UFC 257 breakdown: Can Poirier drag McGregor into deep waters?

Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier each have major mutual respect for one another heading into their massive UFC 257 bout, but that doesn't mean it won't be a tremendously competitive and entertaining fight.

Saturday’s UFC 257 main event between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier is a rematch more than six years in the making.

McGregor got the better of Poirier back in 2014 when they met as rising stars. Nowadays both men are proven champions, fathers and role models, and they share a goal of winning another title — they just happen to stand in each other’s way.

Poirier was knocked out in less than two minutes back at UFC 178, but he believes his growth since his first fight with McGregor has prepared him for this moment and will lead him to victory.

UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2
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Poirier told Sportsnet last week following his 15-hour flight to Abu Dhabi that he has been asked about McGregor and a possible rematch by fans, media and anyone in between hundreds of times — yet, ironically, Poirier isn’t viewing this as a traditional rematch.

From a game-planning and film study preparation standpoint, Poirier said this rematch “feels like a different fight” entirely and that’s what fans should expect.

The lightweight division is wide open at the moment, and whichever headliner emerges with his hand raised will almost certainly fight for UFC gold his next time out.

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at the anticipated UFC 257 main event.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Dustin Poirier
Nickname: The Diamond
Fighting out of: Coconut Creek, Fla., via Lafayette, Louisiana
Age: 32
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 156 pounds
Arm reach: 72 inches
Leg reach: 40.5 inches
Stance: Southpaw
Average fight time: 10:17
Background: Street fighting, MMA
MMA record: 26-6, one no-contest
UFC record: 18-5, one no-contest
Notable wins: Max Holloway (x2), Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, Anthony Pettis, Dan Hooker
Notable Accomplishments: Former interim UFC lightweight champion; 11 UFC post-fight bonuses (seven Fight of the Night, four Performance of the Night); two-time Fight of the Year winner (2012 vs. Chan Sung Jung, 2018 vs. Gaethje); Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt

Conor Mcgregor
Nickname: The Notorious
Fighting out of: Dublin, Ireland
Age: 32
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 155 pounds
Arm reach: 74 inches
Leg reach: 40 inches
Stance: Southpaw
Average fight time: 8:20
Background: Boxing, MMA
MMA record: 22-4
UFC record: 10-2
Notable wins: Jose Aldo, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Dustin Poirier, Nate Diaz, Donald Cerrone
Notable Accomplishments: Former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion; first simultaneous two-weight champ in UFC history; fastest finish in UFC title fight (UFC 196 vs. Jose Aldo); first Irish-born UFC champ; 10 UFC post-fight bonuses (two Fight of the Night, eight Performance of the Night); multiple UFC gate and PPV records

ACTIVITY, STRIKES ABSORBED SINCE UFC 178

Poirier has five more fights than McGregor since their first meeting, but in terms of rounds and minutes spent in the Octagon it’s not even close.

“Evolution under the pressure, learning on the job and the experience,” Poirier said when asked why being the more active fighter will help him at UFC 257. “Just going through the fight week motions and the feelings, preparation, tweaking small things you think you could’ve done better the previous camp or in the previous fight. That’s how you get better I think.”

On the flip side, McGregor has evolved his skills without taking quite the type of damage Poirier has in the cage.

Poirier lands more significant strikes per minute (5.57 compared to McGregor’s 5.43) and does so at a slightly higher percentage (50 per cent compared to McGregor at 49 per cent). McGregor has a slight edge in striking defence (55 per cent compared to Poirier’s 54 per cent), yet Poirier absorbs fewer strikes per minute (4.18 compared to McGregor’s 4.40).

Those numbers are wildly misleading, however, in terms of what Poirier’s body has been through in competition. Poirier has absorbed 487 significant head strikes since UFC 178, and he’s been significantly damaged in several of his bouts. McGregor, meanwhile, has absorbed only 167 significant strikes to the head in UFC competition since 2014, plus the 152 power punches he ate courtesy of Floyd Mayweather Jr. in their 2017 boxing match.

DEEP WATERS

The narrative heading into UFC 257 is that it’s likely to be a repeat of their first encounter, and to have a chance at redemption Poirier needs to survive the first seven or eight minutes of the fight. It’s a simplistic narrative, sure, but one that makes plenty of sense.

