Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 264

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2021

Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 264

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    Recalcitrant behavior at media gatherings.

    Over-the-top promises of gruesome Octagonal violence.

    And never a failed opportunity to work in some product placement.

    Sounds a lot like a Conor McGregor fight week.

    Indeed, the most recognizable persona in combat sports was back in the building Saturday night in Las Vegas, where the Irish firebrand met Dustin Poirier atop the UFC 264 pay-per-view show at T-Mobile Arena.

    It was the third go-round between the two-division rivals.

    McGregor won by first-round TKO in a featherweight bout at UFC 178 in 2014 and then was stopped in two rounds by Poirier when the scene shifted to lightweight in their January rematch.

    Their trilogy bout topped a 12-fight card that included eight other ranked fighters from four weight classes, beginning with the early preliminaries shortly before 7 p.m. ET and extending all the way until Poirier's hand was raised following the main event around 12:30 a.m.

    And it wouldn't be a big MMA event without the B/R combat sports team, which was in its typical weekend position to put together the authoritative list of the card's real winners and losers.

    Click through to see what we came up with and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Loser: Conor McGregor Inc.

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    Conor McGregor's mouth hung open. Then he shrieked in pain.

    And in an instant, the Irishman's return to the top of the mountain was over.

    The former two-division champ instead left the Octagon on a stretcher with a cast on his lower left leg after apparently breaking his ankle late in the first round of his trilogy match with Dustin Poirier.

    The official result was a TKO at the end of the first round on a doctor's stoppage.

    It was Poirier's second straight win over McGregor after he lost their initial match in a first-round stoppage seven years ago. Poirier won by a second-round KO in January, and the third fight was soaked in an intense enmity between the two men that showed no signs of ending.

    "Karma's a b---h," Poirier said, referencing pre-fight comments McGregor had made about killing him and sending him out on a stretcher. "Sometimes these things happen. I beat him. The guy's a dirtbag."

    The action between the fighters was equally intense through the five minutes, which began with McGregor attacking with spinning kicks via his left leg and then saw Poirier responding with a counter left hand that prompted McGregor to enter a clinch about 90 seconds in.

    The fight went to the floor, and McGregor went to a guillotine choke that was unsuccessful and allowed Poirier to get into a position where he could land brutal punches and elbows. McGregor took sustained punishment before finally getting to his feet in the final 15 seconds.

    The end came when the two entered an exchange, and McGregor stepped backward and rolled over his left ankle. Poirier charged in and landed a few more ground strikes before the horn to end the first round, at which point McGregor made it clear his leg was hurt and the fight was waved off.

    Poirier said after the bout that he'd thought the leg might have been compromised on a McGregor kick early in the round. A replay of that sequence did show Poirier gesturing toward the leg as the kick landed, but McGregor vehemently denied it during fiery post-fight remarks that necessitated officials holding Poirier back from charging his prone rival.  

    The knockout was Poirier's eighth as a UFC lightweight, a record for the promotion.

    Still, McGregor insisted the rivalry was not finished, leaving the door open for a fourth fight.

    "This s--t is not over," he said.

Winner: Overcoming Adversity

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    Stephen Thompson was finally having things his way.

    The kickboxing champ had pasted Gilbert Burns with a powerful straight right hand and dropped him with a spinning left kick to the head early in the third round. He also looked ready to shake off a difficult first 10 minutes and perhaps go for a dramatic finish.

    But then Burns' pedigree—and determination to return to a title-shot level—kicked in.

    The confident Brazilian shook off the blows, got in close to Thompson and took him down to the mat for the third time in the match. Then he kept him there for the last half of the final round to secure a narrow but unanimous decision in their co-main event at welterweight.

    Burns swept all three scorecards with 29-28 margins, matching the Bleacher Report tally.

    The three takedowns were a career best for Burns and the first time Thompson had surrendered as many as two takedowns in a fight since 2012.

    "He's a complicated guy. It's a complicated win," Burns said. "I've got to credit my coaches. Those guys made me so ready. They're super tough. They get the best out of me."

    Burns had been effective in the first round with a takedown and consistent pressure, while Thompson rallied in the second with clean, sharp strikes that offset another Burns takedown late in the round.

