After one win apiece, the trade is torn when it comes to tipping who will triumph in next weekend’s titillating trilogy between Conor ‘Notorious’ McGregor and Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier. Ahead of the combustible clash, MMA UK’s LOUIS EVANS canvassed six leading fight faces to secure their predictions on who will show up to the showdown at The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Jack Shore – UFC Bantamweight contender and former Cage Warriors Bantamweight Champion: To be honest, I don’t think a lot went wrong for McGregor in the first fight. Obviously, the leg kicks played a huge factor but I think what made the real difference was Poirier’s consistency in fighting at that level.
For McGregor, it was over a year between the fight with Cowboy (Cerrone) and the rematch with Poirier, and another year off between Cowboy and the fight with Khabib. Conor thought it would be one punch and that would be it. I think he may have underestimated Poirier at lightweight. And how many people has Poirier fought in that time? Not to mention the quality of the opponents! He’s fought Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, Khabib, Max Holloway – all in that time! The game keeps changing. Consistency definitely played a huge factor.
While the leg kicks will get much of the credit, I think there’s a lot of other things that people didn’t see which Poirier did very well. For example, his boxing range was also very good. What Poirier can take from the second fight is that he can hurt McGregor but this can be a double-edged sword. You don’t wanna be going out there, guns blazing, especially with someone as dangerous as McGregor.
If I was a betting man, I’d have to say Poirier gets the job done again. But you can never count McGregor out, not with that cannon of a left hand. The real question again is can Dustin get through those first two rounds? After that, I really fancy Poirier. How many people has he put away in rounds 4 and 5 now?
Gareth A Davies – Journalist & Broadcaster (The Telegraph, TalkSport, William Hill, Fighters Only, Bellator MMA): I feel Conor mentally broke Dustin Poirier in the first few moments of the first fight. Conor was a shooting star at the time, mentally undented. He was absolutely nailed down that he was going to be the biggest fight star in the world. He broke Poirier mentally. He was absolutely brilliant in his actuation of the fight, the spinning back kicks, the intimidation, the wrecking ball nature of what he did!
What would Conor need to change to secure a different outcome in the trilogy? Cardio. It’s the same thing, that tunnel of pain he went through in the lack of cardio against Nate Diaz in the first fight, he found it in the second fight! The motivation he found to beat Nate Diaz in the second fight, to win that fight. But he only just clung on! He went through the same things.
Conor can’t believe he’s gonna walk through anyone. After walking through Poirier in the first fight, he thought he was going to do the same in the second fight but he’ll have more respect for him in the trilogy. No doubt he will have trained his butt off for this one but as Marvin Hagler said, “it’s hard to get up and run at 5 am when you’re sleeping in silk pyjamas”. Whether he likes it or not, Conor McGregor sleeps in gold-laced pyjamas now!
How do I see the decider panning out? You can’t write The Notorious One-off, he has an amazing aptitude to learn from his mistakes and come back. The last fight proved that he wasn’t there for it in many ways. It’s a 50/50 fight. Conor McGregor early or Dustin Poirier late but never write off The Notorious One. He’s my marginal pick. He’s an extraordinary athlete, man, showman, businessman – and who knows, there could be longer to go in the journey yet.
Brad Pickett – Former UFC Bantamweight contender and Head Coach at Great Britain Top Team: (On the second fight: ) For me, it was all to do with Dustin growing in confidence. He started very tentatively and a bit nervous and worried about being knocked out by Conor, after the first outing. He knew how dangerous Conor can be on his feet. In my eyes, Conor didn’t really capitalise on it enough. The pressure wasn’t there as much as I thought it could’ve been. Conor let Dustin grow in confidence, he allowed Dustin to land that calf kick and over time that really started to take its toll. You could see that it was starting to affect Conor and, as soon as Dustin sensed this, I think it gave him that self-belief to stand and trade. And if anyone knows Dustin like I do, he hits like a truck! For me, it wasn’t the difference in skillset as such, it was more of a mindset switch for me that helped him win that fight.
For the trilogy fight, I think Conor needs to apply a bit more pressure. Dustin’s one of those fighters that doesn’t really get tired. If Dustin has another tentative start, Conor needs to try and capitalise as best as he can. However, it could now go two ways, Dustin could come in a bit overconfident after the KO and leave himself a bit more exposed. They’re both gonna have to be very careful, they’re both so dangerous. It’s a clichéd thing to say but it could be whoever turns up on that night! At that sort of level, it’s all about milliseconds, inches, timing. This could be the deciding factor. There’s not a massive skill gap between these two fighters.
(On the effect Conor being TKO’d in the last bout will have on the trilogy fight:) Well, you saw it with Dustin in the last fight. After you get knocked out by a certain opponent, it can make you very tentative. For myself in my career, I had been dropped in fights but I had never been stopped. After I got stopped for the first time by Thomas Almeida [22-5-0], going into my other fights, it almost felt like I had lost a shield of armour! I started to feel more vulnerable like, “I could get hurt here”. I always say this, ‘fighting is 90% mental and 10% physical’. It’s gonna be very interesting to see how Conor deals mentally with being knocked out. Some people can really freeze and change the type of fighter you are.
