LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t the finish anyone could have predicted. Conor McGregor lost by TKO to Dustin Poirier at UFC 264 when a freak leg injury caused the fight to be halted at the end of the first round.
It was a bizarre finish that had an even more unusual scene following as McGregor threatened to kill Poirier and hurled insults at his wife while sitting on the canvas getting his broken lower tibia stabilized. It was clear that this rivalry that hit a fever pitch over the past week is far from over.
Poirier will take home the rather unsatisfying victory, although he has set himself up for a UFC lightweight title opportunity against champion Charles Oliveira. McGregor will head to surgery and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.
And you know what? This is perhaps the best-case scenario for the Irishman.
Obviously, nobody wants to see a fighter injured in the manner that McGregor was. However, this injury extends his shelf life as a superstar while giving him a built-in excuse that sets up a profitable fourth fight with Poirier.
At the very least, McGregor now has two huge fights on the horizon when he can return to action. Aside from the fourth fight with Poirier, he also has a third fight with Nate Diaz that is certain to pull a massive pay-per-view number. Not to mention that the time that McGregor is away will build anticipation for his return.
Perhaps most important is that McGregor can salvage his reputation by claiming that Poirier only won because McGregor was injured. And that’s the narrative most of his fans will carry despite the reality that Poirier dominated the first round and was likely headed toward a finish unless McGregor made a drastic change in his approach.
It was clear from the opening round that McGregor hadn’t changed much outside attempting to fire off a few leg kicks. None of them fazed Poirier, who fired a leg kick of his own that froze McGregor in his tracks and left him standing as the Louisiana fighter planted a right hand on the former two-division champion’s kisser.
Once the fight hit the canvas, McGregor found himself in a world of trouble. After a failed guillotine attempt, Poirier rammed elbows and fists into McGregor’s face. McGregor didn’t provide much resistance as he ate one elbow after another while Poirier remained in a dominant position. It was the position McGregor fans feared most while Poirier was perfectly comfortable pounding on the Irishman from inside of his guard.
And then the injury happened in the closing seconds of the round when the fighters made it back to their feet.
As McGregor sat on the canvas firing expletives at Poirier, the potential number of pay-per-view buys for a fourth fight began to rise. McGregor’s hardcore fans started to believe everything that Mystic Mac was saying.
“I was boxing the bleeding head off him and kicking the bleeding leg off him – the usual shite to close this distance,” an infuriated McGregor said. “This is not over. If I have to take this outside with him, I’ll go outside. I don’t give a bollocks.”
His fans likely sided with him and figured that he’d do what he did in the Chad Mendes fight years back and take advantage of a tiring Poirier. The only thing was that Poirier wasn’t close to tired and dominated just about every aspect of the fight.
Fortunately for McGregor, what will be remembered most in the third fight is the grotesquely broken leg that prevented him from continuing. As we all know, anything can happen in MMA and McGregor can certainly suggest that he was just getting warmed up before the injury. Everything Poirier did before the injury will be ignored by the staunchest McGregor fans.
Honestly, the injury saved McGregor from embarrassment and gave him another big money fight. It also offers the opportunity to not only heal his leg, but also his pride. Regardless of what he says, he knows he was losing that fight and may have been bailed out by the injury.
The silver lining is the fact that McGregor gets to work on his own timetable before returning to action, which allows him to go back to the lab and re-dedicate himself to his craft. It will also allow the opportunity for reinvention, should McGregor choose to do so. The quick turnaround after losing to Poirier in January didn’t truly allow McGregor to work on the necessary things to perform better in the trilogy.
Now? He has nothing but time.
And, as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder and McGregor’s return to action will be yet another massive event. Whether it’s against Poirier, Diaz or another fighter, there’s another huge payday and he doesn’t lose much luster to the casual fan that drives up his pay-per-view sales. There will remain a bit of mystique surrounding McGregor and curiosity will be piqued regarding what changes will be made by the Irishman in his approach to fighting.
Consider this: at the time of writing, Poirier’s post-fight interview has 1.3 million views on YouTube. But McGregor’s post-fight interview has already surpassed 3 million views.
The injury saved McGregor from himself. This wasn’t the best version of McGregor that we’ve seen. From the trash talk to the fight itself, it often felt like a man who was trying to believe his own hype again. Something felt off as McGregor’s rampage of insults increased in intensity and poor taste. Was he trying to find motivation? Was his ego so bruised that he was concerned that he just didn’t have “it” anymore? Who knows? He’ll have more than enough time to figure it out as he’ll be out of the spotlight as the sport rolls on.
When he’s ready to return, rest assured that everything will be in place for McGregor to reclaim his throne as the biggest star in combat sports. There’s never been anything like him and there currently isn’t another fighter who could take his place. The persona is bigger than the fighter and, in some strange way, this injury only adds to his legend. At the very least, it extends his ability to remain a mainstream star. At worst, it prolongs the inevitable fall from grace that felt very close to occurring against Poirier.
For some, the game eventually passes them by. But for McGregor, the game will always salivate for his return.