MMA is a wild sport. We’ve seen enough come from behind wins and late reversals of fortune that we know we can never say how a fight would have ended had a doctor stoppage not brought it to an early close. With that being said, it looked like Conor McGregor would have been in trouble had his fight opposite Dustin Poirier not been stopped at the end of the first round because of a McGregor leg injury.
McGregor lost the round on all the scorecards. Two judges scored it 10-8. With what we could consider the McGregor mantra, “He’s most dangerous in the first round,” blown to bits, it seemed as if Poirier was in the driver’s seat. Regardless of what anyone thinks would have happened, Poirier got the win, and he’s likely headed to face Charles Oliveira in a lightweight title fight, which should be a fun scrap between two veterans who are at the top of their games after long UFC careers.
In the co-main event, Gilbert Burns did an excellent job mixing his striking and grappling to get a win over Stephen Thompson and keep himself in the welterweight title picture.
Before that, Tai Tuivasa put a second straight knockout loss on Greg Hardy’s record, finishing the fight in the first round. Hardy is now 4-3-0-1 in the UFC. None of the fighters Hardy has defeated under the UFC banner remains with the promotion.
In the opening fight of the pay-per-view card, Kris Moutinho lost to Sean O’Malley, but he showed O’Malley and every fighter who gets an “unknown” late replacement that it’s foolhardy to take those fighters lightly.
Read on for the real winners and losers from UFC 264.
Dustin Poirier: Conor McGregor can pout and scream and try to tell everyone they didn’t see what they saw, but the scorecards for the one round the trilogy fight between Dustin Poirier and McGregor say that Poirier was winning the fight. Two of the judges even said that Poirier took the round quite handily, giving him scores of 10-8.
It’s hard to say what would have happened had the fight gone into the second stanza, but it’s easy to say the advantage heading into that round would have been with Poirier.
Gilbert Burns: Gilbert Burns was prepared for his UFC 264 matchup against Stephen Thompson. Burns has relied on his striking in his recent outings, but he wisely fell back to takedowns and groundwork in his bout with the dangerous Thompson. Burns had two spots where he seemed to needlessly put himself in danger and get overaggressive in his striking. One was in the closing seconds of the first stanza and the second came after Thompson knocked him down in the third round. In the first round, the bell rang before he could get himself in trouble. In the second, Burns transitioned from his striking to a takedown. Other than those two brief moments, Burns fought the way he needed to in order to get the win over Thompson.
Tai Tuivasa: Tai Tuivasa and Greg Hardy got after it early in their heavyweight scrap. Tuivasa scored with several heavy low leg kicks before Hardy staggered Tuivasa with head strikes. Hardy then moved in for the kill and immediately got put away by Tuivasa’s striking.
In the victory’s aftermath, Tuivasa said Hardy’s mistake was looking to throw hands with him. Seeing Hardy get knocked out, it seems as if Tuivasa was correct in that assessment.
Irene Aldana: Before UFC 264, Irene Aldana said her loss to Holly Holm was one of her worst performances ever. That fight, which she lost via a five-round decision, took place in October. Aldana had an excellent bounce back performance against Yana Kunitskaya. Aldana dropped Kunitskaya with a perfect left hook. She then followed Kunitskaya to the mat and while it took a while, Aldana ended the fight with ground strikes in the first round. The victory was her second UFC knockout win and seventh overall KO.
Kris Moutinho: I will not say Kris Moutinho exposed Sean O’Malley, but he showed the UFC matchmakers and the UFC bantamweight division that O’Malley is not the killer he says he is. Moutinho got beat to a pulp, but he showed a lot of heart and a lot of guts and for someone who the UFC signed to get knocked out in highlight reel fashion, Moutinho denied the UFC its wish to get O’Malley over.
Max Griffin: Max Griffin made the most of the biggest opportunity of his UFC career on Saturday when he scored a decision over Carlos Condit on the UFC 264 prelims. Griffin used speed, pressure and leg kicks in the early going of the matchup. Griffin showed maturity after he scored a knockdown and backed off before gassing himself out when the finish wasn’t there.
Griffin started his UFC career on a 3-6 run, this is the kind of win that can give a fighter like Griffin the confidence he needs to make some noise in the division.
Michel Pereira: I like that Michel Pereira is trying to concentrate on his speed and striking and doing his best to reduce the crazy wasted energy and movement. Okay, he failed to remove all the insanity from his game, but the backflip to mount in the second stanza actually worked and allowed him to save some energy ahead of the third round.
Pereira is one of the most entertaining fighters in the UFC right now, but if he wants to climb the rankings, he’s going to need to focus on cardio and speed and save his out of the ordinary moves for very special occasions. The threat of something weird will help him, but as he moves up the ranks, his opponents will become tougher to fool.
