“I’m facing whoever the f**k has that LW title next. Deal with it.”
Picture this: it’s the main event of UFC 269, which goes down in only a few weeks on Saturday, December 11th. Dustin Poirier gets his hand raised after a hard fought five-rounder, finally attaining the undisputed lightweight title.
Months later, sometime in the first quarter of 2022, his first title-defense is announced. His opponent? None other than “the Notorious” Conor McGregor.
It wouldn’t make much sense, but it’s the scenario McGregor promises, whether Dustin, Charles Oliveira, or someone else has the belt when he’s ready to return.
Conor seems confident that the man who will hold the lightweight belt will in fact be Dustin Poirier, adding “take off your goggles and mark the trilogy ‘unfinished.’”
McGregor is coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in his career, both against a man he had previously knocked out at featherweight all the way back in 2014. Despite this, he’s promising fans that he will return to action with a title shot.
UFC fans are used to the idea of meritocracy getting put aside for a more casual-friendly championship affair. Did Jorge Masvidal deserve an immediate rematch after losing a decision against Kamaru Usman at UFC 251? Nope. Yoel Romero got a title shot against Israel Adesanya for UFC 248, despite coming off back-to-back losses against Robert Whittaker (a title-shot rematch, no less) and Paulo Costa.
There are even those who say that Conor never deserved his initial lightweight title fight back in 2016, when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez in Madison Sq. Garden for the UFC 205 main event. At that point, he had zero fights at lightweight.
Sure, he was the featherweight champ. Sure, he knocked out the previously undefeated-in-a-decade Jose Aldo in only 13 seconds. But he also had zero UFC fights at lightweight. He was also 1-1 after two welterweight bouts against Nate Diaz, the first of which saw him get choked out in the second round.
It’s easy to forget that when Conor fought for the lightweight title against Alvarez, Tony Ferguson was already on a nine fight win streak. That included a victory of Rafael Dos Anjos, the man McGregor was originally supposed to fight for the lightweight strap, only a week before UFC 205.
Khabib Nurmagomedov was also on an eight fight win streak. In fact, that eighth consecutive UFC victory happened the same night Conor became the “champ champ,” when he finished Michael Johnson via kimura. He infamously stated in his octagon interview, “beginning of the year, he tap like chicken. End of the year, he fight for title. Crazy.”
It didn’t seem so crazy back then. Khabib attributed McGregor’s rise to the “crazy power of UFC PR machine,” and in hindsight, perhaps he had a point. But Conor McGregor was in his prime, bringing the sport to new heights of popularity. And truth be told, he was pretty damned good as well.
McGregor’s performance at UFC 205 was more than enough to justify giving him that title shot. He became the first double champ in UFC history; not the first man to achieve belts in multiple divisions, but the first to be a simultaneous champ in two divisions.
But, as much as McGregor fans wish otherwise, it isn’t 2016 anymore. We know what happened to Conor when he finally faced Khabib in the octagon. And we all saw what happened when Dustin Poirier got a chance to avenge that long ago loss - twice. Emphatically.
It doesn’t matter how powerful the UFC PR machine is, there’s no way an immediate title shot for McGregor could be justified this time around. And yet, would anyone be surprised if it happened?
If there’s a fighter that Dana would break the rules for, it’s Conor McGregor. And we already know that Dustin Poirier is down for a fourth fight. In the immediate aftermath of his TKO victory via doctor stoppage at UFC 264, Poirier said “of course we’ll fight again.”
He seemed less affirmative when questioned about it during an appearance on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, stating “We’ll see what happens. I’m not sitting back waiting to fight him a fourth time. If it makes sense and it comes about, we’ll do it again.”
However, Dana White did not mince his words when it all went down in July. With his cash cow sporting a freshly snapped leg, the UFC president declared that a fourth McGregor-Poirier fight was inevitable.
Conor promises that his return fight will be for lightweight gold, though he’s also stated that the trilogy fight with Nate Diaz must also happen.
Nate Diaz only has one fight remaining on his UFC contract and has alluded to wanting to leave MMA (or at least the UFC) to test the waters in boxing. Frankly, the Diaz matchup makes a ton more sense than a Poirier fight, especially if Poirier is holding the belt when Conor is ready to fight again.
Picture this: the Stockton slap finishes Conor McGregor for a second time, rides off into the sunset, straight into a celebrity boxing match with one of the Paul brothers. That sounds a lot more appealing than watching Conor skip the line for a chance at gold against a man who already worked him pillar to post twice in the same year.
All of this comes with the assumption that Poirier wins the belt at UFC 269. If Oliveira defends his title, does Conor choose to fight the BJJ specialist instead? Oliveira had been fishing for a “red panty night” for quite some time, so there’s no doubt he’d accept it, regardless if anyone thought McGregor deserved it.
Perhaps it’s all just smoke and mirrors. Say what you want about the guy, but Conor McGregor is a mastermind at getting fight fans and the MMA world to talk about him. Deep down, he may know that he doesn’t deserve to fight for the title upon his return.
Still, the man who raised MMA’s popularity to meteoric new heights is also at the pinnacle of “Dana White privilege.” There’s no way to justify him getting a title shot, other than Uncle Dana declaring the age-old adage, “money talks.”
Only time will tell.