ABU DHABI, U.A.E. — When Conor McGregor is concerned, there may be at all times potential for hyperbole. When you will have a star that massive, all the things tends to dial up a notch — together with any feedback associated to him or an upcoming battle. However permit me to say, I’ve genuinely appeared ahead to this second for the reason that finish of 2016.
Whether or not this all involves fruition, solely time will inform. However I consider we’d lastly notice the true combating potential of McGregor in 2021. When you return to the top of 2016, McGregor was the reigning featherweight and light-weight champion. He’d avenged his submission loss to Nate Diaz. He wasn’t thought-about the very best fighter on the planet, however he was on the radar for that honor.
After all, everyone knows what occurred subsequent. McGregor (22-4), who fights Dustin Poirier in a nontitle light-weight battle at UFC 257 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi (major card at 10 p.m. ET, buy right here on pay-per-view), pursued a profitable boxing match towards Floyd Mayweather in 2017, proceeded to run into numerous authorized troubles, misplaced a championship battle to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018, did not battle in any respect in 2019 and competed as soon as in 2020 for lower than a minute.
And albeit, all of that is not onerous to grasp. McGregor rose to never-before-seen ranges of fame in 2016, and he cashed in with the Mayweather battle. That match was entertaining and it paid McGregor greater than any MMA battle would have, however it was additionally a farce and a monumental pivot from what he might need completed in MMA.
It is wild to suppose: McGregor has been within the UFC since 2013, and one might argue he has competed in his most pure weight class solely twice. His reduce to featherweight was manageable however brutal. And he isn’t even near the typical dimension of a welterweight. McGregor is a light-weight, and we have seen him compete there solely in 2016, when he gained the belt from Eddie Alvarez, and 2018, when he didn’t regain it towards Nurmagomedov.
Look, we all know who McGregor is as a celeb and a public determine. He has had an apparent impression on the total fight sports activities business, in addition to on the sports activities media business as an entire. And we all know so much about him as a fighter, too. We all know he is supremely proficient. We all know he was the UFC’s first “champ-champ.” We all know he is good — nice even.
However we do not understand how really nice he’s. That is the half that is left to be outlined. Had he by no means deviated into the world of a “Money Fight” with Mayweather and roughly disappeared from competitors after, what may he have carried out? Defended the light-weight championship a number of occasions? Challenged for a 3rd belt? Would possibly he even have crushed Nurmagomedov underneath totally different circumstances, if he’d maintained all of the momentum of 2016?
I actually, really hope we’re about to search out out. McGregor has repeatedly mentioned he is dedicated to this 155-pound body, and he is seeking to be energetic in 2021. We all know McGregor is a tremendous fighter. I wish to discover out this 12 months precisely how wonderful he could be.
By the numbers
91: Proportion of McGregor victories that he has ended with finishes (19 knockouts and one submission in 22 wins).
1.95: Knockdowns per 15 minutes within the cage for McGregor, the eighth-highest fee in UFC historical past.
8: Pay-per-view occasions headlined by McGregor since 2015, together with this one. Solely Daniel Cormier (9) has carried out it extra. This would be the fourth McGregor PPV major occasion that is a nontitle battle, essentially the most of anybody prior to now 10 years.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Data and UFC Stats
A glance again
Since then …
5 vs. 5
Dustin Poirier’s most up-to-date outcomes
Win: Dan Hooker (UD, June 27, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Khabib Nurmagomedov (Sub3, Sept. 7, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Max Holloway (UD, April 13, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Eddie Alvarez (TKO2, July 28, 2018)
Win: Justin Gaethje (TKO4, April 14, 2018)
Conor McGregor’s most up-to-date outcomes
Win: Donald Cerrone (TKO1, Jan. 18, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Khabib Nurmagomedov (Sub4, Oct. 6, 2018; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Eddie Alvarez (TKO2, Nov. 12, 2016; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Nate Diaz (MD, Aug. 20, 2016; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Nate Diaz (Sub2, March 5, 2016; watch on ESPN+)
Dom & Gil’s movie research
Dominick Cruz on why Poirier-McGregor 1 went the best way it did:
On Unlocking Victory, Dominick Cruz breaks down how Conor McGregor arrange his knockout win vs. Dustin Poirier in 2014.
