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Editorial: Conor McGregor lost a lot more than a fight at UFC 257

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Dustin Poirier’s UFC 257 win turned Conor McGregor into just another lightweight contender

UFC 257: Poirier v McGregor Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Conor McGregor lost more than Dustin Poirier gained at UFC 257. Sorry, that’s a bit of an understatement. Conor McGregor lost a lot more than Dustin Poirier gained at UFC 257.

Remember when the rematch between McGregor and Poirier was first mentioned? If not, here’s a reminder from October 2020.

“It’s because he’s angling to fight (Manny) Pacquiao,” Poirier told MMA Junkie. “He wants to fight another southpaw before he fights another southpaw.”

“Correct,” McGregor replied on Twitter. “Southpaw box style. Continue to sharpen my MMA skills with some tough competition, while leading into my Manny bout preparation. It’s not easy going between both sports and then coming back to the one sport again. Just want to keep sharp guys, that’s all. It’s only fair.”

McGregor clearly saw Poirier, who he knocked out in the first round of their 2014 scrap, as nothing but a hard spar, someone to get in some boxing minutes against before cashing a big check to fight Pacquiao in a much more lucrative boxing contest in 2021.

That didn’t happen. Someone forget to inform McGregor that his fight against Poirier, which headlined the January 24 pay-per-view card on Fight Island, was an MMA bout and not a boxing match. Poirier remembered that pesky fact and kicked the hell out of McGregor’s lead leg on the path to an upset second-round knockout victory.

With that, McGregor’s dream of an eight-figure payday disappeared as the former two-division UFC champ briefly napped on the canvas at Etihad Arena.

Pacquiao’s manager confirmed his client had moved on in the aftermath of McGregor’s defeat.

“It looked like Conor looked past Dustin and got knocked out,” Pacquiao’s manager Sean Gibbons told The Sun. “Maybe he had the Senator on his mind. I think the demand for the fight is not there presently.”

Had McGregor lost to Poirier by decision or submission, he might have got his wish to fight Pacquiao, but after the first knockout loss of his career? Well, it’s tough to market a boxing match against one of the sport’s most accomplished practitioners after a knockout loss in a mixed martial arts contest.

And that’s where I think McGregor lost a lot of interest from the casual fans. McGregor might have been able to point to his submission defeats to Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov and persuaded his fans those setbacks came because he’s a striker, not a grappler, but to get knocked out? No one but the blindly devoted would muster an excuse for McGregor’s loss to Poirier.

Okay, so McGregor lost a big boxing matchup, but what about MMA? That’s hard to say, but if I was a betting man, I would put money down that outside of trilogy fights against Diaz or Poirier or a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov, I don’t see McGregor’s pay-per-view numbers reaching the stratosphere in his next outing. That’s not to say the number doesn’t top the 1 million mark, but I’m not sure it passes the 1.2 million buys of his 2015 fight against Aldo.

Poirier might have turned McGregor into the anti-Mike Tyson. Where fans were scared off of buying Tyson pay-per-view events because he was so dominant and quick to finish his foes, McGregor fans might be reluctant to fork out $70 (or whatever the UFC decides to charge for his next pay-per-view card) if he might get finished again.

With Poirier’s knockout win, I also find it hard to believe McGregor will be in control the next time the UFC sits down to negotiate his pay. The Irish fighter will still earn a good payday, but I don’t expect him to see the numbers he got for the Nurmagomedov, Donald Cerrone or Poirier fights. The UFC can offer him less with the caveat that it needs to see proof that he’s still a draw coming off a 1-2 run, especially since that one win came against Cerrone, who is on the back nine of his career.

McGregor could take a pay reduction as an insult and retire for the fourth time in his UFC career, which only hurts him. The UFC proved in 2019 and 2020 that it is no longer dependent on McGregor’s name to have a good year — even without crowds.

Right now, if someone asked me, I would say that outside his name recognition and past accomplishments, McGregor is just another UFC fighter trying to earn a spot in the top five of the lightweight division.

It’s hard to believe, but McGregor is at a stage in his career, if he wants another shot at the lightweight title, that he has to prove himself to fans — both hardcore and casual — and the UFC.

To be blunt, Dustin Poirier turned Conor McGregor into just another lightweight contender.