MMA's biggest star is ready to run it back for a third time. Conor McGregor returns to the Octagon on Saturday night in Las Vegas when he faces Dustin Poirier in a trilogy bout from the T-Mobile Arena that tops a loaded UFC 264 fight card. The two met just six months ago with Poirier scoring revenge in a shocking second-round TKO. This came after the two first met in 2014 with McGregor scoring the first-round TKO on his rise to superstardom.
Now, the rivals meet once more after Poirier passed on the opportunity to fight for the full lightweight crown in pursuit of the big money trilogy with McGregor atop what is expected to be among the biggest PPVs of the year. That is thanks in part to how UFC has stacked the undercard beneath its star-studded main event.
The co-main event carries equal importance to the welterweight title picture. Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson is set to face off with Gilbert Burns in a bout that could shape the 170-pound title challenging future. Colby Covington is expected to get next in a rematch with Kamaru Usman after he was stopped in the fifth round at the end of 2019, Thompson and Burns -- both former title challengers in their own right -- have a claim at being next after that with a win on Saturday night. It would be Thompson's third opportunity at the belt after coming up short in a draw and majority decision loss to Tyron Woodley previously.
As we draw closer to the festivities, let's take a closer look at the biggest storylines to take notice of.
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including the top storylines to follow for UFC 264 on Saturday night below.
1. Conor McGregor puts his reputation on the line in an interesting risk/reward proposition
Knowing the competitor deep inside McGregor, the brash Irish star who will turn 34 one week after UFC 264, it was far from a surprise that he so vehemently sought a rematch against Poirier just six months after losing via TKO for the first time in his career in their second meeting. McGregor did the same thing following an upset loss at welterweight to Nate Diaz in 2016 and won a thrilling (not to mention grueling) rematch by majority decision just five months later. This time, however, considering McGregor's age and his overall inactivity since his fighting peak of 2016 (just three fights in five years), it's worth debating whether a second loss to Poirier removes the "Notorious" one from the elite ranks for good. A defeat would leave McGregor just 1-3 over his last four fights. It would also leave him with the same record overall as a lightweight throughout his career. Yes, given McGregor's star power, there would be no limit to the big-name opponents still available to him should he lose once again to Poirier, but it would be hard to believe fans could ever take him serious again as a legitimate title contender or anything more than a fighting celebrity. A victory, on the other hand, would likely propel McGregor back into a third shot at the 155-pound title (currently held by Charles Oliveira) and revive his brand in a way that would likely prove buoyant to the sport at large.
2. There's a lot more on the line than just a paycheck for Dustin Poirier in this trilogy fight
Without question, it should be noted that Poirier made a strategic decision not to fight for the promotion's vacant lightweight title this spring after UFC finally stripped the retired Khabib Nurmagomedov of the belt in favor of accepting the immediate third fight with McGregor for the money and fame that comes with it. In theory, should Poirier defeat McGregor a second consecutive time this weekend, an immediate title shot would likely be his reward anyway as Oliveira currently sits atop the division following his vacant title win in May over Michael Chandler. But a victory also boosts the 32-year-old Poirier in other ways as he continues to carve out a legendary career that sometimes falls under the radar simply because he never held an undisputed UFC title. Since his move back up to lightweight in 2015, Poirier is 11-2 including victories over McGregor, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, Anthony Pettis, Dan Hooker and Jim Miller. Add in that he's the only fighter to finish McGregor via strikes and consider what a possible second victory over the same fighter might do for Poirier in terms of placing him near the top of certain lists including the best lightweights in UFC history and the greatest UFC fighters to never win a championship. Poirier is also closing in on some other exclusive clubs as a victory this weekend would give him 20 for his career under the UFC banner, which only seven other fighters have done including all-time greats like Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Michael Bisping. The current UFC record for wins is held by Donald Cerrone with 23, which Poirier has a more-than legitimate shot at breaking. At this point, Poirier's resume is so strong -- including an interim title win over Holloway at 155 pounds in 2019 -- that he might not actually need the validation of becoming a full champion in ways that Bisping did late in his career to secure Hall-of-Fame status.
3. Can Stephen Thompson secure one more shot at the welterweight title at 38?
It's an interesting question to ponder given he's the only 170-pound fighter in legitimate title contention who has yet to face champion Kamaru Usman. At 38, there's no question Thompson's window is closing, yet a victory in Saturday's co-main event over an always dangerous Gilbert Burns could make him an intriguing future option for both Usman and the UFC should the defending champion defeat Colby Covington a second time. Yes, Leon Edwards is more deserving and is hungry to redeem his 2015 defeat to Usman that spawned his current win streak. But Edwards is likely going to be forced to fight once more -- potentially in a grudge match against Jorge Masvidal -- given that UFC brass is so dead set on giving Covington a title rematch. That could open a door for Thompson should he win and do so impressively. "Wonderboy" has a sneaky great resume in the division despite never winning the title and he came as close as one could come in a pair of title bouts against Tyron Woodley last decade where he was forced to settle for an exciting draw and a majority decision defeat.
4. How much longer can the Greg Hardy experiment in the heavyweight division continue?
Given that the embattled former NFL All-Pro is just 4-3 (1 NC) since making his UFC debut, one would think his future of getting featured placement on PPV cards could be behind us should he lose to hard-hitting Tai Tuivasa. Hardy, still just 32, has shown steady improvement with his striking, particularly early in fights when he is most dangerous. But his ground game still just isn't there and his stamina remains in question in the later rounds. Given Tuivasa's lack of wrestling, this could be the perfect matchup for Hardy to look great. It's also one where he could be disastrously knocked out given the potential for this one to be a shootout. Hardy's best performance to date is still his lost to title contender Alexander Volkov, not because of what he did offensively, but more the stubbornness he showed in not allowing such a dangerous opponent to handle or finish him with any form of ease. While an argument can always be made that heavyweights are given a longer leash due to how regularly they mature late in age, it's hard to imagine the general public will continue to care about Hardy unless he can make a sizeable leap forward in this fight.
5. Niko Price vs. Michel Pereira has the potential for some crazy and fun theater
After beginning his UFC career in 2019 as more of a carnival attraction given his risk taking and antics both in and out of the cage, Pereira has rebounded nicely from a pair of self-inflicted defeats to become an interesting long-term dark horse in the welterweight division. The 27-year-old Brazilian has won two straight and looks as if he has finally figured out how to harness and channel his incredible athleticism to become a well-rounded threat. Yet it's the timing of Pereira's reformation that makes this matchup with a wild card such as Price all the more interesting. Despite a record of 6-4 (2 NC) since first arriving inside the Octagon in 2016, Price is best known for his ability to turn any fight against any style of opponent into absolute chaos. The 31-year-old native of Florida is as unpredictable as they come and every single one of his UFC bouts have either seen him score a finish or get spectacularly stopped while trying to do so. Can Price lure Pereira back into his wild ways? Should he prove successful, the results will be nothing short of spectacular.
Who wins Poirier vs. McGregor 3? And which fighter is a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed top picks on UFC 264, all from the UFC insider who's up nearly $9,500 on MMA picks in the past year, and find out.