4 Ways Dustin Poirier Can Beat Conor McGregor at UFC 257

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2021

4 Ways Dustin Poirier Can Beat Conor McGregor at UFC 257

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    Dustin Poirier is an underdog heading into Saturday night.

    So, just in case you didn't know, now you know.

    But if you think his status as the B-side to Conor McGregor means there's zero chance he pulls off an upset in the UFC 257 main event on Fight Island, think again.

    Though he was steamrolled in less than two minutes when they met six-plus years ago at UFC 178 in Las Vegas, these are hardly the same two men who entered the Octagon that night as supporting actors to main event star Demetrious Johnson.

    Poirier, in fact, has fought 13 times in the intervening 2,309 days, winning all but two of those bouts—alongside one no-contest—and enjoying a brief run as the UFC's interim lightweight champion in 2019.

    In other words, he's become more experienced, more confident and more comfortable in his 155-pound skin and relishes the opportunity to both right a competitive wrong and advance toward another title try.

    He'll arrive Saturday as the second-ranked lightweight and seventh-ranked pound-for-pound fighter on the promotional roster, putting him two and six slots ahead of McGregor on those lists, respectively. 

    McGregor is everything they say he is, but the gap between him and Poirier is hardly unbridgeable.

    To illustrate that point, we put together a brief list with some ways and means via which the underdog can break through and re-establish his place among the company's highest-profile class.

    Click through to see if you agree, and let us know in the comments what you think.

Stay Focused

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    This just in: Fighting Conor McGregor is unlike fighting anyone else.

    Oh sure, the caustic Irishman is difficult enough to contend with in the cage, but his mere presence during the run-up to a fight brings a spotlight reserved for few. 

    Even though their first meeting in 2014 came before McGregor had fully flexed his notorious muscles, it was still far beyond anything Poirier, then with 10 UFC fights under his belt, had encountered.

    And, he admits now, it had a detrimental impact on his mental game.

    "Back then, I was listening to critics," he told DAZN News. "I was listening to everything Conor said and taking it to heart, getting emotional and getting upset about it."

    This time, he insists, it won't. 

    Which, in theory at least, means a more even playing field. 

    "Now it's just business," he said. "I love fighting. But this is just something I do."

Stay Patient

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    So, you've endured all the pre-fight media scrums. 

    Now you're locked in a cage with the motormouth who's been pushing your buttons to the point where you want nothing more than to go through him like a freight train.

    Problem is, that's just where Conor McGregor wants you.

    Say what you will about his tactics, there's zero argument that he's capable of working an opponent into the sort of froth that makes them abandon game plans and ignore tactical counsel.

    Don't believe it? Ask Jose Aldo. 

    The sublimely skilled Brazilian had gone unbeaten for years before finally stepping in with McGregor, who taunted him mercilessly in the days, weeks and months leading up to their main event at UFC 194. An incensed Aldo charged his man as the fight began, went for an early haymaker and found himself knocked silly by a perfectly timed counter shot.

    Game. Set. Match.

    So Poirier, who's already been stopped by McGregor, needs to keep his wits about him at the start to avoid it happening again.

    "I think the main mental battle he's got is staying calm in the first round," said Joe Duffy, who submitted McGregor with an arm-triangle choke way back in 2010 (h/t The Sun). "I feel like he needs to look at Khabib, who did a great job in not letting McGregor touch him and find his range.

    "Conor seems to doubt himself a little bit when he starts missing too, or when they start to take the shots. Then he doesn't stay as calm. I really feel the first round is important."

Stay Alert

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    Conor McGregor offers far more as an opponent than trash talk.

    The former two-division champion is a punishing striker to be sure, but he's also mastered the subtleties that often get overlooked when compared to fights that devolve into glorified bar brawls.

    Because he's so light on his feet, he's able to bounce in and out of his opponent's striking range, lingering long enough to draw a blow and reacting quickly enough to both elude damage and deliver a counter.

    It's what he did to Aldo in the aforementioned sudden fashion, and he's done it to the likes of Nate Diaz, Eddie Alvarez and "Cowboy" Cerrone while drifting between the 155- and 170-pound classes.

    He's frequently commented that precision beats power and timing beats speed.

    Those are messages Poirier needs to heed if he's hoping to reverse their initial result.

    "If Poirier starts off with footwork, with a decent jab, on his toes and chops into that lead leg of McGregor, that starts to nullify McGregor’s major weapons and all the arsenal that goes with it, the supplementary stuff that he can use to bolster that left hand," BT Sport commentator and former UFC welterweight title challenger Dan Hardy said on his Full Reptile Radio podcast. 

    "Work that lead leg, stay on your toes and don't really engage for the first two rounds."

Stay the Course

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    If there's a clear advantage Poirier carries into Saturday night, it's his gas tank.

    The newly minted 32-year-old—his birthday was Tuesday—is widely considered one of the best-conditioned fighters on the UFC roster and has gone the five-round main event distance to secure his last two victories against Max Holloway and Dan Hooker.

    McGregor, meanwhile, has shown a tendency to fade as fights go longer.

    He was taken to deep water and submitted by Khabib Nurmagomedov in a failed try for the lightweight title at UFC 229 in 2018 and was slapped silly for several rounds after a high-octane start against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in their blockbuster boxing match a year earlier.

    In fact, he's won just one five-round fight in his career, against Nate Diaz in 2016.

    So the idea that Poirier could elude significant damage in the early going and feast on a gassed-out foe sometime beyond the fight's midpoint isn't outrageous, considering he's earned seven of his 26 wins by submission and seven others on the scorecards.

    "I can submit him. I feel like I can win a decision. I feel like I can knock him out as well," he told BT Sport. "There's not a place this fight goes that I don't have an answer or I'm uncomfortable with the position I'm in. I have submissions from every position."