Gilbert Melendez on how Poirier-McGregor 2 can go otherwise:
On Unlocking Victory, Gilbert Melendez shows how Dustin Poirier can keep away from Conor McGregor’s counter left hand.
And the winner is …
“I think Poirier is gonna try to fight smart and win a mixed martial arts bout, not make it a standup battle or a grappling battle,” says UFC Corridor of Famer Urijah Faber. “Conor has been looking super impressive as far as his athleticism goes. It looks like he’s taking it really seriously. I’m leaning on the side of Conor again.”
Faber is considered one of a number of fighters and coaches who’ve weighed in with evaluation and predictions. See what they needed to say right here.
Taking a deeper dive right into a breakdown of the battle is ESPN MMA analyst Gilbert Melendez, the two-time Strikeforce light-weight champion and a former WEC light-weight champ. His place to begin: that it is a rematch.
“McGregor got the best of Poirier years ago,” Melendez writes, “and no matter what, that will weigh heavily on the mindset of both fighters.”
Methods to watch the fights
Haven’t got ESPN? Get immediate entry.
Haven’t got ESPN+ for the prelims and PPV? Get it right here.
Bought the battle in your cellphone and wish to stream in your TV? Learn how right here.
There’s additionally FightCenter, which gives reside updates for each UFC card.
Saturday’s battle card
PPV (by way of ESPN+), 10 p.m. ET
Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor | Light-weight
Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler | Light-weight
Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood | Ladies’s flyweight
Andrew Sanchez vs. Makhmud Muradov | Middleweight
Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas | Strawweight
ESPN/ESPN+, Eight p.m. ET
Matt Frevola vs. Arman Tsarukyan | Light-weight
Brad Tavares vs. Antonio Carlos Junior | Middleweight
Julianna Pena vs. Sara McMann | Ladies’s bantamweight
Khalil Rountree Jr. vs. Marcin Prachnio | Gentle heavyweight
ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
Movsar Evloev vs. Nik Lentz | Catchweight (150 kilos)
Amir Albazi vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov | Males’s flyweight
Co-main occasion raises the curtain on a champion
Michael Chandler, the previous Bellator light-weight champion, makes his Octagon debut within the UFC 257 co-main occasion, dealing with Dan Hooker, who’s No. 6 within the ESPN light-weight rankings. Chandler is No. 7.
Chandler would be the ninth former Bellator champ to maneuver on to the UFC, with the earlier eight going 5-Three of their debuts. Those that gained: Alexander Volkov, Lyman Good, Ben Askren, Will Brooks and Zach Makovsky. Those that misplaced: Hector Lombard, Eddie Alvarez and Joe Soto.
Alvarez is the one former Bellator champion to go on to win a UFC title.
A few notable numbers — or, why the judges perhaps needn’t even hassle to take their seats at cageside: Chandler has had finishes in 76% of his profession fights (9 knockouts and 7 submissions in 21 wins), and Hooker’s end fee is 85% (10 knockouts and 7 submissions in 20 profession wins).
Two extra issues to know (from ESPN Stats & Data)
1. Joanne Calderwood, who faces 2019 title challenger Jessica Eye, has landed 444 vital strikes in her UFC profession, the third most in girls’s flyweight historical past. Calderwood is No. 5 within the ESPN rankings for the 125-pound division.
2. Opening the primary card is a matchup between high Brazilian strawweights Marina Rodriguez, who’s No. Eight within the ESPN rankings at 115 kilos, and Amanda Ribas, who’s 4-Zero within the Octagon. Rodriguez is coming off her first profession defeat, a split-decision loss to former champ Carla Esparza in July. Ribas has finishes in seven of her 10 profession wins (4 submissions, three knockouts).
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this battle preview.