So, what now for Conor McGregor after shock defeat against Dustin Poirier?
McGregor started well in front of around 2,000 fans at the Etihad Arena but was discomforted by persistent kicks to his lead right calf, and Poirier capitalised to secure a dramatic stoppage midway through the second round.
Here the PA news agency looks at what might be next for the Irishman.
How much of a setback was this defeat?
McGregor hobbled into the post-fight press conference on crutches and said all the right things: “I’ll keep my eyes on the prize” and “Don’t write me off yet.” But this defeat will sting. McGregor battered Poirier inside two minutes in September 2014 en route to becoming a two-weight UFC champion and global superstar, so a loss to the same opponent will raise questions about whether he is on the slide. He admitted long stints away from UFC – this was only his third MMA fight since November 2016 – may have caught up with him. But he only needs one or two wins to get back in the deep end of the 155lb division and, because his drawing power remains unparalleled, he will never be short of elite fighters calling him out.
What are his options?
Both McGregor and Poirier mentioned a mouthwatering trilogy bout in their media obligations afterwards while, rather intriguingly, the pair brought Nate Diaz into the equation. For McGregor, the attraction is more obvious: his first loss in the UFC came at the hands of the mercurial American before getting his hand raised, somewhat disputedly, in the rematch. A rubber bout would doubtless satisfy a number of supporters and, right now, could be just the tune-up McGregor needs for a shot at Poirier again. Poirier had to cancel a bout against his compatriot in November 2018 due to a hip injury but said after beating McGregor: “I’ve always wanted to whip Nate Diaz’s ass.”
Which bout will take precedence?
McGregor was understandably more eager to run the fight back with Poirier but will likely keep his options open, insisting his main focus was on regrouping and assessing what went wrong on Sunday morning. Having reversed his latest retirement to fight Poirier he will hope his rival follows through on his initial enthusiasm for a third showdown. Poirier said he had no interest in fighting Michael Chandler for the vacant title after UFC president Dana White intimated that was the likeliest option should Khabib Nurmagomedov stand down as champion, as expected. But Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje are other options for Poirier – as well as McGregor.
Speaking of Khabib – will we see the Conor rematch?
Right at this moment, the prospect of what might be the most lucrative and highly-anticipated fight in combat sports is in tatters. Nurmagomedov emphatically beat McGregor in October 2018 then Poirier 11 months later before retiring last year with a perfect 29-0 MMA record after seeing off Gaethje. White said the Russian was looking for “something spectacular” from the two headliners which could have forced him to reconsider. But White said after Poirier’s win: “He said to me ‘Dana, be honest with yourself, I’m so many levels above these guys, I’ve beaten these guys’. It doesn’t sound very positive. We’ll see.” Never say never, but it looks highly unlikely now.
What about a return to boxing and a Manny Pacquiao fight?
Pacquiao signed to the same management company as McGregor to seemingly pave the way for a money-spinning bout. The Filipino multi-weight champion wished McGregor well on Twitter and added “Let’s make 2021 the best year ever for fight fans.” McGregor confirmed afterwards the deal was “as good as done” but his knockout perhaps diminishes the appetite for the contest and may lead to Pacquiao looking elsewhere. McGregor, for his part, said: “There’s none of those leg kicks in boxing! I always did want to focus on my MMA career but I’m also open. I’ll see what happens.” He has already ruled out fighting YouTuber Jake Paul, who has repeatedly called out McGregor in recent weeks.