With UFC 264 now in the rearview mirror, we can examine the main card and discuss the takeaways from the action. Saturday’s main card featured some standout performances from Sean O’Malley, Irene Aldana, and Tai Tuivasa. The headliner capped off the action with a strange and unfortunate ending followed by more verbal venom from an injured Conor McGregor.
In the co-headliner, Gilbert Burns managed to win a unanimous decision against the puzzle that is Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, something few have been able to accomplish. Unfortunately, the main event"s conclusion left us yearning for closure in one of the sport"s most hostile rivalries.
Is the Magic Gone?
With McGregor suffering another defeat, albeit an uncertain one to Dustin Poirier, his career is now up in the air. Before this fight, many fans and analysts alike agreed that it was a make-or-break fight for McGregor.
Since suffering defeat via TKO at the hands of “The Diamond" in January, McGregor has been back to his usual pre-fight antics of trash talk and mental warfare. Even so, Poirier remained composed throughout the buildup, remarking that he was in a different mental headspace. For Conor to be successful in this fight, he needed a return to form of not just talking the talk, but walking the walk as he did during his inexorable rise. In addition, while McGregor certainly returned to some of his earlier tactics throughout the fight (his leg kicks and spinning attacks were notably more present here), he failed to win the round on any of the judges’ scorecards.
With the results of this fight, McGregor’s aura of invincibility is all but gone. With the loss to Floyd Mayweather, followed by his brutal shellacking from Khabib Nurmagomedov, and now his two losses to Poirier – McGregor’s magic has dwindled entirely. He still may fight again, and the fight ended in such a way that both fighters are still seeking closure. Even with that said, McGregor needs time to heal and reflect. When his brash trash talk backfires and he loses his fight(s), his antics seem less impactful and more sheerly disrespectful, as can be seen with his post-fight antics with Poiriers wife.
Even if we do see “The Notorious" in the octagon again, he may never be the same fighter, and he has certainly lost a lot of the magic that initially propelled him. Regardless of whether or not he fights Poirier again, the sport"s biggest star needs time to heal, reflect, and regain some of his confidence.
The Diamond Shines Bright in the Trilogy
While McGregor was incredibly brash throughout the buildup for the main event of UFC 264, Poirier remained calm before and after the results of the trilogy. He kept to his usual honest, hard-working approach to fight week, and even wished his foe well despite what he had said. This is a marked evolution of Poirier as a fighter – from the first fight, falling to McGregor"s antics, all the way through to January and now winning the trilogy, Poirier has cemented himself as one of the best lightweights in the world. Poirier definitely deserves a shot at the title now, and with Khabib and Conor potentially out of the picture, “The Diamond" is poised to take over the division.
The trilogy fight itself played out differently from the second fight, as McGregor returned to some of his old tactics, utilizing a wider, bouncier stance and utilizing more kicks. Even so, Dustin Poirier savaged McGregor on the ground, raining down elbows and punches along the fence, and escaping McGregor’s guillotine attempt. Had the fight gone on longer, perhaps we would have seen more of McGregor’s gameplan, with a potentially diversified arsenal. Even so, Poirier used his elite wrestling and striking to thwart the Irishman, even before the injury.
Despite a potential fourth fight looming on the horizon for Poirier, he needs time to prepare for Charles Oliveira, a dangerous test for anyone in the division. Should he win that bout, the UFC may not book a rematch with Conor right away, as he wouldn’t rightfully deserve a title fight.
Potentially the most important takeaway from this trilogy is the fact that Dustin, more so than any other fighter, has diminished Conor’s aura of invincibility. This is due to the fact that Conor knocked Dustin out cold in their first fight, and Dustin was able to pick himself up off the floor, refine his game and finish Conor in two impressive performances within the trilogy.
The Suga Show
Sean O’Malley put on an emphatic performance against late replacement and UFC newcomer Kris Moutinho, landing a staggering 230/318 significant strikes. O’Malley’s signature display of stance switching, accurate straight punches and flashy kicks were on display, as he finished Moutinho 4 minutes and 33 seconds into the final round.
While O’Malley cannot be discredited for his brilliant display of striking, Moutinho was a short notice replacement taking on a budding star on late notice – he definitely deserves all the credit in the world as he showcased unparalleled toughness and heart.
After the fight, O’Malley made a callout for Rob Font, the 3rd ranked bantamweight contender in the UFC. This fight would be a huge step up for O’Malley, and a great stylistic matchup for the fans, as Font is an excellent striker. Should O’Malley not get matched up with Font, a fight inside the top 10 is definitely warranted, as ‘Suga’ has made a huge name for himself within the division, barring the Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera loss.
As for Moutinho, he definitely showed the utmost heart and perseverance in this fight. Hopefully, with a full training camp, he can flourish and showcase his skillset further within the UFC.
Burns Solves the Wonderboy Puzzle
Gilbert Burns managed to secure a unanimous decision (29-28 x3) over “Wonderboy" Thompson, proving that he is still atop the division and vying for another shot at Kamaru Usman. Not many have been able to beat Thompson via a decision, and Burns showcased a good mix of wrestling, striking and jiu jitsu to score the victory over Thompson.
Since Colby Covington is waiting in the wings for his second fight against Usman, Burns may earn a fight against any of the three opponents he called out: Nate Diaz, Leon Edwards and Jorge Masivdal. Those fights are all dangerous, and both the Edwards and Masvidal fights would do well to keep Burns in the title picture.
As for “Wonderboy", the conversation of whether or not he will ever contend for the title again can probably be put to rest. He may not retire any time soon, but his career is getting rather long in the tooth, and the top of the welterweight division is a shark tank. He has showcased some great striking skills as of late, as he always has, but in order to contend for the belt his wrestling needs to be heavily upgraded, as Usman would likely implement a wrestling heavy gameplan against “Wonderboy".
Irene Aldana and Tai Tuivasa Earn Stoppage Wins
Both Tai Tuivasa and Irene Aldana had emphatic wins over Greg Hardy and Yana Kunitskaya, respectively.
UFC heavyweight Tuivasa scored a TKO win over Hardy 1 minute and 7 seconds into the first round, securing a 3-fight win streak for himself. Of course, he partook in his signature ‘shoey’ after his win, as well. “Bam Bam" looked like his usual self, standing and trading with his opponent and landing with deadly force, but he also landed some thunderous leg kicks to set up his big shots. This is a marked improvement in his standup game, even if the base of his striking is the same.
4th ranked UFC bantamweight Aldana secured a first round ground-and-pound TKO win over 5th ranked Kunitskaya, showcasing her beautiful groundwork in addition to her usually crisp boxing. This fight has major implications in the Women’s bantamweight division, as Aldana has carved out a spot in the top five for herself, with Valentina Shevchenko actively looking for a title challenger. Should she get her weight cut under control, she may earn a shot at the belt soon. Her last loss came to 2nd ranked Holly Holm, so she may not get the next title shot, but Aldana definitely deserves a top-three opponent next.
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