Why a Dustin Poirier win over Conor McGregor wouldn't be shocking

It is often lost in the hoopla during pre-fight setup, but it's important to remember that Conor McGregor is way more than hype and noise.
He is one of the best fighters in the world. Actually one of the best ever. And good fighters in their prime numbers, who have diligently prepared and tried to cover every corner, lost to him. McGregor doesn't just win because he's quick witted and good at talking in trash.
He has quick hands and feet, good balance, and an instinctive sense of how to move around the cage. The definition of greatness beats other great fighters at their best, and McGregor has done that over and over again.
He has already done that to the man he will fight against at the main UFC 257 event on Saturday, former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier. Poirier was 25 years old and had set a 16-3 record early in his career that included beating Max Holloway when he first met McGregor on September 27, 2014.
Poirier was fifth at the featherweight division at the time, while McGregor was ninth. But McGregor won the fight in Las Vegas in just 106 seconds.
They will meet again on Saturday at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi over six years later, with much more at stake. The winner will fight for the vacant belt in his next fight for the UFC lightweight championship, either against Master Khabib Nurmagomedov or another challenger if Nurmagomedov remains retired.
The setup is all about McGregor as usual, but that overlooks a very important fact:
It's a very different Dustin Poirier who will meet McGregor on Saturday than the guy who admittedly let the trash talk come to him in 2014.
"I think it's a possibility," said easy competitor Dan Hooker when asked if he thought Poirier could beat McGregor. Hooker, who lost a Fight of the Year decision to Poirier in June, is fighting in the co-main event against ex-Bellator champion Michael Chandler.
He pointed out that McGregor should be better prepared for an improved Poirier.
"I think one is in the air," Hooker said of McGregor-Poirier II. "It will definitely not be the way the first fight went. Dustin has grown so much and I think there is another fighter at That weight, I think he's one of the longest-lived guys in the division and has an amazing gas tank, they go very well together, a very quick starter against a man who can weather this early storm and come back.
"I think it will go the full five rounds. I think it will be a close fight and it will be difficult to determine a winner."
The first step in fixing a problem is to realize it, and Poirier clearly understands that he was involved in all the hype of the first fight. It took him out of his plan and he wasn't fighting the way he usually did.
McGregor was calm, confident, and efficient, hurting him early on and knocking him down.
But Poirier has developed a lot. Since battling McGregor, he has beaten a who's who of some of the greatest UFC fighters of the past decade, including Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez, Holloway and Hooker.
Everyone but Hooker has held a UFC championship at some point in their career, and Poirier beat them all, winning two by knockout and one by submission.
Dustin Poirier (26-6-1) is 10-2 without a competition since his loss to Conor McGregor in 2014. (Photo by Chris Unger / Zuffa LLC)
He understands what went wrong in the first fight and now has the tools to tackle it. The difference between the 25 year old Poirier and the 32 year old veteran Poirier is big.
"I'm more mature, skillful, battle-hardened, more patient," Poirier told Yahoo Sports about the differences between the 2014 and 2021 versions. "A lot has changed."
The fighting game is so mental and all the more so when faced with a legendary opponent like McGregor. In 2009, a film called "Facing Ali" was released in which many of Ali's opponents, such as Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Larry Holmes, discuss what it was like to fight him.
These fights require not only incredible physical skills to win, but also mental skills. If Poirier had a weakness in 2014, she was drawn into McGregor's world. It is clear that he has looked into this in the meantime.
"I felt like after this fight I had to adjust to my emotions and the way I lead to these fights," he said.
Poirier now knows that in 30, 45 or 90 seconds he won't get anything extra for the win. All that matters is raise your hand.
McGregor's weakness has long been his durability. He wasn't the same in the second half of the fights as he was in the first half.
Poirier is the opposite. He's a gritty, tough, and smart guy who, as Hooker said, is just as durable as anyone else in the UFC.
It's pretty obvious how much better and more dangerous Poirier is now than it was in 2014, but McGregor is still one of the greatest. There's no argument for Poirier's improvement, but McGregor could still win this fight because that's what elite superstars do.
But if you were shocked by a Poirier victory, here a word to the wise:
Do not be so. Poirier is good enough to win this fight. If you don't believe it, check out what he's been up to since 2014.
If wins over Gaethje, Alvarez and Holloway aren't enough to convince you, nothing will.
Discover Conor McGregor's career gain compared to other sports stars in augmented reality:
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