UFC 264 Main & Co-Main Preview & Predictions
By Cathal Geeney
Conor ‘Notorious’ McGregor v Dustin ‘Diamond’ Poirier
Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier will meet on Saturday night in a highly anticipated rematch to settle their trilogy.
After McGregor finished Poirier with a first round KO back in 2014, Poirier returned the favour, securing a technical knockout on the Irishman when they last met in January.
Their most recent meeting was an enjoyable back-and-forth in which McGregor looked the better fighter early on but struggled to find an answer to the leg kicks of Poirier and ultimately payed the price for this.
The key narrative heading into this weekend will be as to what adjustments the Notorious one will make. Their last meeting was peculiar in the sense that McGregor was consistently landing the cleaner punches and, although damage was clearly building up in his right calf, he looked the more comfortable right up until that final leg kick landed.
Many felt that McGregor had abandoned his original karate-influenced style for a more boxing-friendly stance which left him increasingly vulnerable to leg attacks. And while this may be true, it was also this newly adapted stance which allowed him to impress on the feet.
The change in stance was a factor, but there were many more elements determining the result of this bout. If the one-time ‘Champ Champ’ can either check the kicks, or find a counter to negate their impact, then he will have every reason to believe that he can out strike Dustin and get the victory.
As for Poirier, he will be keen to test the legs of his opponent once again. The former interim lightweight champion will also have learned plenty from their last meeting and will be working on various set ups and combinations to increase the success with his hands.
Poirier relies on his boxing and generally looks to a solid jab before following it up with big combinations. Yet, last time out, he struggled to impose himself and was the inferior pugilist on the night.
The number one ranked 155-pounder is not one to hide from a brawl either and can be dragged into a dogfight. As the fight progresses, expect the Diamond to pick up the pressure and look to increase his output.
From a grappling perspective, the Louisiana born fighter set the tone early by testing the wrestling defence of McGregor back in January. Poirier managed to secure a takedown in the first round, but McGregor was able to make his way back to his feet with relative ease.
Surprisingly, it may be up to the former featherweight champion to take the initiative in grappling this time around. The commentary team called for McGregor to look for a takedown just seconds before he was finished.
If Conor is once again the more precise striker, and Poirier is the more durable fighter, then finding opportunities to ‘rest’ within rounds will be crucial. Particularly as it is no secret that McGregor has struggled with maintaining a constant pace across five rounds.
The battle in the clinch was another interesting feature of their last bout with both fighters exchanging control and looking to land strikes. This could play an important role in the upcoming meeting.
There is a huge amount at stake this weekend for McGregor. If he is unsuccessful once more, this will be his third defeat in his last four outings and will surely be an indication that he is no longer in a position to compete with the 155-pound elite. While a victory would act as a springboard to challenge Charles Oliveira for his lightweight strap.
As for Poirier, it’s a sign of the times that he overlooked a shot at gold in order to secure a trilogy fight against the Irishman. Cash is king and whenever the Conor McGregor circus rolls into town, it is present in abundance.
This should prove to be a fascinating match up. McGregor demonstrated in their last outing that he has the precision and timing advantage on the feet. John Kavanagh and the rest of his SBG team will be making sure that McGregor is going into the octagon believing he is the superior striker and that he just needs to implement a strategy to negate the effects of that lower leg kick.
And they may very well be correct in saying that.
Despite this, the last showdown highlighted that Poirier can withstand some of McGregor’s hardest shots and keep coming forward. The Diamond has proved time and time again that he is no longer the same version of himself that McGregor defeated back in 2014.
Poirier can withstand a war and will not go away, just look at his encounters with Hooker, Gaethje, Alvarez and Holloway. The American Top Team fighter is a warrior through and through and I believe this will be the determining factor in their upcoming rendezvous.
This fight could be a toss of the coin so ultimately, I want to be on the fighter who I know will turn up and leave it all out there. I can say with conviction that, while he is not necessarily the superior technical fighter, Poirier will be willing to go out on his sword on Saturday night. The same can’t be said for Conor McGregor, who is almost developing a habit of taking the easy way out when it’s not going his way. I’m taking The Diamond Poirier to get the job done in a thrilling encounter on Saturday night.
Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson v Gilbert ‘Durinho’ Burns
The co-main event on Saturday night sees Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson take on Gilbert ‘Durinho’ Burns.
For Thompson, he will see this as a must win fight if he is to achieve his goal of becoming a UFC welterweight champion. Despite his sprightly demeanour, Wonderboy is thirty-eight years old and has had numerous injuries throughout his kickboxing and MMA career. A loss here would be a major setback.
Regardless of whether Wonderboy becomes a UFC titleholder, there is no denying he is one of the most skilled strikers to ever grace the octagon.
Thompson has a unique style, fighting with his hands low and relying on his constant movement and stance switches to evade any attacks. The South Carolina native carries his extensive kickboxing experience into the octagon. He fires off a range of kicks from both orthodox and southpaw stances, constantly keeping his opponent on edge. He doesn’t load up his punches which allows him to fire off crisp flurries of straights while creating an angle.
Thompson also has an exceptional ability of adding a high kick to the end of his punches which can land to devastating effect.
The number-four ranked welterweight endured a difficult number of years after being defeated by Tyron Woodley for the title in a tight decision. He followed this up with two defeats in his next three fights, most noteworthy of these was a knockout of the year contender suffered at the hands of Anthony Pettis.
Thompson has demonstrated his resilience by bouncing back with two successive decision victories against very dangerous strikers in Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, where he has looked back to his best.
The match up in styles will be interesting to observe. Where Thompson is calculated and technical, Burns is aggressive and explosive. The Brazilian looks to land powerful hooks in the pocket and has found plenty of success here of late, dropping all of his last three opponents.
Despite landing a knock down against Usman in his last outing, he was unable to build on this and was subsequently finished after struggling to handle the long, straight shots from Usman. Gilbert’s constant pressure and aggression have found him plenty of success though, amassing a six-fight win streak prior to the Usman defeat.
The stand-up battle will be exciting to watch and may take the shape of Thompson acting as the matador and Durinho as the bull.
The greatest discrepancy in skills will likely be in the grappling stakes. Burns has an extensive background in Submission Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with gold medals at World level in both fields. It would be prudent of Burns to test the takedown defence of Wonderboy early. And although Thompson has only developed his wrestling as he transitioned from kickboxing to MMA, he has a solid defensive wrestling game. The part-time karate coach has only been successfully taken down twice in his last fourteen contests which should make this very interesting.
This a huge showdown between two former title challengers who are looking to make a statement in a very competitive 170-pound division. Both Burns and Thompson possess a skillset which would make them worthy champions.
However, there can only be one winner and I am going to take Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson to make it three successive victories. I am expecting the movement and offence of the unbeaten kickboxer to be too much for Burns to handle.