LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – Long championed as the underdog, it was news to Dustin Poirier when informed that he is the gambling favorite for this Saturday’s UFC 264 bout against Conor McGregor.
“Oh yeah?” asked Poirier, speaking backstage before Thursday’s press conference. “I’ve been off social media for the last month, so I don’t even know the odds right now. I can’t focus on anything else. Not even the title. My focus is only on what’s stake this Saturday night.
The stakes are enormously high in the 264 main event. With a win, McGregor will regain his throne atop the MMA world. If he knocks out Dustin Poirier, he will recapture the attention of the fight world, celebrating by holding court in the Octagon for his post-fight interview. McGregor will then make his signature outlandish statements at the press conference, pleasing legions of fight fans with his electric brand of bravado. The future will be whatever he chooses it to be, with the road paved for a lightweight title match against Charles Oliveira (one that McGregor will market in a manner that only the “Notorious One” can).
McGregor tasting defeat again would drop him from the prominence of the UFC elite, removing him from seriously vying for the title. It would be humbling, but not career-altering. McGregor is the single most charismatic fighter in the history of the sport. Win or lose at UFC 264, he will find a way to flourish wherever he lands—and he will undoubtedly continue to be placed in high-profile fights.
For Poirier, defeat leads to an entirely different set of circumstances. Despite a career of brilliance and even a run with the interim belt, Poirier has only fought once for the lightweight title. That number will cease to increase if he loses at 264, and dropping this bout effectively extinguishes his championship aspirations. Poirier desperately needs this win, in ways that simply do not affect a certifiable draw like McGregor.
Hype and intimidation are critical parts of McGregor’s offense, but he is also extremely intelligent. He knows the dangers of a clear-minded, focused Poirier, who made short work of him at their last fight at UFC 257 in January. Unlike their last fight, McGregor has been incessant in his pre-fight taunting, doing everything possible to rattle Poirier.
“You’re getting walked like a dog on Saturday night,” said McGregor during Thursday’s press conference. “You’re only a little b----. Your wife is your husband. You’re only a little b---- of a thing, a silly little hillbilly.”
While it has been said that the foundation for this vitriol started over a charitable dispute, the groundwork for this feud was laid six months ago when Poirier knocked out McGregor. Since then, McGregor has openly mocked Poirier. First it was taunts toward proficiency as a fighter, then a distaste for Poirier’s brand of hot sauce. That turned to a different level when McGregor began mocking Poirier’s wife, adding a new layer to the insults.
“I’m a fighter at heart,” said Poirier. “When Conor’s screaming things at me, naturally I want to do it right back. But that’s just playing into his game.”
Having already tangled with him twice, Poirier knows the key to solving the McGregor puzzle starts with keeping his composure. McGregor feeds off emotion, climbing to even further heights while locking opponents in a mental handcuff. Much to McGregor’s frustration, Poirier is refusing to play that game.
“Maybe all that talk is insecurity on his part,” said Poirier. “Maybe Conor needs that to get himself going. I used to read everything he said. I needed to make a rebuttal every single time.
“I don’t care anymore, and that’s the beautiful part. All of that is just noise. All I’m focused on is Saturday night.”
McGregor is still a phenomenal fighter, yet appears no longer to operate in that elite MMA realm. His last signature win took place in November 2016 against Eddie Alvarez, and there are legitimate concerns over whether his power still exists in the breathtaking form it once did. But Poirier knows the dangers of a wily McGregor, and he will never be lured into a situation where he underestimates him.
“Conor is great,” said Poirier. “And I know how dangerous this game is. For the past 10 years, I’ve proven to myself that I belong here. I know that I can be one of the greatest in the world on any given night, but I also know I’m not invincible. One small mistake can change the outcome of a fight.”
Once the bell rings, Poirier is confident he will have all the answers needed to put away McGregor. He is ready to strike, unleash his vicious array of calf kicks, or use his world-class jiu-jitsu, relishing the variety of ways he can finish McGregor.
“I feel comfortable wherever the fight goes,” said Poirier. “It’s going to be a violent fight. It’s going to end in a finish. And wherever it can be won, I’m going to win it.”
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