UFC 264: Poirier vs. McGregor Preview

What can only be described as one of the biggest fights of the year is set to go down this Saturday July 11 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Conor McGregor (22-5) will complete the trilogy when he steps in to take on Dustin Poirier (27-6) in the main event.

All we can do is stand back and watch what is a vital crossroads in Conor McGregor’s career. The wait is nearly over, the hype is real and many fans a waiting eagerly to see how this main event unfolds on Saturday night. The Crumlin man has kept his hands close to his chest ahead of this trilogy fight with little to no details emerging from his camp.

Most criticism that was directed toward the SBG standout was his lack of movement, or the use of his movement in the second fight with Dustin. It was a strategy that left Conor’s lead leg out there to be taken. We now know, from what the former double champion has been saying on fight week, the tactic was boxing heavy because he was preparing for a fight with Manny Pacquiao. McGregor has been clear in saying this fight week that the same thing will not happen again this time around.

Poirier shot for a takedown early in the rivals second encounter, a tactic that anyone should use when taking on a powerful striker. I would not be surprised to see that tactic used more often in this third fight. The leg kick will be there for Dustin this time around but I would expect McGregor to have prepared to counter those kicks with big heavy shots. That might steer Dustin away from throwing that technique if he doesn’t want to have to deal with those specific counter shots.

All the talk is will we see the karate, in/out style of striking that got “The Notorious” to the top of the fight game. There are positives and negatives to that stance. Positives are obviously the power he can generate in his punches moving forward and backwards. All that explosive movement does drain the gas tank a lot quicker that the more controlled approach than Conor took in the last outing the pair had. One the other end of the stick the controlled approach left McGregor semi unconscious even though he didn’t need the use of his stool in between rounds for the first time in his career.

Simple analysis of this fight is that Conor McGregor needs to go into round one and unleash the depths of hell onto Dustin Poirier. All the confidence that Poirier has built for himself throughout his tremendous run in the lightweight division, he has every right to be confident. It will be the job of McGregor to snatch that confidence away from his rival in the early stages of this fight and put some doubt into the mind Poirier.

If the Dublin man is unable to do that, and if Poirier fights safe early days and to bring this fight into deep waters then in reality, it’s hard to look past a Dustin Poirier victory. McGregor is known to fade in fights while Poirier is known to grow into the fight and has the ability to up his work rate in the latter stages of his previous fight. Doing that in this trilogy will be the key for him in getting his hands raised. For me that is the likely outcome of this fight.

I mentioned this being a crossroads for Conor McGregor with one road leading towards a title shot if he is to win with Charles Oliveira waiting in the wings. A loss for McGregor would lead him down a path where he would mainly compete in money fights against the likes of Nate Diaz or perhaps Jorge Masvidal. In my opinion this is Conor McGregor’s last chance to make a run at UFC gold and that aspect makes this fight absolutely huge. No more excuses, it’s make or break and I can’t wait to see how this trilogy unfolds. Buckle up.

The co-main event treats us to a classic striker vs. grappler matchup. Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is known for his karate style and has been uber successful throughout his career with that exact elusive style. His opponent, Gilbert Burns, is an outstanding BJJ practitioner and a multi time world champion. He will need to close the distance and get this fight to the mat if he is to be announced the winner of this fight. Yes Burns has big power and he will be dangerous in the opening stages of this bout. Problem is that it is really hard to land clean on a striker with the capabilities of Thompson and if Burns tries and fails too often, he will gas himself out.

A win for “Wonderboy” on Saturday night should warrant him a title shot but the UFC might have other ideas. It doesn’t seem that the promotion is eager to have a softly spoken guy like Thompson in as the champion. If he stays winning he will become undeniable in the welterweight division and fans will be keen to see a fight between him and the champion, Kamaru Usman. But first “Wonderboy” needs to get the victory over his Brazilian this Saturday night.

The rest of the main card shapes up quite well with a few interesting match-ups to get us warmed up for the co-main and main events. In the bantamweight division, Irene Aldana will look to bounce back from her loss to Holly Holm, her opponent Yana Kunitskaya is coming off an impressive win over Ketlen Vieira earlier this year. This should be a well contested encounter by both of these women. Greg Hardy and Tai Tuivasa are also scheduled to square off on the main card, that fight will take place in the heavyweight division.

“Suga” Sean O’Malley will take on UFC newcomer Kris Moutinho in the opening fight of the main card. Moutinho stepped in at short notice to replace Louis Smolka in this bantamweight encounter. It’s hard to look past anything other than a dominant victory for rising star O’Malley. It seems that UFC are matching O’Malley to try and create their next superstar. If O’Malley is successful in this fight the UFC needs to match him with someone in the top 10-15 in the 135-pound division. “Suga” can only beat what is in front of him and he should not be blamed for how this fight unfolded. O’Malley has an opponent in mind for his next fight but he must tread carefully and not slip on a potential banana skin in this fight that he has ahead of him.

