Conor McGregor returns to the UFC on Saturday night at UFC 257 following his latest long layoff. If "The Notorious" wants to prove he's still an elite mixed martial artist, this latest comeback fight needs to be his best.
Last January, McGregor returned from a two-year layoff at UFC 246 and proceeded to dismantle and dominate Donald Cerrone, scoring a TKO win in 40 seconds. The Irishman claimed he wanted to fight multiple times in 2020, with potentially three or even four fights set to take place. The COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans and instead he's been sidelined ever since.
This isn't the first time McGregor has had to deal with a long break. After TKO-ing Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November 2016 to become the first fighter to simultaneously hold UFC titles in two weight classes, he took time away from MMA for his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. It was two years before he returned to the octagon to face Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, where he lost via submission. That led to the two year layoff before the Cerrone fight.
Now at 32, McGregor is back at lightweight, ready to face a familiar foe in Dustin Poirier. He scored a TKO win over Poirier in 2014 at UFC 178 on his way up the ladder at featherweight. Two fights later McGregor won the interim featherweight title over Chad Mendes, and one fight after that he knocked out Jose Aldo to unify the title.
While McGregor has been on the sidelines for much of the past four years, Poirier has been working. Since the start of 2017, the Louisiana native has won six of eight fights, with one loss and a no contest against Alvarez. His only loss came against Nurmagomedov who dominated, then submitted Poirier at UFC 242 in September of 2019. Given how incredible Khabib is, there's no shame in suffering that defeat.
Poirier is an action fighter, which should make him a good opponent for McGregor. The UFC is hoping for a battle, not a staring contest. Poirier is currently No. 2 in the UFC's lightweight rankings and the 32-year-old has earned that spot. He's a fantastic fighter in peak condition, unlike Cerrone who was clearly on the downslope when he stepped in to face McGregor.
If he wants to win on Saturday night and sell the world that he's still a title contender, McGregor must remain calm and pick his spots. Poirier is going to want to prove he deserves another title shot, so he could come out aggressive looking for a big, flashy win. McGregor has to use his accuracy and punching power efficiently without tiring himself out. The opportunities for a knockout will be there, but he can't risk gassing out early as he's done previously.
It should be a great matchup for two fighters who know each other well. If McGregor wants prove he still belongs atop the UFC, he'll have to turn in his best performance in years.