Conor McGregor returns to the ring for UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday and John Balfe is backing him to make a fast start against American opponent Dustin Poirier...
"Once again fighting at his ideal weight of 155lbs, McGregor is the most potent striking threat in the lightweight division. His ability to read his opponent is unparalleled in mixed martial arts, as is his ability to land from practically every angle."
It's said that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the mark of insanity. As Dustin Poirier prepares to renew rivalries with Conor McGregor in the UFC 257 headliner this weekend, however, the American could be forgiven for expecting to correct the harsh lesson he learned against the Dubliner six years ago.
On that occasion, way back at UFC 178 in September 2014, Poirier expected to derail, perhaps permanently, McGregor's meteoric ascent to the summit of the sport. Instead, Poirier found himself face down on the canvas less than two minutes into the first round as McGregor made good on his pre-fight prophecy of "plastering" Poirier's nose across the other side of his face.
But the 2021 iteration of Dustin 'The Diamond' Poirier, this Saturday night in Abu Dhabi (Sunday morning for UK and Ireland viewers), is a different beast entirely. The problem is that, as much as the American has improved since he moved up to the lightweight division following his defeat to McGregor, so too has the man who sent him there.
McGregor still one of the UFC's biggest threats
The 40 seconds it took him to tear through Donald Cerrone last January remains the only Octagon time that McGregor has put in since he was soundly defeated by Khabib Nurmagomedov two-and-a-half years ago. While 'ring rust' could potentially be described as a factor in that defeat, one suspects that McGregor - a fighter who thrives in the heat of battle - is largely immune to it, just as he was last year against 'Cowboy'.
Once again fighting at his ideal weight of 155lbs, McGregor is the most potent striking threat in the lightweight division. His ability to read his opponent is unparalleled in mixed martial arts, as is his ability to land from practically every angle. What's more, he has renewed ties with the Crumlin Boxing Club who honed a young McGregor many years ago and word from inside the camp suggests that his already great striking has come on leaps and bounds.
Poirier will be difficult to put away
Poirier, though, has proven that he is more than capable of taking a shot since coming into his own as a legitimate lightweight contender. Whereas six years ago he was felled by an almost innocuous-looking left hand from McGregor, nowadays the Louisiana native is regularly put through the meat-grinder and almost always comes out with a win.
He took some of the best shots that lightweight sluggers Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez have in their lockers to win both of those fights with knockouts of his own, while his most recent body of work - a decision win against Dan Hooker last June - saw him hang tight through five fiercely punishing rounds.
Another element absent from the rematch is the mind games with which McGregor used to trip up his opponent before the fight even started. This time around, the fight is taking place in a far more respectful environment (at least prior to the press conference, that is), further removing the dynamic that McGregor used to such great effect in their first meeting.
McGregor to win in the early rounds
There are few better starters in mixed martial arts than Conor McGregor. Cerrone was vanquished in 40 seconds. Jose Aldo was done in 13. He even has a four second knockout on his record from earlier in his career.
What makes McGregor so effective early is that he requires very little of a 'feeling out' period before he launches his inevitable assault. He knows the shots he's looking for and he knows how to engineer situations so that they present themselves.
Poirier will be a much more daunting threat than he was all those years ago but a finish for the Irishman - and maybe even another quick one - is the likeliest outcome.
Poirier chances will increase the later the fight goes but while McGregor's 'Mystic Mac' prediction of a knockout in the first 60 seconds is unlikely, he will have opportunities for his laser-sighted left hand to once again make quick work of his opponent.