Conor McGregor's Mind Games vs. Dustin Poirier

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It was over a year ago that the first shots were fired between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier. Having banked an incredibly impressive debut win over Marcus Brimage, ‘The Notorious’, was headlining a media day ahead of what would be his second UFC outing in a bout which was set to take place in the heartland of the Irish diaspora, Boston, Massachusetts.

The Dubliner was in flying form and was asked to play a word association game concerning his fellow UFC featherweights. When it came to Poirier he uttered a juvenile and witty expression, “peahead”, and to be fair to the Irish featherweight, we’ve heard a lot worse insults come from him.

The featherweights that were mentioned didn’t take much notice of McGregor. Even after his win against Max Holloway in Boston, his opposition would call his lack of experience into question, cite his previous losses via submission and generally question his ability.

In the lead up to UFC Dublin, the original opponent of ‘The Notorious’ Cole Miller pulled out presenting what the Irishman felt would be an ideal opportunity for Poirier to step in. The idea of the two facing each other had already been floated at this stage. If McGregor was successful against Miller, UFC Tonight reported that the SBG fighter would meet Poirier in a title eliminator showdown.

“I haven’t got a clue about him, who cares about him? He’s supposed to be a top ten guy and this is a main event fight,” McGregor berated Poirier when Diego Brandao was confirmed as Miller’s replacement for the main attraction of UFC Dublin. “He’s team-mates with Cole so he knew he was going to pull out. Did you hear him campaign for this fight?

“He could’ve main evented a UFC card, there’s only a few of these featherweights that have been the main event before. He’s trying to talk about earning stripes and shit like that, this is the main event of the fastest selling UFC event in history and when the injury happened there was silence from these people. I don’t dwell on these idiots, yeah?”

Whether the American was available for the bout or not, the sound bite certainly kept interest in a potential matchup between the two high and Poirier added further fuel to the fire the day before the UFC’s Dublin return. He tweeted: “I hope Conor wins tomorrow so I can beat his ass”, “He needs a slice of humble pie and I (am) just the man for the job” and “He doesn't even deserve to be in there with a real man like me but I'll make an exception to shut his loud mouth.”

As soon as McGregor’s hand was raised on July 19 his focus turned to Poirier and it wasn’t long before their date was set for UFC 178 on September 27. On a media tour a fortnight after the historic July 19 event in the US, the Irishman shared a stage with the ATT fighter and used the opportunity to showcase some of his public speaking skills.  

“Dustin thinks it’s all talk but when he wakes up with his nose plastered on the other side of his face, he’s going to know it’s not all talk,” began his tirade which would go on to attack the durability of Poirier’s chin, his hometown and much more.

Despite proclaiming he would “shut his loud mouth”, Poirier sat back and watched as the Irishman provoked laughter from the gathering with punchlines that were more often than not focused on ‘The Diamond’. Frank Shamrock’s description of fighting Nick Diaz came to mind as a muted Poirier refused to get caught up in the exchange“You know what,” Shamrock explained while commentating on Diaz’s bout with Paul Daley, “you just can’t imagine that he’s doing that to you.”

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Of course the silence Poirier was referring to and is aiming to achieve out of McGregor would ideally come through his performance on September 27 rather than on a stage. The American admitted that if he was to get caught up in the war of words it could directly affect his performance and that he had never met an opponent like the SBG man. He commented on what it was like to stand face to face with McGregor after so much back and forth.

“I knew he was going to get close to me when we squared off, but I’m going to stay cool and calm,” said Poirier. “The fight isn’t for weeks, I can’t allow myself to get aggressive because that would mess up my training camp.

“I’ve got to stay emotionless. Stare downs and talking about opponents have never mattered to me. Preparing in the gym, what I’m going to work in this week and what I’m going to work on next weekthat’s what I’m worried about.”

McGregor on the other hand claimed that he sensed weakness from Poirier when they first stood toe to toe.

“He came towards me with his hands up and I walked straight up to him and looked him dead in the eyes,” McGregor recalled. “He can talk all the shit he wants online, but when we were face to face it was a different story.

“He talked all that shit on Twitter as if he wanted it but when we were face to face, man to man, I knew he didn’t want it. There were no words spoken, we both know what happened, he was afraid.”

When asked what would be his biggest advantage ahead of their bout, Poirier interestingly cited his own mental robustness as a key to victory. He claimed other opponents of McGregor had allowed him into their heads and that was what led to their downfall.

Poirier said: “Experience, focus and mental strength are my biggest advantages. He’s not getting into my head, I know what I have to do when I get in there. For 15 minutes we’re going to have to perform and I know how to prepare myself for fights like this.

“I’m not affected at all by his talking. The lesser opponents he’s fought before me have let him get to them and it’s taken them out of their games. It’s frustrated them but it’s not going to work on me.

“I think he’s starting to make himself look a bit dumb. It’s what I said I was going to do before I went out to do the press conference. I’m a professional, I don’t want to play an emotional game with him.

“I 1000 percent believe in my strength and ability and I’m banking on my performance to do all the talking and I know that it will.”

McGregor’s thoughts were on the contrary to his opponent’s as he highlighted that Poirier had already revealed a psychological “weakness” which no other counterpart had elicited from him before.

“His mind is his biggest weakness. It’s not particularly against other opponents, but against me his mind is weak. He was pretending that he wanted this fight and now that it’s here he knows he is in trouble,” McGregor condemned.

Although Poirier insisted that McGregor’s jibes hadn’t affected him and persistently claimed that he wouldn’t play an “emotional game” with him, the Irishman is adamant that his opponent revealed a chink in his armour. When filming some face offs behind closed doors for the UFC 178’s countdown show, according to McGregor, Poirier gave a reaction to McGregor’s insults that proved to the Dubliner that he had gotten under his skin.

“When we did this face off thing for the countdown shows. We were on either side of this mat and we had to walk into each other and stand face to face. So I walked up to him and looked him in his eyes and then I walked back and did it again.

“We had to stay there so they could get different shots from over each shoulder or whatever it was. We were just standing there face to face and nobody broke eye contact. The first thing he said to me was, ‘my chin is OK’ and I knew I had him at that stage.

“What did I say back to him? I said ‘you look fat’ and that shut him up, but he did look fat so I was only doing him a favor.”

The mind has been referred to as the most important tool when it comes to combat sports and whether McGregor has disrupted Poirier’s regular pattern of thinking remains to be seen. The SBG featherweight himself downplays the importance of pre-fight talk, ‘the Octagon is where I will steal the show, the rest is all bullshit”, he said of his performance at the UFC 178 media days.

Regardless of how much importance he puts on it, the spoken word is a field in which McGregor excels. His popularity is undeniable and he has that spark about him that forces a whole room to turn around and take notice when he walks into it. To witness that very man forcing laughter out of crowd based on insults about you without reacting would prove a difficult task for any man. The question is, how difficult was it for Poirier? Only on September 27 will we get an answer.

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