It's the Sunday after the biggest UFC event of the year, UFC 264 which saw Dustin Poirier once again defeating Conor McGregor via a first-round TKO due to a doctor stoppage after the Irishman broke his left ankle as the round ended.
The unfortunate end came after a very entertaining opening round that saw both men having success with Poirier ending up dominating much of the contest off a takedown and mauling McGregor from within his guard from the top position with vicious elbows. To his credit, McGregor had a momentary guillotine attempt, and also landed some nice elbows of his own and up kicks off of his back. Poirier had decisively and clearly won the round though, but the gruesome injury to McGregor's ankle is undoubtedly part of the narrative of the completion of the trilogy between the lightweight legends.
We've still got to throw away the Proper 12 and Poirier's Louisiana Style Hot Sauce bottles, put on our Marty McFly sneakers, and look into the future of what's next for the competitors of the Octagon's biggest night of 2021 so far.
Dustin Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira
The win for Poirier will be marred for some by McGregor's injury and an unfulfilling end to one of this era's best trilogies. However, there is no denying that the former interim UFC lightweight champion was dominating the fight up until the untimely finish and while there remains unfinished business with his Irish rival, for the time being, Poirier rightfully so moves on to another opportunity to capture UFC gold.
A UFC lightweight title matchup with Brazilian champion Charles Oliveira will be next for Lafayette, Louisiana's favorite son, and represents a bout that encompasses everything great about the sport. The stylistic and technical aspects of a Poirier-Oliveira fight are enthralling for any true fight fan, but it's the similar struggle both have overcome to get to this moment that seems beautifully poetic. In the post-Khabib Nurmagomedov era, the UFC's lightweight division will finally have real clarity and a definitive champion when the two meet hopefully later this year.
Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier IV or Nate Diaz III
While Poirier will tend to his championship battle with Oliveira, McGregor will have to first deal with the ramifications of the injury to his left ankle before thinking about any sort of next opponent. MMA's biggest star was fiery, and some would say classless in defeat though to Poirier seemingly not ready to close the chapter on their rivalry. The former two-division UFC champion's lack of willingness to accept the loss and UFC President Dana White saying to reporters in the post-fight press conference that once McGregor heals from the ankle injury that his next fight would be a fourth meeting with Poirier, makes me believe all signs point to that being a very realistic option for whenever McGregor returns to the Octagon again.
If for whatever circumstances that the fourth fight with Poirier doesn't happen, the always looming trilogy matchup with Nate Diaz would be a fantastic next option for McGregor. Financially the fight makes all the sense in the world, given their first two meetings did a combined nearly three million pay-per-view buys. Plus with their combined record of 3-5 since their rematch at UFC 202 in August 2016, the timing couldn't be better for the third meeting between two of the sport's biggest stars.
Gilbert Burns vs. Jorge Masvidal
Stephen Thompson has been known throughout his career for stifling opponents and their attacks to a frustrating degree, but he got a taste of his own medicine from Gilbert Burns in the night's co-main event. The two former UFC welterweight title challengers fought to a decision with Burns utilizing offensive wrestling and suffocating top control to edge out the rounds from Thompson, having the most success with his takedowns off of the cage.
What some fans may deem as an unentertaining win, for me was an impressive showcase of Burns doing to Thompson what really many have never done. He solidified his placement in the top three of the UFC's viper pit of a welterweight division and is now 5-1 since returning to 170 pounds. Burns made several callouts in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan and reiterated those sentiments in the post-fight press conference to reporters.
“I just took the NMF belt, I can take the BMF belt too,” Burns said (h/t MMAJunkie). “If Leon wants it, he can get it. If Nate wants it, he can get it. I know I just got a title shot. I can’t ask for another title shot, I don’t believe they’ll give to me. I want to keep working and stay disciplined. I still need to find that balance of staying disciplined, but also get that finish. I just have to keep working, give me anyone of these guys. I like the Masvidal fight a lot, but he just got two losses. He makes a lot of money, so you have to give me an extra check. I’d fight him, but put me on a pay-per-view card and I’ll fight him.”
Of the names Burns called out, Masvidal seems like the most realistic and best opponent next for him in my opinion. Edwards has made it very apparent he will wait for the title shot if he has to and I'm not sure Burns brings the interest level financially that Diaz would want. This leaves the fight with Masvidal who as Burns called him out, was shown on the UFC broadcast smiling. The fight would solidify either Burns or Masvidal as the top contender still at 170 pounds and should grant the victor with a future rematch against UFC welterweight kingpin Kamaru Usman.
“I’m not afraid of anyone. I want to fight every single one of these guys.”— UFC News (@UFCNews) July 11, 2021
Gilbert Burns (@GilbertDurinho) talks about what is next for him after his victory over Stephen Thompson at #UFC264 --
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Tai Tuivasa vs. Sergey Spivak II
Tuivasa was one of the night's biggest winners especially in terms of internet virality after he came out to the Spice Girls and proceeded to dispatch former NFL Pro Bowler Greg Hardy in just over a minute when he landed a brutal left hook to end the fight. He proceeded to take several of his patented shoey's in celebration of the victory, one from a fan who decided to grossly put some of Poirier's hot sauce into the concoction.
The Australian native is a proven knockout artist and rising fan favorite at this point, who seems to only be scratching the surface of his potential stardom. I think a rematch with fellow surging heavyweight contender Sergey Spivak makes all the sense in the world for Tuivasa next. Spivak won the pair's first meeting via a second-round submission due to an arm-triangle choke at UFC 243 in October 2019 and with both riding three-fight winning streaks currently, a rematch main event on a future fight night event seems fitting.
Sean O'Malley vs. Dominick Cruz
In a night full of memorable moments and impressive performances, none stood out more to me than Sean O'Malley's third-round TKO victory over Octagon newcomer Kris Moutinho. O'Malley battered Moutinho in one of the most impressive offensive striking displays I've personally ever witnessed, landing the second most significant strikes in a three-round fight in UFC history. While Moutinho showed legendary toughness and heart which he should be endlessly praised for, the display by O'Malley reiterated my belief that he is the most aesthetically pleasing striker to watch in MMA today and potentially the most talented.
The showcase of technical striking versatility, shot selection, accuracy, manipulation of footwork, range, power, and showmanship was reminiscent of a young Prince Naseem Hamed in mixed martial arts form. Watching O'Malley dribbling Moutinho's head repeatedly like a basketball, while simultaneously taunting him by pretending to dribble a basketball was some of the most awe-inspiring stuff I've witnessed as a spectator of this incredible sport.
I don't say that to diminish Moutinho's performance, his relentlessness in the face of a firestorm is something only a few have ever replicated, and hopefully, he shines after being given a full camp to capitalize on the stardom he's earned even in defeat. O'Malley was just that impressive to me despite Moutinho's toughness and should be given a top ten foe next. He called out a plethora of bantamweight contenders in his post-fight interview with Rogan, but none caught my attention more than former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
The matchup with Cruz seems to check so many boxes for O'Malley and the promotion. It's a true potential changing of the guard moment, a metaphorical young lion trying to take the throne of the old king of the jungle. Plus from an actual X's and O's perspective, outside of the upcoming Cory Sandhagen versus T.J Dillashaw matchup, there might not be a more fascinating and mind-bending striking battle at 135 pounds than Cruz taking on O'Malley.