Ilia Topuria: Ilia Topuria made his UFC debut at UFC 264 against a fighter who had waited a long time for an opponent, Ryan Hall. Topuria dealt with Hall’s unorthodox approach to grappling well and just bided his time until he could strike and strike he did, catching Hall in a defenseless position and scoring a first-round knockout.
Dricus du Plessis: Dricus du Plessis showed off some nice grappling in the first round of his fight opposite Trevin Giles. By watching Giles, it seemed he was prepared for Du Plessis’ skills in that department. What Giles did not seem ready for was the right hand that put him down and out in the second stanza. With the win, Du Plessis moved to 16-2 as a pro. All 16 of his triumphs have come via stoppage. He has nine submission victories and seven knockouts. Du Plessis is 2-0 in the UFC with two knockouts.
Jennifer Maia vs. Jessica Eye: This was an entertaining striking battle and a good bounce back win for Jennifer Maia. Jessica Eye tried to control where the fight took place, but her striking was just not as effective as that of her opponent. Maia had better movement and slicker combinations throughout the fight. Eye gets some points for battling through a nasty cut she picked up after a clash of heads. All in all, a strong and entertaining fight to end the early prelims.
Brad Tavares: Brad Tavares went 15 minutes with Omari Akhmedov, he then picked up an additional sweat when Bruce Buffer read the cards and it was a split decision. The nod rightfully went to Tavares, but it should have been a unanimous decision. Tavares’ striking looked very good and his ability to avoid the striking of his opponent was excellent. He never allowed Akhmedov to land over 30 percent of his attempted significant strikes. As a plus, Tavares thwarted seven takedowns from his opponent. A nice win here from Tavares.
Zhalgas Zhumagulov: Zhalgas Zhumagulov was on a four-fight winning streak heading into his UFC debut in 2020. He dropped his first two bouts with his new promotion. His third fight with the UFC took place at UFC 264 and early on it looked like he was going to struggle with the length of his opponent, Jerome Rivera. UFC commentator Joe Rogan noted that fact, as Rivera scored with kicks. But Rivera made a mistake early when he shot for a takedown in close and that was all Zhumagulov needed to take over the fight. With Rivera’s neck exposed, Zhumagulov secured a nasty choke and forced the tap from Rivera at 2:02 of the first round. Zhumagulov delivered an excellent finish to open the fight card.
Jolie Poirier: Jolie Poirier, perhaps fed up that Conor McGregor tried to drag her name into his issues with her husband, gave McGregor a one-finger salute after the fight. Did McGregor deserve that? Yes, yes he did.
UFC fans: UFC 264 was a solid card from top to bottom. The pacing seemed good and there were no stinkers on this card. It was a solid event with a lot of good performances.
Conor McGregor: Conor McGregor landed some heavy leg kicks in the early going of his trilogy bout with Dustin Poirier. They did not hurt him enough to slow him down or cause him to lose power though. When the fight went to the ground, McGregor tried to do some damage from his back, but Poirier’s ground strikes were much heavier and did more damage.
The end of the fight was strange, and unfortunate, with McGregor’s ankle folding. It’s easy to understand why McGregor was angry, but there’s a pretty thick line between angry and delusional and McGregor was way over that line during his in-cage rant after the fight ended. He took shots at Poirier’s wife (which earned him a bird from Jolie Poirier) and said he was winning the fight in the first round.
McGregor’s outburst is going to the be the last image we have of him inside the octagon for quite a while and that was not a positive look. McGregor will always have his blindly faithful fans, but there are going to be those who question what his appeal was and what made them admire him.
It’s amazing to see the change in McGregor over his eight years in the UFC. Compare the image of McGregor after his first UFC win to what we saw after his loss at UFC 264. It’s really night and day and hard to explain.
Stephen Thompson: Stephen Thompson did well on his feet against Gilbert Burns, but his takedown defense took a hit in this fight when he stopped three of the six attempts from his opponent. Thompson spent large stretches of the fight on the bottom and with that, Thompson’s hopes of another welterweight title fight seemingly evaporated.
Greg Hardy: Greg Hardy got knocked out in the first round by Tai Tuivasa and it seemed as if the entire MMA universe celebrated with Tuivasa. Hopefully those who celebrated didn’t all do a shoey.
Yana Kunitskaya: Yana Kunitskaya came out very aggressively, but her opponent, Irene Aldana was undaunted by the pressure and the tide of the fight quickly shifted. Once Aldana dropped Kunitskaya, Aldana unloaded with ground strikes and got the TKO win in the first round.
Carlos Condit: Carlos Condit seemed to delay the inevitable with wins over Court McGee and Matt Brown, but with a loss to Max Griffin, the “Natural Born Killer” might become the next UFC veteran who the promotion books to showcase up-and-coming talent.
