The spotlight feels just a little brighter when it’s a Conor McGregor fight night. All the normal drama of winning and losing is amplified by the mainstream media attention, the betting bonanza and the millions of additional eyes. UFC 257 featured the hotly anticipated return of the sport’s most transcendent star and strongest pay-per-view draw, and the promotion loaded the card with a combination of high excitement and high stakes, including the Octagon debut of a man once synonymous with the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s main competitor. As always, some fighters elevated their stock on Saturday while others saw it plummet—including, incidentally, the man responsible for the magnitude of the occasion. Here is the stock report for UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2.
Dustin Poirier: It must feel pretty good. In just under eight minutes of work, “The Diamond” avenged a humiliating 2014 loss, demonstrated his stunning growth as a fighter, and affirmed his status as the top lightweight in the post-Khabib Nurmagomedov world. While discussion of Saturday’s headliner will touch on how much McGregor’s recent inactivity contributed to the second-round knockout, nothing should detract from an absolutely sensational performance by the Louisianan. Poirier’s game plan was impeccable and executed to near-perfection, he weathered McGregor’s fabled punching power when called upon to do so, and he did all of it while exhibiting a poise and confidence completely unlike their first meeting. The true level-up moment? On the stool after the first round, despite having lost the round, Poirier’s face and body language seemed to say, “I got this.” He did indeed have it, and now it remains to be seen if one of the sport’s truly good guys will join Nurmagomedov and Nate Diaz in springboarding to the next level of stardom off of a win over McGregor.
Michael Chandler: It might have been impossible to upstage the winner of a main event featuring the sport’s biggest star, but “Iron Mike” sure gave it his best shot. Not only did he blow away a Top 5 lightweight in minutes, but he did so in a way that answered some of the questions hovering over his long-awaited arrival in the UFC. Always an undersized lightweight who thrived on speed and explosion, the 34-year-old former Bellator champ needed to prove he could still close the distance on a much taller, rangier, out-fighter like Dan Hooker. Mission accomplished, and his hilariously over-the-top promo in the cage afterward was simply the cherry on top. In the history of established fighters entering the UFC with championship-level expectations, Chandler knocking out Hooker, then channeling Ric Flair, is probably a top-three debut, rivaled only by Anderson Silva (Chris Leben, air guitar) and Justin Gaethje (Michael Johnson, backflip off the cage).
Conor McGregor: However good it must have felt to wake up on Sunday morning and be Poirier, it likely stung in equal measure to be McGregor. Obviously, any discussion of the man’s stock falling is relative. He remains a superstar, absurdly wealthy, and despite the loss on Saturday, his next fight—whether it be in a cage or a boxing ring—will be another guaranteed blockbuster. However, this was a serious competitive setback, and despite all the distraction and destruction that seem to orbit him, greatness and legacy clearly do matter to McGregor.
As a 3-to-1 favorite over a man he had plunked in their first meeting, McGregor was probably winning the fight right up until he lost, but the fluidity, the effortless mastery—for lack of a better word, the magic—was missing. In the immediate aftermath, “The Notorious” admitted his sporadic schedule had adversely affected his performance. Not that he needed to admit it. All we needed was his statement that he had not been prepared for Poirier’s calf kicks, considering that the resurgence of those kicks as a favorite weapon in MMA just happens to coincide with when McGregor stopped fighting regularly. As we learned from G.I. Joe, knowing is only half the battle. How the 32-year-old former champ chooses to respond will be the other half.
Khalil Rountree: Prior to UFC 257, Rountree’s UFC run could best be described as “consistently inconsistent.” On the right night, he might punch through Gokhan Saki, one of the greatest kickboxers ever to cross over to MMA, in 90 seconds. On the wrong night, he might make fellow flakes like Johnny Walker or Ion Cutelaba look like absolute world-beaters. Nonetheless, for one of the hardest hitters in the 205-pound division, a matchup with Marcin Prachnio, who was 0-3 in the UFC with three first-round knockout losses, felt like a lob that even Rountree couldn’t fumble. Not so, as Rountree dropped two rounds to Prachnio; the knockout blow simply never came, and Prachnio’s superior volume carried the day. While Rountree remains an entertaining fighter and his job is more than secure at the moment, if he has any aspirations beyond entertainment and job security, a loss to a man who might have been, on paper, the worst light heavyweight in the UFC, will be a lot to come back from.
ESPN Plus: Despite Dana White’s assurances that UFC 257 was still one of the top three pay-per-views in UFC history, the technical difficulties that plagued the main card were a disaster. Twitter exploded with fans, media and even UFC fighters reporting that they could not purchase the event, or had purchased it but could not view it. As someone who falls into the latter category—I spent nearly an hour and a half refreshing my browser and ESPN app while cursing liberally—it was maddening. (The reminder that fighters don’t get to watch for free was jarring, but that’s a rant for another day.) However many pay-per-views UFC 257 sold, it could have been more, as potential paying customers were driven to the very same illegal streaming sites White had declared war on this week, and will be dinged in the days to come by the legions seeking (completely justifiable) refunds.