The fight is the toss of a coin but I’ll have to go Dustin. It’s playing with my heart here but we’re good friends so I’ll have to go with him.
Ricky Wright – Ring Announcer (ITV, Matchroom Boxing): Conor is a far more naturally gifted fighter than Dustin will ever be, but one of them had been working harder than the other, which reflected in the result (of the second fight). To expect a different outcome, Conor will have to go ‘all in’ this time, perhaps return to Iceland to do a camp away from prying eyes and bad influences. He has to make himself uncomfortable and hungry again. Oh, and to echo every punter since the last contest: practice checking calf kicks.
I believe ring rust is a real thing. It’s why many boxers who have been out for a while take warm-up fights. Many see it as a pointless exercise when a world champion boxer fights a high-level journeyman to get the rounds in before taking part in a competitive bout but there must be a method to the madness. We don’t see this in MMA. When you’re operating at a high level, you will always fight high-level fighters. Ring rust may have been a factor in their second meeting but this time I believe it won’t be, this is McGregor’s quickest turnaround since 2016 and should not be used as a reason for an excuse.
There are still many chapters left in the Conor McGregor story, I think the last loss to Dustin would have given him the hunger he once had. It will be a different Conor in there and potentially a different outcome but, statistically speaking throughout history, the one who wins the second fight usually goes on to win the third, in a rubber match scenario. See Andrew Arlovski v Tim Sylvia, Matt Hughes v George St. Pierre and Tito Ortiz v Forrest Griffin. If Conor gets the win, he will then need to keep active if he wants to get back into title contention. He will always be favoured by Dana and the rankings can be manipulated to put him next in line. Great fights with Chandler, Gaethje and Oliveira will await him. A loss however would basically spell the end of his competitive career. But a potential rubber match with Diaz will always generate interest and, at that stage, it’ll be his only valuable option within the octagon.
Having said this, my money is on McGregor.
Brad Wharton – Cage Warriors play by play commentator: In the early offerings (of the second fight) McGregor did a lot well. The question is, does he pile more on earlier this time around? Towards the end of the first round is where we start to see the momentum change, where the leg kicks start to take their toll. I think Poirier showed here that he had more of an all-round game.
I don’t think the knockout loss will affect McGregor going into the decider. Much like Nate Diaz, McGregor has this aura, this authenticity in defeat that allows him to come out smelling of roses. In terms of the mental game, I don’t think that will affect him too much. Let’s not forget, when he fought Diaz in the first fight, he got choked out and came back to win a five-round war!
For me, the real question is whether McGregor has the desire still. If you look at his bank balance, would you still have the same mentality to fight? Would you still have the same desire as when you were a plumber with £5 in your pocket? Not only that but McGregor has so much money now that it seems as though he can dictate his own camps. The influence of his head coach may be diminished.
I’m gonna go with Poirier to win. If you take away the personalities, I just feel that you look at who he’s fought, and the weapons at his disposal that he’s demonstrated, and I think he gets it done.
Modestas Bukauskas – UFC Light Heavyweight contender and former Cage Warriors Light Heavyweight Champion:
What I noticed last fight was that there was a lot of emphasis put on boxing from McGregor’s side. He was very heavy on his front foot. There was much less of that karate style that we’ve come to know. The movement wasn’t as focused as it’s been in the past. Don’t get me wrong, he landed some really good shots and even wobbled Poirier early on but it seemed as though Poirier was a bit better concentrated, able to counter better. It seemed as though Poirier had more confidence too. In the first fight, he seemed to shy away but here, when he hit McGregor, you bet he was gonna let him know about it! Poirier managed to get the takedown, primarily because McGregor was so heavy on that lead foot. It made the single/double much easier to land for Dustin, which only threw McGregor off even further.
You’ve got to give credit to McGregor though, in that, whenever he’s faced with some kind of adversity, like with the Diaz fight, he always goes back and makes the corrections to come back a better fighter. I think we’ll probably see McGregor go a step up in level. Judging by how he’s come back from losses before, I think he’ll definitely work out the pieces that need to be changed and he’ll make it a much harder fight for Poirier. If McGregor can be a bit more composed and land his shots, it’s not gonna be a good night for Dustin.
I still have a lot of belief in McGregor, I think a lot of people are writing him off after the last fight but I think he will make the adjustments. When Conor is ‘on’, he’s deadly to most fighters in that division. He’s managed to land some big shots on Dustin before – sure, he took them – but if McGregor can maintain that over five rounds I’ll give it to him.
Final Score McGregor 3 Poirier 3
So fight fans, with the experts unable to split them, let us know who you think prevails and why