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UFC 264: Would defeat to Dustin Poirier spell the end for Conor McGregor?
The Notorious One returns with his legacy on the line in a huge trilogy bout, live on BT Sport Box Office.
Conor McGregor’s victory over Dustin Poirier in September 2014 catapulted him to global stardom.
Defeat in the rematch nearly seven years later humbled him.
Months after he was knocked out for the first time in his mixed martial arts career, The Notorious One stands at a crossroads.
A triumphant return in the headline bout of UFC 257 was supposed to usher in a new period of dominance for the former two-weight champion. Instead, it left McGregor with one win to his name since 2016 and three defeats in his last six octagon appearances.
Regardless, the irrepressible Irishman - arguably still the biggest draw in all of combat sports - seems motivated by legacy as much as currency and will remain a must-watch until he decides to hang up his gloves.
Critics have pointed to his extraordinary wealth as a factor in his decline. “When you get off a 310ft yacht, living that good life, it’s tough to be a savage,” said UFC president Dana White after the rematch.
But the 32-year-old was quick to agree to a rubber match with Poirier and signalled his intention to make a run at the lightweight title in a magnanimous post-fight interview in Abu Dhabi.
“I would like to get in and get back on the horse and secure that new belt with the Irish flag on it. Anything can happen in this business,” he said.
“As long as you stay active, as long as you compete, things shape around you. You show up, you reap the rewards, and that’s it.
“That’s what happened to Dustin, and it’s what’s happened against me. I’ll keep my eyes on the prize.”
There was talk of McGregor making a return to boxing after that January loss, possibly against former eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao, and there was the option of an easy payday against any number of YouTuber-turned-boxers.
Another trilogy, against old adversary Nate Diaz, was also on the cards but the Irishman, who came out of retirement to reclaim his place at the summit of the UFC, was insistent on settling the score with Poirier.
After tasting defeat in the relatively anodyne setting of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena, the Dublin fighter will be looking to feed off a frenzied Las Vegas crowd as he looks to avenge his latest defeat.
Hundreds of adoring fans flocked to catch a glimpse of him as he left a restaurant in California on Saturday evening and he will be hoping to recreate the raucous atmosphere which has become synonymous with McGregor fight weeks in Sin City.
Las Vegas is back open for business and the sold-out T-Mobile Arena is set to welcome 20,000 fans who have waited for more than two years to witness the biggest star in action in the fight capital of the world.
But will McGregor be able to rediscover his Midas touch?
Speaking on BT Sport’s Fight Week, British former middleweight champion Michael Bisping said: “What Conor are we expecting? I’m expecting a very, very motivated Conor. At the end of the day he has to win this fight.
“If he loses of course he’s still going to be able to sell out arenas. He’s still going to be able to make money. There’s the Nate Diaz trilogy. There’s always going to be people clamouring to see a Conor McGregor fight.
“However, if he loses this the illusion – maybe that’s not a fair word – that he’s one of the best to ever step in there and certainly talks of a title fight, they’re going to disappear for a little while.”
If we back up a little, the seven-year rivalry with Poirier began in 2014 on the main card of UFC 178, headlined by the flyweight world title bout between Demetrious Johnson and Chris Cariaso.
McGregor knocked the American out after one minute and 46 seconds of the first round in a statement win and performance that propelled him to superstardom.
It was his 12th straight win and moved him to 4-0 in the UFC. “I don’t just knock them out, I pick the round,” he boasted.
“Live by the sword die by the sword,” Poirier posted on Twitter after the galling loss. “I’m truly heart broken.”
In the intervening years, the victor became one of the most iconic sportsman of all time. He became the UFC’s first simultaneous two-weight world champion and crossed over to boxing to challenge the legendary Floyd Mayweather in an eye-wateringly lucrative bout.
The pay-per-view king's appeal has cut through to even the most casual of sports fans and he is still the face of the UFC despite some notable periods of inactivity.
McGregor was defeated by bitter rival Khabib Nurmagomedov in a grudge match at UFC 229 but made a successful return over a year later against seasoned veteran Donald Cerrone.
Poirier, meanwhile, had to diligently work his way back up the rankings to get into title contention. He bounced back from a defeat to Nurmagomedov in 2019, with lightweight gold on the line, with a victory over Dan Hooker to earn the rematch that he so craved against McGregor.
After an amicable build-up and with just 2,000 fans in attendance due to Covid restrictions, McGregor landed a couple of trademark left hands on The Diamond and undoubtedly claimed the first round in the main event of UFC 257.
However, Poirier’s scything calf kicks quickly made their mark and the Louisiana lightweight secured the win of his life when he landed a right hand on McGregor’s nose to end the contest in the second round and stun the sporting world.
Tensions have been bubbling in the lead up to UFC 264, with the pair clashing on social media. McGregor even claimed the fight was off days before the official announcement!
Many are tipping Notorious to ditch the amiable persona he displayed last time and return to his old combative ways in a bid to get under the skin of his measured opponent ahead of the trilogy.
Anticipation has hit fever pitch ahead of the rubber match which could be one of the most watched fights in history.
McGregor has captivated global audiences since his breakout win over Poirier. Win or lose on Saturday night, the world will be watching what he does next as keenly as ever before.
Find out how to watch UFC 264 exclusively live on BT Sport Box Office this weekend!