Conor McGregor’s loss to Dustin Poirier in their trilogy-completing blockbuster at UFC 264 leaves a string of unanswered questions regarding ‘The Notorious’’ future in the fight game.

McGregor officially recorded a TKO doctor’s stoppage loss after his leg snapped in gruesome fashion late in the first round. But the fact remains the outspoken, controversial megastar has now lost three of his last four fights – including two in a row for the first time (both to Poirier) – and has only one UFC victory to his credit since November 2016.

Box office king

Despite his recent setbacks, Conor McGregor remains the most recognisable face and the biggest drawcard in the UFC. Like Muhammad Ali, Pelé, Jonah Lomu, Mal Meninga and Shane Warne, the cocksure Irishman has transcended the sport through his combination of electrifying style inside the octagon and outlandish behaviour outside it. He gets casual supporters and non-UFC fans hooked.

The proof is in the pay-per-view pudding. Prior to Sunday, the top five PPV events in UFC history were headlined by McGregor. UFC 264 (an estimated 1.8 million PPV purchases) is predicted to land second behind Khabib v McGregor at UFC 229 (2.4 million).

The pre- and post-fight theatre surrounding a bout involving ‘The Notorious’ is irresistible. The outburst at Poirier – while on the canvas with a broken leg – was peak McGregor. For the foreseeable future, a huge public appetite remains for his fights and associated histrionics.

Flat-track bully?

After entering the UFC in 2013, McGregor crafted a dominant 6-0 record (5 by KO/TKO) in the featherweight division – culminating in unifying the UFC Featherweight Championship with a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo in 2015.

He then jumped up to welterweight and split his two 2016 bouts with Nate Diaz. McGregor’s only other fight as a welterweight saw him KO Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds in early-2020.

But as a lightweight, McGregor now has a 1-3 record in the UFC. Since winning the UFC Lightweight Championship from Eddie Alvarez in 2016 – after which he embarked on a boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather – he has tapped out against Khabib Nurmagomedov and has lost twice to Poirier.

The question has to be asked whether he was beating up on smaller opponents as a featherweight and has been exposed by bigger, stronger fighters as a lightweight. Or is simply that his recent calibre of opponent in Khabib and Poirier have been too good, too seasoned and too well-prepared for the oft-retiring, division-hopping McGregor?

Has Poirier Trilogy tarnished McGregor’s legacy?

McGregor left Poirier in his wake during his sizzling rise up the UFC ranks, carving out a TKO victory inside two minutes in their 2014 showdown at UFC 178.

The ‘The Notorious’ encountered in his two 2021 bout was a far different beast, however. ‘Diamond’ is a far more accomplished, patient and resilient competitor than he was seven years ago. He’s lost just twice in 15 fights since the McGregor defeat – to Michael Johnson in 2016 and Nurmagomedov in 2019 – and his career has arguably peaked with his dual stoppages of ‘Mystic Mac’.

Is McGregor a better fighter now than when he first encountered Poirier? Debatable. Few would contend he is currently anywhere near his former peak.

Poirier dominated their UFC 257 headliner. He landed 48 of 91 (52%) significant strikes to McGregor’s 29 of 66 (43%), going in for the kill in Round 2. ‘Diamond’ battered McGregor with a brutal avalanche of punches to hand the Irish rogue the first knockout loss of his career.

Despite McGregor’s contentions to the contrary, Poirier was well in control of their trilogy fight. Takedowns, a series of elbows and punches had Conor on the back foot…before the leg supporting it caved in.

It was an unfortunate way for such a feverishly anticipated clash to end. But all signs pointed to an eventual Poirier victory.

If the pair were to retire today, a case could be made for either as the greater MMA exponent. But as it stands now, Poirier is at the top of his game and way ahead of McGregor – and the trilogy triumph is deserved.

The injury

The other major question mark hanging over the 32-year-old McGregor is his ability to make his way back from such a severe injury at this stage of his career.

Anderson Silva, rated by Tapology as the fourth-greatest MMA fighter of all time, suffered arguably the most infamous injury in UFC history – breaking his leg against Chris Weidman at UFC 168 in 2013.

Silva was 33-5 heading into that bout. After a gruelling recuperation – including more than a year out of the octagon – the legend has won just one of seven fights since. It’s a precedent many McGregor fans may refuse to acknowledge but one they may also need to come to terms with.

Ironically, Weidman broke his leg in April against Uriah Hall. The 37-year-old is back in the gym and determined to return to action. But whether McGregor has the requisite patience and determination to do the same remains to be seen.

And if he does make it back, can he be anywhere near as effective as he needs to be to compete against the best?

What’s next for Mystic Mac?

McGregor’s post-match baiting of Poirier – most notably making derogatory remarks about his wife – point to the trilogy becoming a quartet. The bitter rivals want it. The fans want it. Given the guaranteed windfall, Dana White and the UFC will want it.

But Poirier should be shooting for a lightweight title bout with Charles Oliveira. Can McGregor demand a title fight with Poirier upon his return, after potentially a year or more out of action and a poor recent record?

Completing his trilogy with bitter rival Nate Diaz at some point is viewed as an inevitability. The first two were classics. That would potentially mean stepping up to welterweight again for McGregor, though, a risky move.

Perhaps ‘The Notorious’ will make his comeback against someone else in the lightweight ranks. A showdown with Justin Gaethje holds appeal – the hate is real there. But Gaethje could also be eyeing off the next title shot against the winner of the likely Oliveira-Poirier fight.

Regardless, it seems incongruous that McGregor’s MMA journey would end sitting on the canvas with a broken leg, spitting insults at an opponent who has just whooped him for the second time. Or maybe that would be a fitting finale to one of the wildest careers in modern sport.

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