Conor McGregor anticipated an early-round knockout.
But he probably didn’t envision himself dazed on the canvas midway through the second round of Saturday’s UFC 257 main event against Dustin Poirier, which he lost by TKO at 2:32 of the second round.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” McGregor said afterward, citing his relative inactivity since his most recent fight last January as one of the reasons for his defeat.
Poirier, who Saturday stepped into the octagon heavier, stronger, and more confident than his younger self, who six years ago was clipped and finished 106 seconds into his 2014 fight against McGregor, appeared unbothered.
He survived through the first round and began chipping away at McGregor’s legs. In the second round, he pointed to McGregor after swallowing a left from the southpaw, acknowledging the same hand that ended his night six years ago and inspired his jump to the lightweight division.
A minute later, Poirier circled away from the fence and forced McGregor against it with a swarm of left and right hooks. Moments after, he hammered McGregor’s face with a right hook that froze the Irishman before his body fell to the canvas, prompting referee Herb Dean to call the fight before Poirier could pounce.
“I’m happy man, but I’m not surprised. I put in the work,” Poirier said.
“The goal was to be technical and to pick my shots, not brawl at all.”
Poirier (27-6), the No. 2 lightweight contender, was considered an underdog to McGregor (22-5), the No. 4 contender. Poirier’s durability is well-respected but questions lingered about how he matched up against a fighter who has devastated opponents in hand-to-hand combat. He landed 48 significant strikes to McGregor’s 29.
His victory, perhaps most stunning in the way he overwhelmed McGregor, propels him back into lightweight title contention after he failed to unify the belt as an interim champion when he lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019.
Now, six years after McGregor forced Poirier to reassess, McGregor must regroup.
After earning his 11th lightweight victory since that loss in 2014 on Saturday, Poirier is again nearing the divisional summit. His path to the top will be shaped by a retired Nurmagomedov, whom UFC President Dana White described as unmoved by Saturday’s performance, which may suggest that he’ll vacate the belt.
“He said to me, ‘Dana be honest with yourself. I’m so many levels above these guys. I beat these guys.’ You know, I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound positive,” White said of Nurmagomedov’s return.
While Saturday’s fight may be viewed as a pseudo-semifinal, Poirier saw it as a showcase between the best active lightweight fighters — one made sweeter by avenging his past loss.
“I felt like this was a title fight,” he said. “If Khabib’s not coming back, me and Conor are the two best guys. I think this is a title fight. I’m the champion.”