Conor McGregor: What Next?
Sometimes it’s not the loss its the manner of that defeat that says plenty. The crushing loss Conor McGregor suffered in his rematch at UFC 257 at the hands of Dustin Poirier leaves him facing an uncertain future.
Poirier was always likely to tell us where McGregor is in the current UFC lightweight landscape. The first fight showed how legitimate McGregor was, but the return probably showed us he has very little left to offer at the top end of the division.
It wasn’t a defeat in the championship rounds after a hard torrid battle, which most foresaw beforehand if Poirier was to win. The brutal leg kicks might have laid the groundwork, but it was nevertheless extremely concerning the way McGregor capitulated so quickly. Make no mistake it was the sort of stoppage that leaves scars. Nobody saw McGregor being finished by strikes in that manner, especially so early in the fight.
McGregor whipped his body into some physical shape, but was he fit to fight at this level. Poirier was battle-hardened, accustomed to the pain of a fight. Did the mind or body give out on McGregor or both. All of a sudden he looks a fragile fighter.
Strip away all the usual post-fight talk, a few comments stand out. McGregor was saying all the right things about adjusting, carrying on and how gutted he was at losing. But one little slip where he said I’m not sure I am that upset, is probably telling in many ways.
Poirier also said the difference in the rematch was McGregor didn’t have that old aura, he just saw another fighter in there. Those comments probably say everything. The aura, that perceived invincibility has gone forever. Poirier is right, McGregor is now just another fighter, and one that could get lost in the mix.
There are plenty of options for McGregor, but finding McGregor a safe way back to contention will be extremely difficult. Against any of the leading contenders, you wouldn’t be confident of McGregor emerging victorious. A big betting favourite to repeat against Poirier, those kind of odds won’t be replicated next time McGregor returns to action.
Poirier is likely to get a title shot next, which would appear to rule out any immediate thoughts of a trilogy fight with his most recent conqueror. McGregor might have to look towards either Nate Diaz, Justin Gaethje or Tony Ferguson. All three pose significant problems for this version of McGregor. Only Ferguson would I favour McGregor to beat, even then it would be with no degree of confidence.
Gaethje would give him the style he wants but is also likely to take McGregor to the kind of deep waters where he will be found wanting. Diaz has shown us already the problems he causes McGregor. Ferguson looks to be a fading force, worryingly so, and could be the easier of the three, albeit with a style that McGregor will still struggle with.
McGregor has given us so much, and he could retire right now with a legacy few will ever match. The loss to Poirier will either make McGregor obsessed with revenge, as he was when Diaz beat him, or plant the seed that his time is over.
With so many other interests in his life, getting that old hunger and desire back will be difficult. Does McGregor still really want it, does he have the necessary time to give to the sport.
McGregor has only one win in the UFC since 2016 and is 1-2 at lightweight, another defeat will probably mean the next retirement is a much longer one.
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