After a year out of the Octagon, Conor McGregor returns to the UFC to face Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 this weekend in what will be only his third bout since 2016. ‘Notorious’ has already fought Poirier once in his career, with the pair having met back in 2014 when McGregor stopped his American opponent in just one minute and 46 seconds after a clean left hand brought Poirier to his knees.
But what should we expect this time around? We caught up with former UFC fighter turned BT Sport pundit Dan Hardy to get his views on McGregor’s return, and how this fight, at lightweight rather than featherweight, will pan out.
So Dan, what are you most looking forward to at UFC 257?
I'd be remiss to not say the Conor McGregor fight, but i'm very excited about the Hooker v Chandler fight as well because that is going to introduce another major player in the top five if Chandler wins. The other thing as well is a crowd at an event for the first time in so long has to be exciting. It's just not really a McGregor fight unless you've got that buzz in the arena. Even at a Cage Warriors event with 200 people there, Conor McGregor fights still generate a strange buzz in the arena, I'm excited to feel that again.
After another year away from the octagon, what are you expecting from Conor?
Honestly, I don't expect a great deal different, he will come in with a strong physical condition, he will try to dominate the centre of the Octagon early. He is going to try and get inside Poirier’s head at every opportunity and try and back him up as quickly as he can. I think Conor is realistic about this fight, and he knows that although Poirier is a beatable opponent for him, I also think he realises the longer this fight goes, the more difficult it gets, the more messy it gets, the more scrappy it gets.
As well as Conor thinking about winning this fight he is also trying not to give too much away for his upcoming fights as well. He might have a fantastic round here that we have not seen before, but he also will not want to show it this fight, perhaps save it for a fight where he might need it more. I think he is going to try to be clinical, I think he will try to catch Poirier with something very similar and use the emotional impact of Poirier to keep him tense and hesitant.
I think Poirier will try to be smart, stay on his toes and chop away at his lead leg, that's the smart thing to do. The last thing he wants is to get into a punching exchange in the first five minutes. When it comes to calibre of pistol, McGregor has got the bigger gun for sure.
How will it differ from McGregor’s first round TKO back in 2014?
If Conor has his way I think it will look very similar. The thing is if Poirier does get out of the first 90 seconds it can look very different because as soon as Poirer’s confidence ticks over, his ability to take shots enhances. He starts stepping in with a square stance, normally I wouldn’t recommend that. If I’m training a fighter I would always want them to stay side on but it works well for Poirier because he buries his chin under his shoulders and he starts throwing these looping shots up and over. It is a barrage. I think that as soon as he gets past that two minutes and his confidence starts to come up that actually he is not going to get knocked out with every single punch that lands, then it could be a long night for McGregor.
The first bout was at featherweight, this one is at lightweight, who does that benefit more do you think?
Honestly, I think it benefits Poirier more. He never missed weight at 145 so it wasn’t like he went up a weight class because it was a struggle, he could have stayed in that weight class for a little while. I think psychologically for him to go ‘Lost that fight, let’s move up to 155’, he can kind of equate some of that defeat to the different weight class. He in himself can feel like a different fighter at 155.
McGregor against Cowboy was a heavily muscled individual. He had a lot of new muscle mass on his legs, his back, his shoulders and arms. Getting that weight off to get back down to 155 is going to be an effort for him. He has to be disciplined with it. If you remember back to when this fight was first coming about, McGregor was talking about doing at 170, he wanted it at welterweight, which tells me that he'd rather not force himself down a weight class again. It tells me he has grown into the welterweight body he has got, which might be detrimental if he has a tough cut.
Aged 32, with constant hints at retirement, how and when do you think McGregor’s UFC career ends?
I don't think he is done for a while yet. I think he's got plenty more in the tank. I always feel like he hints at the retirement thing because he wants us to all realise how lucky we are to have him. I kind of feel like that is part of the game plan here. ‘I might retire so enjoy me while I’m here.’ But you know, he is a competitor. If he was going to retire then he would retire. He has got all the money in the world, this is not about money anymore, this is about achieving.
What happens if he loses this one?
Manny Pacquiao is on the table, 170 is on the table. Masvidal, the BMF belt, I know that Nate Diaz is coming down to 155, but I think that is only because there is a potential title on the line and a potential rematch with McGregor. I think if McGregor went back up to 170, Nate would absolutely take that trilogy match and that is the golden ticket in his back pocket. Because those guys could lose five times each this year, and at the start of 2022 I would love to watch that fight. That is the magnetism of his character, you know.
How do you see the next year panning out for McGregor?
If he beats Poirier, there are a couple of guys that we’ve got to keep an eye on. I think Chandler, as long as he looks as good as he did in Bellator, is going to give Dan Hooker a real tough challenge at 257, so that could be a potential new individual in this weight class who is up in the top five. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Tony Ferguson and I can definitely see Conor taking that fight if Tony can get another win on his record.
I think the only one that he would want to avoid unless it was for a title fight - assuming Khabib has retired, that is - is Charles Oliveira. I think he is the one guy in the division that every other lightweight is looking at going ‘I don't want to fight that guy unless it is for a belt.’ He is just a killer. Then obviously the Pacquiao thing keeps coming out. There are boxing matches all over the place that Conor could take and enjoy.
Do you think he would?
I can see him doing that. To be honest, if he wins this weekend then I think it would be a foolish thing to do, he would lose a lot of momentum if he went over to boxing. But the fact that he's got two golden tickets in his back pocket, one with Pacquiao and one with Nate, it doesn’t matter what happens at 155 at UFC 257, because he has options.
How much does the UFC need Conor McGregor?
If you go back to before Conor McGregor had left Cage Warriors, people around the UK who followed the sport were like ‘this guy is something special.’ I've heard that said about a whole bunch of people.
With the speed that the sport is growing now, the fact now we have had a Conor McGregor and he has cleared the leaves from the path, the superstars in waiting can see the route to the top now. It won’t take long for someone to come and replace that hype that McGregor brings... I can certainly see the younger guys coming through at 155 or 145, thinking to themselves ‘I can see how I can create a bit of noise here’ and follow in the footsteps of McGregor.
BT Sport Box Office will show UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 exclusively live from 3am on Saturday 23rd January. UFC 257 can be watched on on BT TV, Virgin TV, Sky, online via the web or the BT Sport Box Office App and is available to buy at www.bt.com/sportboxoffice