The UFC 257 main event ended in a fashion that was not highly predicted, as Dustin Poirier, in under ten minutes, left Conor McGregor laying on his back as the referee waved off the fight. Now that the surprise has subsided, the questions around what comes next are starting to pick up. The lightweight division has a wealth of elite talent, but perhaps it’s time to stop talking about McGregor as one of them, because the next level of the sport has passed him by.
One of the big differences between mixed martial arts and other combat sports is that the greatest men and women competing do suffer losses throughout their careers. But the rebounds from those losses are often just as intriguing to watch as their respective ascents, Poirier himself is one such example. But in the case of McGregor, the former champion fought his third fight in three years last weekend, and now has a 1-2 record to show for it. The question for the Irishman now is whether he can rebuild momentum in a similar fashion to Poirier, but it is hard to see that happening for a number of reasons.
First, the lightweight division is as deep as the ocean. Justin Gaethje, Dan Hooker, Charles Oliveira, Michael Chandler, and Tony Ferguson are the opponents waiting for McGregor if he immediately jumps back into the top of the 155-pound division. None of those men are an easy fight for anyone, but especially not for a McGregor that looked as vulnerable as he did during Saturday’s main event. McGregor talked about inactivity and taking a loss the way he did, but now that his leverage over UFC matchmakers is gone, it will be interesting to see who he is booked against next. He and his team will have to be very calculated in their selection, because the lightweight division is filled with monsters.
Second, McGregor’s game needs some retooling. One of his biggest issues going into the fight was his gas tank, and that was not a secret. But it was low calf kicks, which are becoming a seriously damaging weapon in MMA, that left McGregor crippled in the cage. Retooling at 32 years of age and 27 fights into a career is a challenge that demands consistent training and competition, something that McGregor has admitted he has not put in. And while McGregor has bucked the trends of fight sports in the past, if he is going to make the types of changes that are going to allow him to remain relevant in the deepest division in the sport, he will have to start sooner rather than later.
Conor McGregor received meme treatment like Bernie Sanders in the immediate aftermath of his defeat to Dustin Poirier. It was a loss that very few people foresaw, but in retrospect, perhaps it is something that shouldn’t have surprised viewers as much as it did. McGregor may yet bounce back and make another run at the UFC lightweight title, but for now, his place in the division is just outside the ranks of elite fighters in the weight class.
• Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier: Dustin Poirier def. Conor McGregor via TKO (punches) at 2:32 of Round 2.
UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 takes place January 23, 2021 at Flash Forum in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.