After what I think is fair to say was a shocking result in the lightweight main event of UFC 257 between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, a question that has been on my mind is that does McGregor’s newfound respectful and friendly leadup to a fight hinder him?
Poirier knocked McGregor out in the 2nd round of their rematch — nearly seven years in the making in Abu Dhabi. Poirier has finally been able to kick the chip on his shoulder from the knockout loss he suffered in the first round of their last fight. One stark contrast between the fights – apart from the result of course – was the manor in McGregor approached the prefight antics.
In the lead up to their first fight at UFC 178 McGregor was on top form hurtling verbal abuse and jabs at the Louisianan, successfully riling him up. Poirier said himself that it was a “grudge match” and he’s “never disliked somebody so much”.
Much has been made or McGregor’s ‘mental warfare’ in the past, with people attributing it to his win over Aldo, getting under the former champions skin so much he uncharacteristically burst out of the blocks against McGregor, only to be perfectly countered and knocked out. This all seemed to be part of McGregor’s plan to dethrone the Brazilian. Make him emotional so he overcommits, and he’ll be there for the counter left. This is evidenced by video of McGregor throwing the exact shot that ended the fight with, in the warmup rooms before the fight.
When watching replays of the walkouts and stare-downs, before their first fight, the Irishman makes a big point of Poirier’s tells of weakness claiming he clearly affected him mentally.
In the lead up to the second fight the two were nothing but cordial to each other, exchanging compliments, being respectful, with plenty of handshakes and fist bumps. Poirier was undoubtedly calmer and more measured in the rematch, coming out less aggressive and following his game plan, pursuing the takedown right away.
In the first fight, Poirier let his emotions overcome him and it was a contribution to his demise. In his octagon interview this time around Poirier said: “The goal was to be technical and to pick my shots, not brawl at all. I have a big tendency (to brawl)”. McGregor managed to draw the brawler out of him last time but this time without the emotional load of the trash talk Poirier stuck to Mike Brown’s plan landing brutal leg kicks before dispatching McGregor with a beautiful right hook.
Although McGregor took this same respectful approach in the leadup to the Donald Cerrone fight, that one was a complete mismatch, with cowboy being far past his best. None of this is to detract from the drastic improvements Poirier has made in the time since the first fight where he was a 25-year-old perennial contender, at featherweight, to today as a former interim champion. It’s just that so much has been made of McGregor’s trash talk getting into opponent’s heads in the past that it can be said they are better off for being spared the mental trauma he can inflict.
It seems right now that a respectful McGregor is here to stay, although a rematch with Nurmagomedov would surely bring out the old antics of the ‘champ champ’ once again. Its’ hard to say how much of a difference digging at Poirier would have made. He may have just been able to brush it all off and learn from his mistakes from the last time, or simply have just outmatched the less active McGregor anyway.
However, history could have repeated itself and the technical fight Poirier knew he needed to make may have been thrown out of the window and the lightweight division would have a very different look to it today.