Posted on: January 28, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Dustin Poirier flipped the MMA world on its axis Saturday night. 

Following a week highlighted by Conor McGregor’s greatly anticipated return to the octagon, Poirier shocked the masses by becoming the first fighter to ever separate McGregor from consciousness just two minutes and 32 seconds into the second round. 

With vengeance on his mind, Poirier shined under the brightest of lights and solidified himself as one of the best lightweights ever.

Jack Zampillo

Jack Zampillo

Opinion Editor
Sports Writer

Poirier has now defeated five former UFC champions, knocking four of them out. With wins in six of his last seven affairs, “The Diamond” has accumulated substantial momentum en route to a title shot in the next few months. And considering the skillset he showcased on Saturday, Poirier could very well be future king of the lightweights. 

After six years in the making, this rematch between McGregor and Poirier evens the score at one win apiece, setting up a potential trilogy. The fight itself, however, did not start the way it ended. 

McGregor looked sharp early on, pressuring forward from the opening bell and landing lethal combinations through Poirier’s guard. But Poirier, one of the most well-rounded and durable fighters in the UFC, found a way to survive McGregor’s much-anticipated first-round onslaught. 

Dustin Poirier moments before his TKO victory against Conor McGregor at UFC 257 (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC).

As the seconds ticked, the pride of Lafayette met the Irishman’s intensity, returning heavy hands of his own while continuously heaving his back leg into McGregor’s lead calf (coined a “calf kick” in MMA). Leg kicks are arguably the most lethal strikes in the sport when thrown frequently. Imagine getting smacked in the leg with a wooden baseball bat; that is how fighters tend to describe the feeling of absorbing a leg kick. 

Poirier landed 18 total kicks downstairs and the effects it had on McGregor were apparent very early on. Despite ending the first round ahead on the score cards, McGregor pleaded for ice on his leg and had a hard time defending Poirier’s variety of attacks. 

There comes a point in every Dustin Poirier fight where he seems to “flip the switch,” increasing his aggressiveness and output of strikes. 

When Poirier smells blood, he does not hesitate. Knowing the vulnerability of McGregor’s right leg, “The Diamond” came out firing on all cylinders in round two, kicking McGregor’s leg to shreds. It’s important to recognize that McGregor presents a style of striking that thrives off of movement. Elusiveness and durability are vital to his success.

As Poirier continued to land leg kicks at his own will, he had more success finding McGregor’s jaw. The tides were shifting, and Poirier sensed it. When McGregor’s leg finally had enough, Poirier released a barrage of punches upstairs, landing brain-rattling blows. 

A blistering right hand sent McGregor tumbling to the canvas, and one follow up shot was all referee Herb Dean needed to see before stepping in. Dustin Poirier, the +275 underdog, defied the odds. 

Referee Herb Dean raises Poirier’s hand in victory last Saturday (Credit: BBC Sport).

What’s next? 

The top of the UFC’s lightweight division is a cluster of elite contenders that all have the potential to defeat one another. With plenty of names being thrown into the title picture, the most uncertain division in the UFC at present needs clarity, and I may have the formula. 

It’s a foregone conclusion that Dustin Poirier will compete for UFC Lightweight gold in his next fight. He has solidified himself as the undisputed number one contender; by beating a guy as highly touted as McGregor, his stock has increased tremendously. That being said, the question of who Poirier will fight next remains. Here are the options: 

  • Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 3:  A trilogy fight between the two makes sense in hindsight; they’ve both knocked each other out, have developed a respectful but intense rivalry, and UFC 257 turned in the second most pay-per-view buys in UFC history. A third matchup would do incredible numbers. 
  • Dustin Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira: If the UFC were to handpick the next lightweight title fight based on who deserved it the most, this is the one to make. Both are coming off of the biggest wins of their career and have differentiating styles that make for such an intriguing matchup. Oliveira has also finished 7 out of 8 opponents on his current 8 fight win streak. There’s a very good case to be made here. 
  • Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler: The least likely of the three. Chandler made a case for himself at UFC 257 by winning his UFC debut by knockout over #6 ranked lightweight Dan Hooker. However, when asked if a potential fight between the two would make sense, Poirier stated, “No, it does not….that doesn’t really interest me at this point.” 

MMA, the UFC in particular, tends to run into the dilemma of “sport vs spectacle.” This means some decisions that make sense for the sport don’t always make sense for business, and vice versa. ‘

We must remember that professional sports are just as much about making money as they are about the teams and athletes that play them. That being said, putting a stamp on what’s next for both McGregor and Poirier is fairly simple: The rubber match. 

Even as a Conor McGregor fan, I won’t tell you I agree with running this fight right back. I’m actually against it, but I believe it will happen. 

McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh said in an interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani they have already told the UFC they want the trilogy fight to take place in May of this year. Win or lose, McGregor is the biggest draw in the sport. He holds the largest fanbase and draws more views than any other UFC athlete. 

However, I have a hard time seeing a scenario where the UFC passes on an opportunity to have him fight twice in five months. Name equity and popularity can take one far in this sport, and McGregor’s ability to get what he desires cannot be underestimated. 

Poirier’s career-defining win at UFC 257 turned the tides of the entire lightweight division. Should McGregor have been victorious, it seemed as though a rematch between him and current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was brewing. But after Nurmagomedov reiterated his desire to step away from the game following UFC 257, there’s a championship belt with no waist to wrap it around. 

The future of the lightweight division is uncertain, but with a long list of contenders itching to get their hands on UFC gold, there is no shortage of intriguing fights on tap. A new era is emerging in the 155 lb. division, and I can’t wait to see who emerges as king.