    Thompson started the third round in the aforementioned strong fashion but saw a two-fight win streak end and his UFC record dip to 11-5-1.

    Burns, who'd entered ranked second at 170 pounds compared to Thompson's No. 4, greeted post-fight boos from the crowd with a series of callouts.

    "Jorge [Masvidal], if you want some, come get it," he said. "Nate [Diaz]. Leon [Edwards]. Come on. You can get it too."

Winner: A Man of the People

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    He may never win a heavyweight title. 

    But there won't be many fighters who get more of a crowd pop than Tai Tuivasa. 

    The affable Australian big man walked straight into the fire against fellow bomber and ex-NFLer Greg Hardy, landing a counter left hook that instantly ended matters after just 67 seconds. 

    It was Tuivasa's third straight win and sixth in nine UFC bouts, all but one by stoppage. 

    And it was a predictable finish, given Hardy's callout of Tuivasa and promise of mayhem. 

    "He wanted to bang with me," Tuivasa said. "I'm not the right guy to bang with. Pick another bloke." 

    Hardy landed a solid right hand that wobbled Tuivasa and left him stiff-legged, but the former Dallas Cowboy charged in and missed with a wild shot as he went for a finish. Instead, Tuivasa pivoted and landed the left hand that sent Hardy to the mat with his arms flailing awkwardly. 

    Three quick ground strikes, and it was over at 1:07 of the first. 

    Tuivasa sprang to the top of the cage and drank a trademark beer out of a shoe. Then he repeated the act several times as fans offered footwear on his walk to the locker room. 

    "He's an amazing character," Rogan said. "Larger than life." 

Loser: A Fighter's Complexion

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    The broadcast table recoiled in horror. 

    Cormier said, "Her face is a bloody mess."  

    Rogan replied with: "She got bludgeoned. Just bludgeoned." 

    Russian bantamweight Yana Kunitskaya was the unfortunate subject of those visceral remarks, taking dozens of clean, hard ground strikes from foe Irene Aldana before referee Jason Herzog called a halt to their scheduled three-rounder at 4:35 of the first.  

    Ranked one slot ahead of Kunitskaya at No. 4 in the division, Aldana was slow to begin her attack, but she utilized her boxing prowess when the moment was right. She feinted a right hand to prompt her opponent to raise both her arms in defense and then sneaked around the guard with a powerful left hook that landed square and dropped Kunitskaya to the floor. 

    Aldana immediately pounced and landed fists and elbows from above as Kunitskaya tried to fend her off. Aldana went to her feet as Kunitskaya tried to land up-kicks, and then the former crashed down with a right hand and followed with more to force Kunitskaya to surrender her back. 

    Another series of left hooks sneaked under her shoulder and left her unable to defend herself on the way to Herzog's stoppage.  

    "I'm very happy," said Aldana, who was beaten over five rounds by former champ Holly Holm in October. "I don't know when the title shot will come. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But someday, I still believe I will be a champion." 

Winner: Taking a Shot

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    Kris Moutinho didn't win the fight. 

    In fact, it'd be ridiculous to suggest he'd controlled even a minute of it. 

    But it's his profile that'll rise as high as anyone on the card's come Sunday. 

    A staple on the regional scene since going pro five years ago, the 28-year-old from Massachusetts took a fight with phenom Sean O'Malley on short notice but took everything the "Suga" man had to offer before referee Herb Dean pulled the plug with 27 seconds left in Round 3. 

    "Kris is a tough mother f---ker," O'Malley said. "He took this fight on late notice when a lot of guys in the UFC wouldn't take it. Kris is a bad mother f---ker." 

    Over the preceding 14-plus minutes, he'd proved his conqueror correct. 

    Sporting a frenetic hairstyle that prompted Rogan to label him "a green-haired zombie," Moutinho trudged relentlessly forward through a hellacious amount of precise fire from O'Malley, who'd scored nine of his first 13 wins by knockout. 

    O'Malley landed 89 significant strikes in the first round, a UFC bantamweight record, but never had his man in serious trouble until the final shot—a right hand that dumped Moutinho to the floor in the final five seconds. O'Malley immediately leapt in to secure a guillotine choke but was denied by the horn. 