UFC veteran Carlos Condit will headline the prelims when he makes the walk to take on Max Griffin in the welterweight division. Condit, a former interim champion, came out of retirement in 2019 and is on a two fight win streak. His opponent, Max Griffin, has also won his last two encounters. Condit is never in a boring fights and looked very good when he fought Matt Brown. This is a pretty even fight and Griffin has some big power but I do think “The Natural Born Killer” still has enough, even this late into his career to get his hand raised.

Niko Price will go up against Michel Pereira in a fight that has potential to be absolutely bonkers. Price picked up a majority draw in his last encounter which was switched to a no-contest when Niko tested positive for Marijuana. Previous to that Vicente Luque forced the doctor to call a halt to his fight with “The Hybrid” in round three. Those results will add extra spice to this fight and Price will have a specimen of a man in front of him in Michel Pereira on Saturday night.

Pereira cartwheeled and backflipped into everyone’s hearts when he made his UFC debut against Danny Roberts in 2019. His outlandish style has cost him some cardio when we’ve seen the Brazilian taken into deep waters. Pereira has fought more technically in recent fights and that has gotten the welterweight fighter two wins over Zelim Imadaev and Khaos Williams. For an entertainment perspective I do hope Pereira comes out and does some crazy shit but I would understand if he chooses a more cautious approach especially against a guy as dangerous as Nico Price. This scrap has fight of the night written all over it.

BJJ wizard Ryan Hall returns to take on highly touted Georgian prospect Ilia Topuria in the featherweight division. Hall has balls of steel to come in and take this fight. There ain’t too many guys lining up to take on Topuria who broke onto the UFC scene with two solid wins over Youssef Zalal and Damon Jackson. Ryan Hall last graced the octagon when he picked up a decision win over Darren Elkins.

Hall will pull guard and will try outlandish techniques whilst the fight is on the feet. He does not mind one bit being on his back, that is his world. Topuria has to keep this fight on the feet, he has more submission wins in his professional career than Ryan Hall. Don’t let that stat fool you, advantage on the mat goes to Hall. There is a far greater difference in the striking department, Topuria hold the advantage and the Georgian has some serious power. This is a cracking fight between two high level prospects.

Two former flyweight title challengers will go toe-to-toe when Jennifer Maia clashes with Jessica Eye in the early preliminary card. Eye has lost her last four and her head is on the chopping block. Maia’s last outing ended in disappointment when she fought for Valentina Shevchenko’s title. The Brazilian did bring the fight all the way to the judges scorecards, that will give her some some confidence even in defeat.

Well, there you have it, a rock solid fight card. We need to enjoy these McGregor fight weeks, they will not be around forever. Win or lose on Saturday night it has been a fantastic journey for the Dublin man that we’ve all had the pleasure of being a part of journey. Same can be said about Dustin Poirier, his legacy is also on the line. You would not begrudge that man if he was to get the job done this Saturday night.

Main Card (BT Sports Box Office 3am GMT)

Lightweight: Dustin Poirier (27-6) vs. Conor McGregor (22-5)
Welterweight: Gilbert Burns (19-4) vs. Stephen Thompson (16-4-1)
Heavyweight: Tai Tuivasa (12-3) vs. Greg Hardy (7-3)
Women’s Bantamweight: Irene Aldana (12-6) vs. Yana Kunitskaya (14-5)
Bantamweight: Sean O’Malley (13-1) vs. Kris Moutinho (9-4)

Preliminary card (BT Sports Box Office 1am GMT)

Welterweight: Carlos Condit (32-13) vs. Max Griffin (17-8)
Welterweight: Niko Price (14-4) vs. Michel Pereira (25-11)
Featherweight: Ryan Hall (8-1) vs. Ilia Topuria (10-0)
Middleweight: Dricus du Plessis (15-2) vs. Trevin Giles (14-2)

Early preliminary card (UFC Fight Pass, 11pm GMT)

Women’s Flyweight: Jennifer Maia (18-7-1) vs. Jessica Eye (15-9)
Middleweight: Omari Akhmedov (21-5-1) vs. Brad Tavares (18-6)
Flyweight: Zhalgas Zhumagulov (13-5) vs. Jerome Rivera (10-5)
Middleweight: Alen Amedovski (8-2) vs. Hu Yaozong (3-2)

Ian O'Neill is the host of the SevereMMA UFC Preview show and one of the co-hosts of The Auld Triangle - Irish MMA podcast. You can find more of Ian's work on the SevereMMA Patreon where he co-hosts The Chasing Pack and The Contender. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram @ioneillmma

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