Did Conor McGregor make a huge mistake in selecting Dustin Poirier as his comeback opponent?
That's what I've been wondering since UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 was announced in late November, and that's the first question I asked Poirier for Bleacher Report.
"He definitely picked a guy who has been busting his ass. He didn't pick an easy fight. I'll tell you that," Poirier said.
McGregor stopped Poirier in less than two minutes in a featherweight contest back in 2014. But that was over six years ago, and both fighters have gone on to become much more than they were back then.
But Poirier has probably improved the most. The 31-year-old is a former interim lightweight champion with wins over the likes of Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez, Max Holloway and Dan Hooker, and that's just over the last four years.
McGregor's only win over that same stretch was against Donald Cerrone.
"I see myself being the victor," Poirier said.
Then there's the whole Mystic Mac thing. In a preview clip for the upcoming UFC 257 Countdown show, McGregor predicted he would beat Poirier twice as fast this time.
"I like Dustin. I think he's a good fighter. He's even a great fighter. But great is still levels below me. I'll knock Dustin out inside 60 seconds," McGregor said.
That's the kind of comment that would have bothered Poirier back in 2014, but not the grizzled and accomplished contender of today who believes he's fighting at his absolute best right now. This version laughed McGregor's suggestion off like it was nothing.
"He better hope for it. He better make it happen, because every minute past that is deeper water for him," Poirier said.
So one has to wonder whether McGregor really thought everything through when he targeted Poirier for his first fight in a year.
Sure, McGregor looked great in annihilating Cerrone at UFC 246 in January 2020.
Yes, McGregor's fast knockout win over Poirier over half a decade ago probably gives him the steadfast confidence that he'll be able to do the same or similar again. But Poirier seems the kind of dude right now that other top UFC lightweights would be wise to avoid unless they absolutely cannot.
Poirier, though, disagrees.
"An outsider might think that, but here in the pit with all these dogs, we want tough fights. We want whoever is next in line and whoever can get us closer to the title shot," Poirier said.
Regardless, Poirier probably still shouldn't be the guy you call out for a charity sparring match because you're trying to stick it to UFC President Dana White over not getting the fights you wanted in 2020.
However happily McGregor and White are pairing today, the beef between them last year remains the genesis for this fight.
Isn't Poirier just way too dangerous to have been considered an afterthought?
It's almost like McGregor and White were playing a game of chicken. White veered away in hopes of safely securing McGregor back under the UFC's promotional banner, but both still stand to lose a ton in terms of their massive superfight plans for 2021.
Because Poirier is a legit threat to stop the McGregor train in its tracks. He's fought and clawed his way to the top of the UFC's stacked 155-pound division, and he's just one performance away from earning another chance to capture UFC gold.
The American knows what's up.
"I feel like I'm more well-rounded. I'm more focused than I've ever been, and I'm peaking right now," Poirier said.
Does the Irishman?
McGregor was mocking up designs for his proposed charity fight via social media less than four months ago, while Poirier wasn't even all that sure back then that the rematch talk was legit.
"Whenever we started going back and forth, I didn't know where it would go," Poirier said.
And how could he know it? Wasn't this the same McGregor who had just retired and unretired for the third time in the past four years?
The same one who announced he was on his way to boxing Manny Pacquiao?
The ex-UFC "champ champ" who was ready and willing to give the faded Diego Sanchez a go?
Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA
To Diego Sanchez... I seen your recent comments about your final bout and I am in! After you fought Pereira, I had requested for myself and you to compete in Dublin. This was back in February when I was working on opposition for my season, pre covid. Good luck this weekend! https://t.co/Y0hf6Zr7XF
"The crazy thing is, when I was thinking about who might be next, he wasn't even in my mind because he hadn't fought in a while and hadn't been as active in the sport," Poirier said.
But somehow, UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 is here. It's a huge fight between two of the best lightweights in the world, and Poirier plans on being victorious in the rematch.
"There are a million ways that it could play out. This is a 25-minute fight with two guys in their primes, two guys with a lot of experience," Poirier said.
McGregor will enter as a -286 betting favorite on DraftKings (bet $100 to win $34.97), but there is just so much data that points toward Poirier. Like McGregor, Poirier is one of the best strikers in the UFC, but he would also seem to have the advantages with better grappling and submissions, too.
Poirier is not Mystic Mac. He's never been the same kind of prediction machine as McGregor, but he did offer his own view on how UFC 257 will play out on January 23 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
"I'm going to be victorious. I don't know which way it's going to be, but I feel like I can grind him out, I can submit him, and I can knock him out. I'll take whatever is open. I'll find an opening and finish the fight."
McGregor might have made a mistake in deciding to fight Poirier.