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On July 10th, the king of the fight game will return to the octagon in a bid to recapture lightweight glory. Despite his recent loss to “The Diamond” at UFC 257, The “Notorious” brings an energy to the cage that simply cannot be matched.
Fans remember his meteoric rise through the featherweight division, culminating in the stunning 13 second knockout versus Jose Aldo. The fluidity of his movement and combinations was simply captivating. When paired with a sizable reach advantage and his incredible sense of timing, he looked untouchable.
Rising up the weight classes brought new challenges, including some he was unable to overcome. A submission loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196 and a devastating defeat at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 gave his detractors all the ammunition they needed. But the most devastating blow to McGregor’s mythos was his recent TKO loss to Dustin Poirier.
Conor’s explosive standup game is the cornerstone of nearly all of his performances. His powerful left hand and elusive movement give his bouts a mythical quality. He even went 10 rounds with one of boxing’s all-time greats, Floyd Mayweather. Despite all this striking acumen, McGregor was taken out on the feet by Dustin, his first non-submission loss. Many fans are quick to attribute the loss to the devastating low kicks that Poirier used to limit Conor’s mobility.
And while it is true that Conor’s compromised leg was key to blunting the threat, Poirier’s game was anything but one dimensional in their last outing. He was able to secure the takedown early in Round 1 and was consistently landing his counter right hook despite taking some solid shots from McGregor.
McGregor’s Path to Victory
McGregor’s first step needs to be nullifying the low kick. If Dustin lands even a few hard ones to the calf, Conor’s ability to explode will be compromised. Without a strong and stable base, McGregor can’t slip and counter as easily. Especially in this game of inches, being a touch slower can have devastating consequences. Conor’s boxing-influenced stance with a lot of weight placed on the lead leg makes him especially vulnerable to the calf kick. His older karate-based stance enabled fast lateral movement but its length also leaves the lead leg vulnerable. Additionally, fans need to remember that Conor abandoned that stance because of its energy inefficiency. Constant bouncing movement is too much of a stress for Conor’s cardio. SBG Coach John Kavanagh will surely tweak McGregor’s stance and drill the necessary reactions but it is important Conor does not try to change his game too radically.
The next biggest threat is Dustin’s lead hand, especially his counter right hooks and check hooks. Part of the danger is that Poirier, like McGregor, is a southpaw. This changes the angle of incoming attacks to one that McGregor is not as used to fighting against. If can Conor feints and disguises his entries a little better, he will reduce his vulnerability to Poirier’s lead hand counters. For an experienced striker like McGregor, this is certainly something he will have worked on extensively in fight camp. Additionally, keeping his own lead hand more active, as Coach Kavanagh advised during the last fight, will slow Dustin down a little.
The Importance of Kicks
Conor needs to embrace his entire striking arsenal rather than falling in love with his boxing. He used shoulder strikes, elbows, and knees from the clinch to great effect in the last fight. Although his kicks are very taxing to his energy reserves, they are great tools to control the distance and keep his opponent guessing. Importantly, they also provide an opportunity to pressure that doesn’t leave Conor as vulnerable to low kicks. While McGregor certainly cannot kick as frequently as he did as a 145er, he should try to incorporate more of the diverse kicking arsenal that made him so dangerous in the first place. Doing so will also give him even more opportunities to set up a kill shot with the left hand.
Dustin’s Keys to Replicating His Success
For Dustin Poirier, he needs to follow the same simple blueprint that brought him victory in their last outing. First, Poirier needs to weather the early storm and disrupt Conor’s mobility and ability to explode. Whether Dustin accomplishes this through clinching, takedowns or low kicks is less important. He needs to continue to mix it up and be unpredictable because Conor has surely prepared for the low kicks this time around. Coached by Mike Brown at American Top Team, Poirier will be equipped with a sound game plan with multiple contingencies.
Dustin has a crafty and efficient defense, utilizing small steps and a dynamic elbow guard to avoid strikes. He also showed excellent durability in Round 1, absorbing flush power shots from McGregor. Nonetheless, he needs to avoid being overly confident on the feet. After all, when facing a striker of Conor’s caliber, all it takes is one shot to change the fight. Fortunately for Poirier, no one understands this threat quite like him. The memory of being knocked out by McGregor at featherweight serves as a sobering reminder to remain defensively responsible.