Of his 26 professional MMA bouts, McGregor has only seen a third round thrice. Granted, it’s mostly because of his inherent ability to finish his opponents. He went the full three rounds with Holloway, then went five rounds in his Diaz rematch and got into the fourth round against Khabib Nurmagomedov.

It might be a small sample size, but there isn’t necessarily much evidence to suggest McGregor gets better as the fight goes on — there is with Poirier, though.

“Every minute that ticks off of that clock is just a tougher fight for him,” Poirier said. “The deeper this thing goes, the more tired we get, the more we suffer, that’s in my favour.”

COMMON OPPONENTS

Max Holloway: Each time Holloway puts on a performance like his recent sublime outing against Calvin Kattar, it raises the stock of McGregor and Poirier because both hold dominant wins over the Hawaiian. Poirier submitted Holloway in 3:23 in 2012 in Holloway’s short-notice UFC debut. They fought for an interim lightweight title seven years later. Holloway was the reigning featherweight champ at the time, but Poirier won four out of the five rounds. McGregor, in his second UFC fight, won a three-round decision over Holloway. McGregor sustained a knee injury during the bout, which was the first fight of his career that went the distance.

Eddie Alvarez: McGregor’s finest performance was perhaps his historic win versus Alvarez at UFC 205. McGregor had won the 145-pound title 11 months prior and became the UFC’s first simultaneous two-weight champ when a 155-pound McGregor lit up Alvarez in Madison Square Garden. The following year, Poirier met Alvarez but the fight was stopped when Alvarez hit Poirier with an illegal knee and the fight was declared a no-contest. They fought again 14 months later, and Poirier emerged with a second-round TKO win in a nine-minute barnburner.

Diego Brandao: The featherweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter 14 tournament began his UFC career on a roll until he faced Poirier and McGregor in back-to-back bouts. Poirier earned a knockout win in 4:54 late in 2013 and then, less than seven months later, McGregor earned a performance bonus with a TKO win over Brandao. McGregor beat Poirier’s time and finished the fight at 4:05 before the roof at The O2 in Dublin nearly came down. This was the only time McGregor has fought on home soil during his UFC career.

Joseph Duffy: McGregor’s final loss before a 15-fight winning streak that lasted from 2011-2016 was a first-round submission loss to Duffy at Cage Warriors 39 in Cork, Ireland. Duffy eventually followed in McGregor’s footsteps and signed with the UFC. Poirier won a unanimous decision over Duffy five years ago.

In addition to the four fighters above, they have one common opponent neither was able to beat…

HOW DID THEY DO AGAINST KHABIB?

The most notable common opponent is the lightweight legend from Dagestan who, according to Dana White, would apparently consider ending his retirement if a top lightweight can do something spectacular.

Nurmagomedov holds rear-naked choke submission victories over both McGregor and Poirier. Both men had brief moments of success but he tapped McGregor in the fourth round of UFC 229 and Poirier in the third round at UFC 242. McGregor became the first fighter to win a round against Nurmagomedov and has said he was the worst version of himself that night. McGregor says he thinks Nurmagomedov is scared to fight him a second time.

Poirier, meanwhile, had a tight squeeze on a guillotine choke that may well have forced a tap from lesser fighters, but he also fell short to the lightweight GOAT. Poirier pondered retirement after that loss but after tending to some nagging injuries returned a better fighter and looked great against Hooker last June.

BETTING ODDS

McGregor predictably opened as the favourite, but the line has moved from -175 to as high as -350 less than 24 hours before the event. We saw similar line movement ahead of McGregor’s most recent fight, a 40-second dismantling of Donald Cerrone last January. The most likely outcome of this five-round contest is a McGregor stoppage win and the odds reflect that with McGregor inside the distance sitting at roughly -200.

On the other hand, if Poirier can pull off the upset and remain undefeated in rematches, then he’ll make his backers a pretty penny. A Poirier win would pay out in the +250 range. Poirier by stoppage pays +450 and either fighter by decision is around +650.

OFFICIAL FIGHTER PREDICTIONS

McGregor: “I like Dustin. I think he’s a good fighter. He’s even a great fighter. But great is still levels below me. I’ll knock Dustin out inside 60 seconds.”

Poirier: “Show up, work, get my hand raised.”

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