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McGregor talks to a UFC reporter. McGregor suffered an injury against Poirier to take the loss to the rival.

Conor McGregor had his third loss in his last four fights in one of the most unexpected ways at UFC 264. He lost to Dustin Poirier via technical knockout (TKO) due to a doctor stoppage after McGregor broke his left leg in the closing seconds of the first round.

McGregor looked strong early in the first, eating up Poirier’s lead leg with kicks. It was reminiscent of how Poirier picked apart McGregor in their January fight, where he destroyed McGregor’s leg with kicks and eventually knocked him out. McGregor continued a flurry of kicks and punches until he was stunned by a punch from Poirier that forced him to clinch. McGregor went for a guillotine and seemed to have it in tight, but Poirier escaped. 

Poirier unleashed some ground and pound from the top and looked to finish McGregor early. Both fighters got back up with about 20 seconds left in the first. McGregor threw a one-two combo, took a step back and his left leg snapped. He went down and Poirier jumped on top with more ground and pound until the round ended. McGregor began pointing to his leg immediately after the round ended and said it was broken. 

The fight was called off, and Poirier was declared the winner. Poirier said in his post-fight interview that he felt McGregor’s leg fracture on a checked leg kick early in the fight, which caused the eventual snap. He called McGregor a “dirtbag” and said he beat him despite the anticlimactic finish. McGregor was furious in his post-fight interview, stating that none of his leg kicks were checked and telling Poirier, “Your wife is in me DMs.” McGregor underwent surgery the next day and said he’ll be on crutches for six weeks

So where do things shake out in the lightweight division moving forward? Poirier has earned a shot against lightweight champion Charles Oliveira after beating McGregor. It’s inevitable that Poirier will get that fight once he’s ready to return, perhaps in October or November of this year. This will be Oliveira’s first lightweight title defense since winning the vacant belt against Michael Chandler at UFC 262 in May. 

Oliveira has won his last nine fights — six by submission and three by knockout. Poirier has won seven out of his last eight fights. Of those seven wins, four were via knockout. It’ll be an interesting fight, as both are well-rounded fighters and are able to adapt wherever the fight goes — on the ground or standing up.Poirier has an advantage in striking statistically, with five more career knockouts than Oliveira. Oliveira, however, has 19 submission victories to Poirier’s seven. 

Poirier should win this fight with the momentum of two wins over McGregor behind him. He’s proven he’s an improved fighter since his first fight against McGregor, but winning the lightweight strap would solidify it. 

What’s next for McGregor? It’s pretty simple — he needs to recover and get his leg back in shape. This injury could unfortunately worsen the deterioration of his MMA career. Anderson Silva, for example, broke his leg against Chris Weidman in 2013. Silva was 17-1 in his last 18 going into that fight. Silva’s record since his leg break is 1-5-1. 

It’s disputed whether or not the injury caused Silva’s decline, but his record shows he wasn’t the same after that. For McGregor, he went into this fight already in a slump. A leg injury as severe as this could end his career, but knowing McGregor, he’ll one day return to the octagon. 

When McGregor is ready to return, the UFC should give him a tune-up fight. He should be given an opponent that has a respectable resume but someone that he can beat. One of the problems with McGregor is that he takes long lay-offs and returns to fight the top fighter in the division. He faced the unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov after two years off and was defeated. He returned this past January to face Poirier, who was the No. 2 ranked lightweight at the time, and was knocked out. 

He should face an opponent who’s a No. 6-10-ranked fighter. Donald Cerrone was the perfect opponent for him back in 2020. McGregor returned from a 15-month layoff and destroyed Cerrone in 40 seconds. Cerrone was an opponent that McGregor could easily beat, but he’s skilled enough that if McGregor wasn’t on his game, Cerrone could’ve won. 

For UFC’s business, the best move is to make a fourth fight between Poirier and McGregor. While it’s probably not the best idea for McGregor to return from this injury and fight the No. 1 ranked lightweight, it would generate huge pay-per-view (PPV) numbers. Poirier vs McGregor 3 drew 1.8 million PPV buys worldwide, the second most in UFC history. The undecisive ending raises hype for their next fight: What would’ve happened in the second round? Would Poirier have taken McGregor down again and continued a ground and pound onslaught? Or would McGregor have found his rhythm again with leg kicks and picked Poirier apart?

Another positive for building their next fight is that while McGregor lost, he wasn’t defeated by Poirier. The fight was called due to his injury rather than Poirier knocking him out or submitting him. If McGregor was going to lose this fight, a scenario like this perhaps was the best when it comes to his drawing power. The viewers didn’t get a clear ending to the trilogy, which makes a fourth fight intriguing. On top of that, McGregor was enraged after the fight and went after Poirier’s wife, building more animosity between them. The personal heat between them will add more interest to a fourth bout. 

A rematch between them is hypothetical right now. First, McGregor must recover, and Poirier will fight for the lightweight belt. In a perfect world, Poirier wins the belt from Oliveira and keeps it until McGregor is ready. Fighting the top lightweight in the world after a long layoff probably isn’t in McGregor’s best interest, but it’d certainly do big PPV numbers. Whether McGregor gets the fourth fight or fights a lesser opponent, he has a long road to recovery in what’s undoubtedly the biggest setback of his UFC career. 

Contact John Breeden at breed2jr@dukes.jmu.edu. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.