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There were two schools of thought heading into the highly anticipated featherweight contest between Ireland’s star-in-the-making, Conor McGregor, and the always exciting Dustin Poirier.
Some gave Poirier the clear advantage: having nearly four years of UFC experience and having spent the last two years in UFC title contention would give him a swift advantage over the less experienced McGregor. His striking is fun to watch and he’s got a respectable submission game as well.
The other side favored the brash young Irishman who some people are calling the second coming of Muhammad Ali. His confidence is on a level few can match and he’s got a unique striking style and his wrestling is ever improving. Whatever they’re doing at SBG Ireland is working so far.
If you weren’t convinced that McGregor was a star after his first-round stoppage of Diego Brandao in July, you most certainly should be now after his complete annihilation of Poirier.
As hittable as Poirier has been throughout his career, he’s proven durable in most cases. In his wins over Brandao and Akira Corassani, he took hard shots which clearly hurt him, but recovered to finish his opponent.
This time, there was no recovery. And while most are debating what’s next for McGregor, be it Swanson or Edgar or a world title shot, Poirier is left to pick up the pieces from the most devastating loss of his career.
Poirier has admitted his heartbreak over the loss via Twitter, saying that the “loss hurts more than words can explain.”
It’s easy to relegate Poirier to a gatekeeper role. Every time he gets close to a world title shot, he falters. Chan Sung Jung received his world title shot off of a win over Poirier, and Cub Swanson, who defeated Poirier as well, is only one win away. Although nothing is decided yet, many are calling for McGregor to receive the next world championship opportunity.
But at 25, we can’t yet relegate him to a stepping stone.
Poirier reminds me a lot of UFC newcomer, Eddie Alvarez. They’re both incredibly fun to watch and will forever be fan favorites, but due to their lack of defensive skills, may never advance to the next level. I’ll be the first to tune in if Poirier is on the bill, but that doesn’t mean I always expect him to win.
Thankfully, being so young, there’s still hope. Much like we’ve seen others like Matt Brown reinvent themselves as elite level fighters, Poirier as well can still be world championship calibre fighter.
It stands to reason that Poirier will improve as a fighter as he ages, and part of that process will be an advanced defense. His offense is amongst the most lethal in the division, but he’s easy to hit and doesn’t have a granite chin. Most striking coaches will tell you that defense is the most difficult part of combat sports. Anyone can throw a punch, not everyone can parry one.
I won’t count Poirier out as a world championship contender just yet. Although the featherweight division has added a tremendous amount of depth over the past few years, there’s still room at the top of the division for contenders to break through.
Plenty of fighters come back from early career losses, and I suspect Poirier could do the same. He’s an incredibly emotional fighter who will continue to learn as he advances. He’s bounced back from every other loss with an impressive performance and I suspect he’ll do the same this time.
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