The UFC opens 2021 with an absolute firecracker of a fight card. At the head of the billing is a re-run of 2014’s matchup between “The Diamond” (or “El Diamente if you prefer) Dustin Poirier and of course, “The Notorious” Conor McGregor. Six years on from McGregor’s first-round knockout over Poirier, both men find themselves at the forefront of the 155lb title picture as opposed to the Featherweight landscape of six years ago. In this piece, we will examine the landscape of this matchup, and, arguably more importantly, what the fallout of the outcome of this matchup may be.
Conor McGregor makes his return to the Octagon for the first time in over a year, since that 40 second obliteration of the Cowboy, Donald Cerrone at UFC 246, and his first contest at lightweight since that now-infamous loss to Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov in 2018. Of course, McGregor had previously signalled his intent to make 2020 a “season” of fights, but sadly, COVID-19 quickly laid rest to those plans from McGregor’s point of view. Now though, he makes his return against the no. 2 ranked lightweight in the world, Dustin Poirier.
There are several factors that make this bout so intriguing. Firstly, Poirier is certainly not the same fighter that McGregor fought six years ago. He has fought 12 times since UFC 178, with a fantastic record of 10-2 in those fights. His boxing has come on leaps and bounds and is undoubtedly as tough as fire-forged iron. He has also tasted UFC gold in holding the interim 155lb strap, before eventually losing this to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a title unification fight in Abu Dhabi; there is no questioning the will and determination of “The Diamond” to become the Diamond of the lightweight division once more. Regardless of whom he faces down across the Octagon, Dustin Poirier is as difficult a matchup as they come.
Conversely, Dustin is facing arguably the greatest pure boxer and striker the UFC ranks have ever laid witness to. In Conor McGregor, we have come to expect that razor sharp boxing, that rapid head and feet movement, and that laser guided left hand that is perfectly calibrated to hit on target with every aim and firing. In fact, McGregor’s boxing coach, Owen Roddy, has claimed that this is the most dangerous version of McGregor he has ever seen. A frightening prospect indeed. However, the question of McGregor’s motivation and form remains a constant one and has done so during the “on-off” phase of retirements and occasional outings since 2015. If, though, McGregor is as motivated and calibrated as those around him claim, then any and all of those towards the top of the 155lb food chain should be concerned.
My fundamental concern with this fight is that of legitimacy and of the “lineal” lightweight championship in a way. Whilst I believe either man is equally as capable of beating the other, I generally tend to lean to McGregor, largely due to the sheer bomb-like impact of that left hand. Regardless of who does successfully come out of UFC 257, the shadow (no pun intended) of the Eagle still looms strongly over the championship picture, not only because he has beaten both men, but if ultimately one of McGregor or Poirier do go on to win the lightweight title in the future, the question of legitimacy is something I fear would forever haunt their reign. Does McGregor potentially have the pulling power of attempting to avenge that loss to Khabib later down the line? One can only wonder and see what happens. But make no mistake – UFC 257 has big implications for the title landscape of the lightweight division for the foreseeable future.