    Moutinho continued to weather the storm throughout the second round and into the third, having his face turned into a bloody, abraded mask but never ceasing his pursuit and his attempts to land return fire while constantly talking to O'Malley.  

    A particularly hard combination of lefts and rights landed in the final minute, finally prompting Dean's intervention, even though Moutinho wasn't wobbling or in any worse danger than he'd been. 

    "I was [surprised], and I wasn't," O'Malley said. "He might think it wasn't a good stoppage, but [it] might have saved him a few years on his life. I was about to put him out for good." 

    Still, the stoppage was not particularly popular on the broadcast table. 

    "He deserved to finish," Rogan said. "After what that guy did for three rounds, you've got to let him finish. Moutinho ate it all, and I'm stunned Herb Dean just decided he'd had enough. I respect him deeply, but I'm kind of shocked." 

    Cormier agreed, while suggesting it won't keep Moutinho from getting credit. 

    "The kid who walks through the strikes becomes the story a little bit," he said. "Moutinho is on the radar now. Most of the MMA world will respect this kid."

Winner: Truth in Advertising

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    Niko Price pursued. Michel Pereira retreated.

    And the crowd at T-Mobile Arena roared them to the finish line.

    The prelim-show brawl between the welterweights was billed as a Fight of the Year candidate going in, and it delivered for nearly every moment of 15 minutes across the three-rounder.

    Pereira won a narrow unanimous decision, getting 29-28 nods on all three scorecards.

    Bleacher Report matched that scoring.

    "He had a great fight. He earned a lot of respect," Pereira said. "But at the end, I knew I'd win on points. You can't debate that."

    Indeed, the Brazilian was effective in the first round with sharper strikes and fluid movement and then dominated much of the second round after getting Price to the ground and putting him in submission danger for a good chunk of the five-minute session.

    Price regained his feet and began landing shots of his own as Pereira showed signs of fatigue at the end of the second and into the third. He scored with several clean shots to the head and landed a particularly powerful front kick to Pereira's body midway through the round.

    Pereira was reeling around the perimeter of the cage as Price chased to the final horn.

    The crowd booed, and Price looked exasperated as the decision was announced, but the fighters embraced, and Pereira actually lifted Price to his shoulders and paraded him around the cage.

    "A lot of people were looking forward to this one," Jon Anik said. "And these guys showed why."

Winner: Ferocity over Finesse

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    Ryan Hall is an interesting fighter.

    The 36-year-old American featherweight is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace with a submission of B.J. Penn on his resume and an unorthodox mat style that includes myriad rolls and attempts at tie-ups.

    But Ilia Topuria reduced it to pedestrian inside five minutes.

    The 11-0 Spaniard nimbly avoided Hall's irregular movements and instead got right to striking, catching the once-beaten veteran and handing him his first UFC loss via first-round KO.

    "At my gym, we have close to 30 black belts. So to me, Ryan's game was very familiar," Topuria said. "So when they offered the fight, I said, 'F--k yeah, I'm going to knock him out.'"

    Hall stuck to his tumbling, rolling script early on, unsuccessfully seeking entanglements as the crowd in the gradually filling arena booed heartily and drew the ire of Joe Rogan.

    "The guy's a genius," he said. "But the audience, the unschooled mouth-breathers among us, are booing."

    Topuria eventually seized the initiative while Hall was on his back, leaping in to land a hard right and following up with additional strikes that prompted Hall to roll onto his left side.

    As he did so, Topuria isolated Hall's right arm and landed a series of unfettered rights to Hall's face, rendering him semi-conscious and prompting a rescue from referee Jason Herzog at 4:47.

    "I caught him with the first punch," Topuria said, "and I said, I think I can knock him out."

Winner: Violent Geometry

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    The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

    If you don't believe it, ask Trevin Giles.

    The Texas-based middleweight had opponent Dricus Du Plessis backed up against the cage and had just flicked out a left jab in the second round of their three-rounder on the prelim card.

    But rather than bringing the left hand back alongside his chin, he let it sag down to his left hip.

    Seizing on that opening, Du Plessis launched a straight right hand of his own in reply, landing it flush on the right side of Giles' face and dumping him flat on his back in the center of the Octagon.

    Three more hammerfists brought an official stoppage from Chris Tognoni and left Daniel Cormier giddy at the cageside broadcast table.

