Written by Kieran Green (@Kierlfc12)
In 2014, Conor McGregor defeated Dustin Poirier during the first round of a featherweight bout in Las Vegas. The young Irishman was only just embarking on his sensational journey to MMA stardom, whilst Poirier himself was also still at the dawn of his career.
In under two weeks’ time the two men will meet again, as they contest a main-event lightweight bout in Abu Dhabi. This fight will be incredibly different from the first for a variety of reasons, with an absolute war forecast for Fight Island on the January 23.
It is certain that fans will get to see two much more developed martial artists during this encounter, with both fighters boasting seasoned resumes. I feel Poirier is the more improved fighter this time around, and has taken on better opponents if you look at the last three matchups for the two men. A win over Max Holloway in 2019 saw him realise a chance to win UFC lightweight gold in a defeat at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov not long after, before he bounced back with a hard fought victory over Dan Hooker last summer.
Meanwhile McGregor has been less active, fighting three times since 2016. He seized the lightweight belt in 2016 after defeating Eddie Alvarez in Madison Square Garden, before being controversially submitted by Khabib two years later. He made his UFC return in early 2020, subjecting Donald Cerrone to a vicious first round TKO. This is evidence that not only has Poirier fought better opponents recently, but he has been much more active than his Irish counterpart over the years. It is obvious that from a purely financial perspective McGregor does not have to fight anymore, but he keeps returning solely because of a burning passion for the sport. He appears in incredibly good shape from his social media accounts and clearly never stops training, however Poirier’s recent activity within the cage will definitely give him more of an edge in this bout.
The biggest talking point that this matchup has provided is how the two will line-up stylistically. Again, we cannot judge this based on the first encounter, simply because of how much their arsenals have developed over the six years, but we are guaranteed a great fight based on what they have shown since. Whilst McGregor’s core style has not been altered, it has certainly matured, with the fan-favourite mastering certain elements of his game as he has grown older. We can definitely expect him to march forward with enthusiasm during the early rounds, leading with that unique karate style in the southpaw stance to establish heavy striking engagements.
Due to Poirier also being a southpaw, there will be nothing impacted by stance difference, but the unpredictability of the karate style he utilises will cause problems for his opponent. He must not let the occasion get the better of him however. His lack of activity in the octagon saw him get overly-excited during the Cerrone fight, as he dived into his opponent to try and dispatch him quickly. He is fighting a different animal this time around and must be prepared for the distance, so ultimately the key for McGregor is to stay cool, and to look to tee off with the left hand during the early rounds when he is at his best.
Poirier was beaten in the talk before the fight last time out, and was incredibly timid in his approach before he was dropped. However, his growth over the years has seen him transform into the heavy-hitter that we see today. Now one of the most experienced faces in the current lightweight ranks, Poirier is certainly better equipped to handle McGregor, and will be prepared for any situation. Fans will certainly be interested to see how he deals with the exchanges on the feet, and the way he will utilise his own kickboxing skills to full effect. This fight could very well be the battle of the left hand, with Dustin boasting some spectacular boxing skills of his own. Poirier will surely feel he is the better man in the later rounds, with his opponent being notorious for tiring out during the final stages of fights.
I don’t think it will be a case of weathering the storm early on because Poirier will match everything in the first few rounds, but he has proven that he is strong over the distance, and knows that he has the ability to bring a late onslaught. The clear edge that Poirier has in this fight is his superior wrestling, which he must call upon. McGregor’s ability to handle wrestlers is actually very good, however it is fair to say that his own grappling skills are not up to the standard of Poirier’s, with the difficult task for Dustin being getting him down to the canvas.
As seen in the fights against Mendes and Khabib, McGregor keeps range by leading with a front kick to the body, or by quickly spinning on the single leg if that fails. Some creative methods must be called upon, but it could be a long night if Poirier manages to get him down. He has admitted himself that he struggled because of the time difference when he last fought in Abu Dhabi, but a fresh and fully-fit Poirier will be looking to launch himself into the shark tank of title contention with an emphatic victory in the desert.
The prospect of this second bout between the two is so exciting, with the UFC definitely starting the year as they mean to carry on. I personally love the fight, and could not call the outcome with an ounce of certainty. The general consensus seems to be either McGregor early on, or Poirier during the latter stages, however it is so hard to predict anything when you have two men who are world class across the board. We now await the beginning of the fight week coverage, knowing that whatever happens in the end, it is certain that we are in for a brilliant display.
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