Gentile or Jew, O you who turn the wheel and look to windward Consider Phlebas. Who once was handsome and tall as you.
As Poirier crashed Conor McGregor to the canvas with one of his trademark fuck-around-and-find-out flurries, I felt a bit numb. For all the flaws of the man,
I’ve always liked him. There’s no justifying it – he smacked an old man in a pub, seriously endangered a whole crowd of UFC fighters when he attacked their bus in 2018, and all the rest of it – but there it is. In the last couple of years McGregor has seemed to come good in his character. He’s humble and respectful in the build up to fights, puts a lot of time into charity work, and looks to have ditched the particularly dismal “king gone mad” persona we saw in the rup up to his fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Casual fans of the sport love to denounce McGregor as a mere social media phenomenon to try and make themselves look hard, but it’s not true. He’s one of the best to ever do it, as his effortless pulverisation of Cowboy Cerrone reminded us. But for all the humbleness and growth, there’s a flicker of lunatic arrogance still there in him. He continued to talk as though the Nurmagomedov loss was a fluke, and was probably looking past Dustin to a rematch with the Dagestani. Despite my numbness, Poirier’s victory was a triumph of effort, consistency and game-planning over the lottery of natural talent and delusional ego, and he deserved it in spades.
McGregor, I think, remains the more inherently skillful of the two of them. After a friendly stint of shoulder strike pat-a-cake in the clinch, McGregor was winning the exchanges, landing his left hand and a flush elbow. According to Poirier, he was nearly knocked out in the first round, and by a right uppercut rather than the killer left. All judges scored the first round for Conor. But as he proved in his last fight, when Dan Hooker punched his face into what should have been a tattered pink flag of surrender by any standard of common decency, Dustin does not go away easy – and he had been stacking up vicious calf kicks the entire time. One of the beauties of MMA is its constant evolution, and serious calf kicks have been a major development of the last few years. They can’t be ignored in the modern game, and Conor had no answer for them. By the second round, although Poirier looked the more winded of the two, McGregor wasn’t far off being a sitting duck from the leg damage, and had to leave the arena on crutches.
The result sets Poirier up for a title fight against Michael Chandler, who shocked the bookies with a dominant first round knockout of Dan Hooker. Coming across from Bellator, many fighters wilt under the pressure of the UFC. When Ben Askren moved over he went from undefeated dominance to Robbie Lawler hitting him with IQ-lowering hammer fists and Jorge Masvidal sending him to Gehenna, and I confess I thought the same would happen to Chandler. Not so. He was confident and aggressive against an uncharacteristically hesitant Hooker, landed an explosive left hook that shut the kiwi’s lights out straight away, and backflipped off the cage within 3 minutes of the opening bell. It was a hugely impressive start, and if he keeps up that standard, it’s possible to wonder if he’ll be the one to tempt Nurmagomedov out of retirement. A strong wrestler with one punch knockout power? Can we suspend disbelief one more time? You son of a bitch, I’m in.