UFC 264 is almost here, which means one of the biggest fights of the year is set to take place; Conor McGregor’s trilogy bout with Dustin Poirier. The pair will meet at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on July 10.
In January, the American upset the apple cart by emphatically stopping McGregor in two rounds to stake his claim as the best 155lb fighter on the planet. Not only did the win launch Dustin into true stardom, it also served as revenge for the 2014 defeat Conor inflicted on him earlier in their careers. In what was Conor’s fourth UFC fight, he starched Poirier inside a round down at featherweight, proving that he had the skill and talent to back up all his bravado.
Now, with their rivalry at 1-1, the two fighters will enter the octagon with more on the line than ever before. The victor will almost definitely get a title shot at current UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira. Should McGregor lose again, his time at the top of the sport could be over.
The UFC 264 betting world see this fight as a classic pick ‘em. McGregor was a comfortable favourite heading into their two previous meetings but, with Poirier finishing him the last time out, punters and bookies alike are finding it difficult to split them.
To understand that, it’s best to revisit their fight back in January. Heading into it, McGregor had only experienced a couple of minutes’ worth of octagon time in recent years when he dispatched Donald Cerrone in January 2020. His last UFC fight prior to that was in 2018, when he lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov.
So, it’s fair to say he was a little rusty, but it’s also worth noting that in that time Poirier had been mixing - and, for the most part, beating - some of the best lightweights in the world. In January, McGregor opted for a more static, boxing-like stance in the fight with Poirier, rather than his more dynamic karate stance.
Poirier took this invitation to chew up McGregor’s lead leg with calf kicks, a phenomenon which has become increasingly popular in the UFC over recent years while McGregor has been away.
Indeed, Conor was unable to adapt to these attacks - no checks, no switches - and soon became extremely vulnerable. Once Poirier saw his opportunity, he unleashed a barrage of punches that handed McGregor his first ever stoppage loss via strikes.
When that didn’t pay off, Conor was left somewhat floundering and it was Poirier who had the wherewithal and skill to capitalise in the second round.
So, the onus is on McGregor to make the necessary adaptations this time around. He will, of course, need to have a solution for the leg kicks but he will also need to devise a plan to nullify Dustin’s marauding attacks and outstanding cardio.
McGregor is not known for his engine, but rather his laser-accurate striking and deceptive power. We’ve seen Poirier hurt and stopped in the past, not least by McGregor himself, so Conor’s most logical path to victory is getting to his man early and finishing him.
For Poirier, the game plan is unlikely to be too different from last time. After all, if it ain't broke, don’t fix it. He will likely need to weather an early storm and navigate some rough moments, but if he can bide his time and wait for the openings, they will present themselves.
He has the boxing skills to stick with McGregor on the feet, but he also has a solid jiu-jitsu base and could take the fight to the ground if necessary. While Conor is a decent grappler, it’s not his strong suit and he certainly prefers to be stood up. Poirier could sap his energy with takedowns, or at least the threat of them.
Elsewhere on the card is a fascinating welterweight clash between former title challengers Gilbert Burns and Stephen Thompson. Burns was stopped by current UFC champion Kamaru Usman last time out while Thompson has been waiting for the opportunity to face another top contender after a couple of wins over the past few years.
Burns is a terrific grappler who can also punch, while Thompson is one of the UFC’s finest kickboxers. This fight will surely be determined by who can make it theirs, though the American enters the bout as a slight favourite.
Heavyweight Tai Tuivasa will look to continue his rise up the rankings against Greg Hardy on the show also and, in his current form, is picked to win inside the distance.
UFC 264 is being billed as the UFC’s biggest show of the year and it’s no real surprise given what’s at stake for McGregor and Poirier. With each holding a win over the other, this rivalry is poised to produce an unmissable third fight.