Afterward, UFC analysts Michael Bisping and Chael Sonnen addressed what exactly went wrong with McGregor’s performance, though the UFC Hall of Famer and the ex-title contender differed on what exactly happened to the former two-division champion.
“Conor looked a little bit slower than I remember Conor,” Sonnen said during the UFC 257 post-fight show. “We do know as human beings, you don’t get better at something by not doing it. I give a lot of weight to what Conor said that the layoff hurt him.
“I saw his timing off, but I also saw Dustin blocking things, firing back, chewing up that lead leg. Not to mention, not just the takedown but the threat of the takedown pays dividends.”
McGregor, who hadn’t fought since January 2020, made no excuses for the defeat while paying homage to Poirier for a job well done. The result was a far cry from their first fight six years earlier when McGregor dispatched Poirier in less than two minutes.
This time around, Poirier had McGregor hobbling on one leg after attacking the Irishman with a series of brutal calf kicks before putting together a blistering series of punches that led to the knockout.
Sonnen believes vast stretches of inactivity have plagued McGregor since becoming the first fighter in UFC history to be a two-division champion, and it really came back to bite him.
“You can go in and spar, you can even get up and put those miles in,” Sonnen explained. “I trust that Conor McGregor worked very hard, but there’s a different intensity. There’s a different stress when you’re talking about competition. Look if we have any myths as an industry in 2020, it’s that we had Conor McGregor saying, ‘I would like to fight four times,’ and we allowed him to fight one time.
“There’s other competitions that guys get into. They’ll go get in a grappling competition, they’ll go pick something up just to get that rush, just to get those vibes, just to be in the back, have that warmup, sleep in a hotel, have the weigh-in. Conor didn’t do any of those things.”
It’s impossible to deny that McGregor has sat out for long periods since 2016. He’s only competed in the UFC three times since winning the lightweight title, going 1-2 over that period while also suffering a 10th round TKO loss to Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match in 2017.
While time away from the octagon certainly doesn’t help, Bisping believes McGregor actually faced the same enemy that hampered him throughout his UFC career.
“What I saw here was Conor’s lack of conditioning once again rearing its ugly head,” Bisping said. “I hate to say it. Dustin Poirier had the perfect game plan — go in clinch, try and take him down — and he did that perfectly. At the start of the fight, Conor looked sharp. He looked like the usual Conor. Landing the left hand, looking confident, going forward, but then when you make somebody wrestler that isn’t used to it, that has a history of getting tired, that’s what we saw. We saw the facial expression change. We saw the confidence change and then as the tide started to turn, Dustin Poirier saw the opening, put him to sleep. Just a tremendous night for Dustin Poirier.
“While the stakes were high and Dustin was having success, he was leaving openings that in the past I feel McGregor would have taken advantage of there. But as I said, he was starting to get a little tired and we saw what happened.”
While there are varying opinions on how much ring rust actually plays a factor for fighters returning from time off, Bisping looked at his own past experiences with Georges St-Pierre after he returned from nearly four years away and captured the UFC middleweight championship.
“Georges St-Pierre came off the couch after three and a half years and choked me out unconscious,” Bisping said. “A lot of people say that ring rust is a mental thing and it is. It’s a mental thing.
“If Conor was staying in the gym and doing everything he said, it wouldn’t be a factor. The reality is tonight he went out there and he got beat by Dustin Poirier. There’s no shame in that.”
If there’s one thing they agreed upon, it was that Poirier deserves credit for a job well done. The former interim champ executed a game plan that left McGregor on crutches after the event thanks to the calf kicks that helped set up the knockout in the second round.
“At the end of the day you get ready, two people enter the cage, Dustin was the better man tonight,” Bisping said. “You can look for excuses. You can try and dissect it. The ultimate answer tonight the better man won the fight.”