Dustin Poirier defeated Conor McGregor for the second time in 2021 on Saturday night, scoring a TKO win in the main event of UFC 264. The win wasn't entirely satisfying, with McGregor breaking his lower left tibia at the end of the first round to bring the fight to a sudden halt. Still, Poirier had imposed his will on the Irish superstar in the minutes proceeding the injury and showed his quality as simply a better fighter than the 2021 version of McGregor.
Poirier now advances to a shot at the lightweight championship while McGregor prepares for surgery on Sunday, a slightly awkward situation as McGregor vowed to send Poirier from the Octagon on a stretcher only to fall to that very fate.
Poirier's status as arguably the best lightweight in the world and McGregor's fall from the elite after suffering his third loss in four fights are among the biggest storylines coming out of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Let's take a look at those takeaways and more after an exciting night of action inside the Octagon.
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Dustin Poirier is the best lightweight in the world
Taking nothing away from recently crowned champion Charles Oliveira, but there's little doubt that Poirier deserves the distinction of being the best lightweight fighter in the world. Now on an 8-1 run with six wins against current or former UFC champions, Poirier's current stretch ranks among the best in the history of the sport.
It's understandable that Poirier decided to take the big money rubber match against McGregor rather than fight for the championship. There are, after all, only so many opportunities in an athlete's life to make the kind of money Poirier made on Saturday night. And, by almost all accounts, such a financial windfall couldn't have happened to a better guy, with Poirier focusing on charitable efforts throughout the world.
Now, though, it's time for Poirier to take his shot at cementing his legend by going on to face Oliveira for the title. It's already a guarantee that he gets that opportunity, but putting the belt together with his status secures Poirier not only as a great fighter, but a legendary one.
Conor McGregor isn't an elite lightweight
Freak injury or not, there didn't seem to be much mystery to how the trilogy fight between McGregor and Poirier was going to play out. McGregor's fast start showed that his "return to a focus on MMA" was mostly an increased willingness to bring back his kicking game. Poirier eventually slowed the pace of the fight before starting to land clean punches and eventually dominating McGregor on the ground. To be entirely clear, two of the three official ringside judges had scored the opening round 10-8 before McGregor's broken tibia brought the fight to a close. Poirier was on his way to another win over McGregor and there doesn't seem to be much doubt of that.
Still, UFC president Dana White floated the idea that McGregor could be in position to face Poirier for a fourth time once he recovers from the injury. Even Poirier agreed at the post-fight press conference when he was asked if the rivalry was over, saying, "No. We are going to fight again, whether it's in the Octagon or on the sidewalk."
The harsh reality of McGregor as a lightweight is that we don't know whether he is an elite 155-pound fighter or not. He has fought at the weight four times in the UFC, winning the title from Eddie Alvarez in 2016 and losing three straight fights by stoppage. That he entered the cage against Poirier as the UFC's No. 5 ranked 155-pound fighter made no sense in light of those facts. Yes, the three losses came against Khabib Nurmagomedov and Poirier (twice). But McGregor needs wins to justify his place in the division or any case for a title shot in the future. Instead of talking title shots, McGregor needs to push for a rubber match with Nate Diaz or get back on his grind at 155 pounds to prove he belongs in the conversation as an elite lightweight.
Time to end the Greg Hardy experiment
Bringing in a disgraced former NFL player was a controversial decision for the UFC. Continually making Hardy a focus in promotional efforts only served to amplify that criticism. Hardy may have been able to help his own cause somewhat if he hadn't pushed back so strongly against the criticism. Or if he hadn't suffered a disqualification loss in his first UFC fight. Or if he hadn't had another result overturned when he violated the rules of the Octagon by using an inhaler between rounds. More than the criticism and the inability to stick to the rules, the UFC's Hardy experiment has always been doomed by Hardy simply not being good enough to handle true "UFC-caliber opponents."
Ahead of his fight with Tai Tuivasa on Saturday night, the UFC commentary team talked up how Hardy had taken time away from the cage to improve after his TKO loss to Marcin Tybura in a fight where Hardy gassed out and was completely lost in the grappling game. The talk suggested Hardy had patched up the remaining holes in his game and was ready to step to the next level. Hardy spent part of fight week talking up his ability to box and suggesting he wanted a fight with former heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder -- in the boxing ring, no less. Armed with a supposed new dedication, improved cardio and a somewhat capable ground game, Hardy instead was bombed out on the feet in slightly more than one minute. The skills aren't there for Hardy to be a UFC fighter, even if the UFC desperately wants to somehow turn bad press into good returns. The experiment is a failure and it's time to let Hardy try to build himself up outside of the biggest stage in the sport.