On July 10 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Conor McGregor will seek to execute a revenge mission on old rival Dustin Poirier. Back in January, the American stopped McGregor inside two rounds to earn the biggest win of his stellar career to date.
That followed a 2014 meeting between the pair, in which Conor finished Poirier in a matter of minutes down at featherweight. Now, up at 155lbs, the two men will seek to settle their rivalry once and for all.
That being said, there is a lot more at stake than just their professional records against one another. First of all, the winner is set to be granted a lightweight title shot against current champion Charles Oliveira.
For McGregor, though, this third fight with Poirier represents what many consider to be his final chance at proving he is still an elite fighter in the UFC. A consecutive loss to Poirier would almost certainly relegate McGregor outside of the title contention bracket.
That isn’t to say he’s expected to win, though. The UFC 264 betting odds suggest McGregor is the slight favorite, but it’s pretty much a 50-50 fight – there appears to be no daylight between the two fighters when it comes to their chances of winning on July 10.
McGregor has already proven himself the biggest star the UFC has ever seen and perhaps ever will see. He holds the records for their highest pay-per-view buys and the biggest events in the company’s history all feature the enigmatic Irishman.
In fact, his star was so bright that he was even able to momentarily transition over to boxing and headline one of the most lucrative fights in that sport’s history against Floyd Mayweather in 2017.
In many fans’ eyes though, particularly the more hardcore MMA followers, McGregor is yet to prove himself an all-time great fighter. He broke new ground to become the first ever fighter to hold UFC titles in two different weight classes simultaneously, but he never cemented that status.
After destroying Eddie Alvarez in 2016 to become UFC lightweight champion, having won the featherweight title the year prior, Conor’s status as an elite fighter was at its peak, but he never defended either belt.
Instead, he took on Mayweather and spent several years away from the UFC. He returned in 2018 for the company’s biggest ever fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov, but was soundly beaten in four rounds. His January 2020 win over Donald Cerrone was his only fight since then, until he lost to Poirier earlier this year.
That is a lot of time out of action, so McGregor also has to prove that he still actually wants to be a fighter. Having earned so much money and with so many other business ventures outside of fighting, many observers feel Conor has lost his competitive edge.
In his loss to Poirier, he also looked a lot more static and cumbersome. His feet didn’t move with the same electricity and his punches were slightly more telegraphed. So, McGregor also needs to back up his claim that fighting is “easy” to him and that he can recapture the magic that made him such a star.
Conor also needs to prove that he can adjust. Earlier in his career, he set the UFC alight with his pre-fight hype and explosive performances. Now, the game has caught up with him slightly and he is the one who needs to adapt.
For one, he will need to develop a defence against Poirier’s leg kicks. They were an integral part of the American’s victory over McGregor and will likely be a threat in this third fight. McGregor will also have to find ways of drawing mistakes out of Poirier and capitalising on them.
‘The Notorious’ insists that he is solely focused on this trilogy fight and his fans will hope that’s true. If he can beat Poirier, he still has time to face other top lightweights and prove himself as one of the best to compete at the weight.
He defeated arguably the greatest featherweight of all time in Jose Aldo but was unable to replicate that at lightweight against Khabib, however there is still enough talent at 155lbs for McGregor to cement his legacy against.
Ultimately, Conor needs to prove that his meteoric rise to stardom wasn’t just a flash in the pan or lightning in a bottle. In many people’s eyes, Poirier is the best lightweight in the world at the moment despite not holding the belt and should McGregor beat him, he would then have a legitimate claim to being top dog again.
There are a lot of things McGregor no longer needs to prove; his star power and his willingness to consistently fight the best, for example. However, if he wants to be remembered as one of the greatest fighters of all time, he needs to convincingly beat Poirier and then set his sights on the likes of Oliveira. He’s proven his doubters wrong in the past, so who’s to say he can’t do it again?