It’s been more than six years since Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier first squared off in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and much has changed since then.
However, John Kavanagh, McGregor's head trainer, believes that Poirier will nonetheless struggle to erase the memory of a first-round technical knockout loss to McGregor at UFC 178 in September 2014. The two men will have their rematch in the UFC 257 main event in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 23.
“I think you can spend a lifetime going to sports psychologists and talking to this person and that person; that’s not going to have been erased from his mind,” Kavanagh told The Mac Life. “He knows that he is facing somebody who can shut off his lights very, very rapidly and now is a lot more powerful and a lot more experienced than he was even then, so it’s a tough, uphill battle for Dustin.”
Their first meeting occurred at featherweight, and set the stage for a title run for the Irish star. Poirier, meanwhile, moved to 155 pounds in his next fight and has gone 10-2 in the weight class, winning interim gold before being submitted by Khabib Nurmagomedov in a title unification bout at UFC 242.
Kavanagh believes Poirier has evolved since his first fight with McGregor, but he says that “The Diamond” hasn’t faced an opponent with the power that the “Notorious” one possesses.
“I think [Poirier] has definitely gotten better,” Kavanagh said. “There’s a few more takedown attempts now in his fights. I hadn’t seen it before. He has a good guillotine. We can see that. Then his volume and his conditioning is looking on point. You can see in his fights he has an ability to take a lot of punishment and still come forward. Pick any of last few fights to see that quality.
“However, he’s fighting a different animal than any of those guys: somebody with true, one-punch knockout power that he’s already felt.”
After besting Poirier, McGregor went on to become a two-division champion and has even taken three fights at 170 pounds. He also earned the biggest payday of his career for facing Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match in August 2017.
Although Poirier has been more active in UFC competition than McGregor, Kavanagh thinks the American Top Team product will notice his opponent’s size and power come fight night. Regardless, the SBG Ireland leader is intrigued to see how the rematch plays out.
“It was a bad night for Dustin,” Kavanagh said. “It was very one-sided, and when you look at some of the shots he’s absorbed – now he’s a bigger man now, and you can say maybe there’s some argument he can absorb more shots now, but he’s fighting a bigger man, as well. Even if you remember back to the fight, the opening hook kick, it just whistled by his head. A couple of inches lower, that might have even outdone the Aldo fight.
“So look, they’ve both matured physically. Age-wise, you know, they’re in their 30s now and [have] families. Dustin’s had a couple of more contests then Conor since then in the Octagon. Conor’s never stopped training and has obviously had a boxing match and has done other stuff, so it’s interesting to see how the styles meet up this time.”