Condit is still a game opponent and fans will tune in to watch him, but his best days are in the past. This isn’t something I enjoy saying about someone like Condit, but it seems to be true.
Niko Price: If Niko Price’s plan was to push the cardio of Michel Pereira, it took a hit in the second round when Pereira somehow went backflip to mount on the ground and kept things there while working submissions and ground strikes. Price did pressure Pereira in the third stanza, but it was too little and too late and he lost via decision.
Ryan Hall: Ryan Hall, he of the strange MMA style, went to sleep at UFC 264 when Ilia Topuria stayed patient and did not get frustrated by Hall’s unorthodox style. With this loss I don’t know what the UFC future will be for Hall. Perhaps it will encourage fighters to accept a contract to face him. I hope that’s what happens and not that the UFC releases him.
Trevin Giles: Trevin Giles didn’t seem to consider Dricus du Plessis a threat in the striking department. Giles came out with his hands at his waist and he kept them there. That was a mistake as Du Plessis ended the fight with a powerful right that dropped Giles and ended the fight.
Omari Akhmedov: Omari Akhmedov had a rough night against Brad Tavares. He was slower and less accurate than his opponent in the striking department, and he could not score with his wrestling. Not a good night for the ranked middleweight.
Jerome Rivera: Jerome Rivera used his length well early, scoring with kicks. It seemed as if he was going to give Zhalgas Zhumagulov some problems with that approach, but that did not happen as things fell apart quickly for Rivera after an ill-advised takedown attempt. With the loss, Rivera fell to 0-4 in the UFC.
The hearts of UFC fans: My ESPN feed cut out right at the beginning of the Niko Price and Michel Pereira. I hope this didn’t happen to everyone because that matchup was circled as a potential “Fight of the Night” and to miss it would have been painful. The feed came back inside the first round.
UFC fighters: I know the UFC upped the bonuses for the evening to $75,000 and that was nice. However it was kind of an insult when the fighters were all forced to advertise for a website on the UFC fight kits and not get any of that money, a reported $175 million over 10 years.
Daniel Cormier: Early in the night, the camera was on the broadcast table of Daniel Cormier, Joe Rogan and Jon Anik. The angle of the camera caught Cormier shirt kind of billowing open between buttons and exposing his chest on the broadcast. It was not the end of the world or terrible, but watching Cormier it seemed as if someone was in his headphones telling him about it because he kept reaching up to his collar and trying to close that to solve the problem. Again, not a big deal, but the production crew forced Cormier into an L here.
Jon Anik: Jon Anik gave credit to Conor McGregor for the “Billionaire strut,” but let’s not forget that McGregor himself is an imitator and that WWE CEO Vince McMahon originated that walk.
UFC promos: One of the UFC promotional videos for the main event seemed to imply that McGregor didn’t have a UFC loss until he faced Khabib Nurmagomedov. In that video, when the voiceover focused on the fact that McGregor defeated every man he faced, the name Nate Diaz was mentioned. Yes, McGregor defeated Nate Diaz, but that win came after Diaz forced McGregor to tap in the first meeting. That win doesn’t make the loss go away. This is one of the bothersome things about the UFC, it always seems willing to lie to promote, even when it doesn’t need to do so.
UFC bonuses: Maybe I’m crazy, but when I think “Fight of the Night,” I think an evenly matched and exciting scrap. I don’t think about what I saw in the Sean O’Malley vs. Kris Moutinho scrap. That contest was one way traffic from the start. I’m glad Moutinho got some extra scratch, but he didn’t get that because he was competitive, he got that because he endured a one-sided beating for nearly 15 minutes.
Again, UFC, what are the criteria for a performance bonus?
Sean O’Malley: Sean O’Malley is a talented fighter. His striking ability is excellent. He’s fun to watch and he could be a star, but I believe he is holding himself back because of his decision-making process. Before his fight at UFC 264 against late replacement Kris Moutinho, O’Malley said he and his coach were going to come up with a finish that had never been seen before in the UFC. Before the fight, O’Malley tweeted that his win — and I’m assuming highlight reel knockout — was for the Phoenix Suns. And that’s what is holding O’Malley back, his attitude and his hubris.
Confidence is great and O’Malley has the skills that he should have confidence, but he seems like a TikTok fighter, someone who just wants to score a stoppage that can fit nicely on a brief video clip and get shared everywhere from SportsCenter to every social media app. O’Malley needs to change that focus. He needs to concentrate on just getting the win and if a moment presents itself he can take that moment and go for the highlight reel, but to have that as the goal? That’s a huge mistake in a sport like MMA. Maybe it’s the hubris of youth, but he needs someone to help him focus on the big picture and that is development and improvement.