    "He throws a nice jab, but he brought it back down to his hip," Cormier said. "It looks cute. And Floyd Mayweather can do it in boxing. But Floyd ain't wearing four-ounce gloves."

    Du Plessis, who's 2-0 in the UFC and 16-2 overall, agreed.

    "He started backing up, and his face was pretty exposed," he said. "You need to keep the chin tucked against me. I throw a lot of left hooks, but the right hand has power as well.

    "Remember my name. It'll be a household name in the Top 10 very soon."

Loser: Reading the Stats

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    Call it one way. Call it the other.

    But it's hard to suggest it was clear-cut.

    Unless, apparently, you were a trio of judges in Las Vegas.

    Though the flyweight battle between ranked contenders Jessica Eye and Jennifer Maia was close to a stalemate across several statistical categories, the scorecards at ringside were all in Maia's favor when their three-rounder ended to finish off the night's early prelim portion.

    The significant strikes were 100-98 in Eye's direction, per UFC.com, while head strikes (71-56) was an area where Maia fared better. Eye had further edges in body strikes (24-16), leg strikes (20-11) and scored the fight's lone two takedowns in three attempts.

    Nevertheless, the judges called it 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 in Maia's favor, giving her a 19th career victory and a fourth win in seven UFC appearances.

    Bleacher Report had it 29-28 for Eye, who lost for the third straight time and fourth in five fights.

    She was stopped in two rounds when she got a shot at flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko in June 2019 and fell to 5-9 (one no-contest) in 15 UFC appearances. Additionally, she left the Octagon with a ghastly cut on her forehead that was caused by an accidental headbutt.

    Maia had not fought since dropping a five-round decision to Shevchenko in November, and she wasted no time in calling out her former conqueror for a second go-round.

    "Since I was the only fighter that could take her to five rounds," she said, "I think one fight is enough for me to get another shot at her."

Loser: Overly Impressive Starts

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    It couldn't have begun much better for Jerome Rivera.

    The New Mexico-based flyweight was sharp with his punches and positively lethal with accompanying left-leg kicks to the body of Kazakh rival Zhalgas Zhumagulov in their scheduled three-rounder that opened the show's early prelim segment.

    But just as it looked like domination was inevitable, it wasn't.

    Instead, Zhumagulov caught an onrushing Rivera across the jaw with his upper arm while firing a punch, dropping his foe to his knees and instinctively prompting him to lunge at Zhumagulov's legs.

    Zhumagulov took that opportunity to seize Rivera's neck, locking his left arm under Rivera's chin and locking it in as he vainly tried to stand and escape.

    He tapped seconds later to bring an intervention from referee Chris Tognoni at 2:02 of the first.

    "It was just ruthless, ruthless," Rogan said. "That's one of the best front chokes you're ever going to see. It was an extra nasty choke because he contained [Rivera's] head with his chest, like a neck crank.

    "It was beautiful."

    It was also the first win in three UFC appearances for Zhumagulov, while Rivera took his fourth straight loss after graduating to the promotion from Dana White's Contender Series in 2020.

    "We were preparing this choke," Zhumagulov said. "[My coach] told me we were either going to knock him down or submit him."

UFC 264 Full Card Results

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    Main Card

    Dustin Poirier def. Conor McGregor by TKO (doctor's stoppage), 5:00, Round 1

    Gilbert Burns def. Stephen Thompson by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Tai Tuivasa def. Greg Hardy by KO (punch), 1:07, Round 1

    Irene Aldana def. Yana Kunitskaya by TKO (punches), 4:35, Round 1

    Sean O'Malley def. Kris Moutinho by TKO (punches), 4:33, Round 3

           

    Prelims

    Max Griffin def. Carlos Condit by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)

    Michel Pereira def. Niko Price by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Ilia Topuria def. Ryan Hall by KO (punches), 4:47, Round 1

    Dricus Du Plessis def. Trevin Giles by KO (punches), 1:41, Round 2

            

    Early Prelims

    Jennifer Maia def. Jessica Eye by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)

    Brad Tavares def. Omari Akhmedov by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

    Zhalgas Zhumagulov def. Jerome Rivera by submission (guillotine choke), 2:02, Round 1

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