling and cardio
I don’t think it’s a big secret that Poirier Conors wants to dump cardio, and there is nothing like dump cardio like wrestling and grappling exchanges.
Poirier brought him to the ground early in the last fight, but Conor was back on his feet. He framed to control position and did a great job of staying relaxed. In the end he turned Poirier to the cage. But while Conor was great in that exchange and not allowing Poirier to do anything with his left hand, I just think the stress of the position was not comfortable for Conor.
I think Poirier will tackle as much as possible. Anytime there’s a clinch that he’s got Conor on the cage, that’s a good thing. Every time he brings Conor to the ground or even gets into a scramble on the mat, Poirier is a win for him. He looks at Conor’s stamina bar and waits for it to be used up.
When Conor was defending takedowns in the final fight, he did not immediately break up and returned to the center of the Octagon. I have a feeling he should. Once he’s in one of these positions, there’s no more messing around, chilling out and relaxing. Just get the devil out of the cage.
“Kick the kicker”
Conor’s only focus in the last fight was punching. Dustin thought of takedowns and kicks.
Conor really needs to start kicking the kicker. If you’re just trying to box a kicker, their legs will be longer than your arms so the opponent will always connect in front of you. If you want to come in and box, you have to kick and work your way into it first. You have to get the opponent to respect your kick. You can’t just go forward.
As that final fight went on, Conor was unable to throw punches from a strong base after eating those kicks. You could see that his right foot stopped moving and he was obviously in pain. And Poirier began to feint, and his confidence rose. The fact that Conor got a kick in his calf and then kicked a shitty one himself, you just knew he wasn’t himself at that moment. The blows he delivered were just arm blows.
After Conor’s leg was injured, Poirier set out to find the target. Man, you don’t want to get hurt against Dustin Poirier. His hands are so firm when he walks after this finish.
Watching the last fight, you could see the confidence sucked out of Conor.
But I think there is no reason to doubt your confidence in this fight. Conor is known for dealing with pressure. At the same time, when you’ve just been knocked out and now you’re facing that guy again, that’s a lot of pressure. “What if it happens again?” There is no question Conor has in mind.
But Poirier is also under pressure. He looked amazing in January but if he loses this fight what does he have to be standing on?
I would like to see old Conor again, with all that mental stuff. I would like to see him talk rubbish. He was so good at the game of mental warfare and fought with extreme confidence. He got guys hit before they even went in the cage and then he jumps in their faces and throws those crazy kicks. They just wanted to kill him, and that was too much for them. This is where Conor is most dangerous.
Chris Weidman offers his outlook and prediction for Conor McGregor’s fight against Dustin Poirier.
After seeing their second fight, I have to go with Poirier. He just mixes it up a lot better than Conor, and you could see in January that Conor just didn’t have the same energy that we’re used to seeing him. This excitement. This fire. He’s always had that where he just goes in the cage and says, “This is my cage.” You didn’t see him last time. So, until Conor can prove me wrong, I’ll have to go with Poirier.