UFC 264 set to produce the lightweight champion’s next challenger Charles Oliveira, as Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor complete their trilogy in the main event. But could there be a wrinkle in these shots?
Little doubt that Poirier will chase the title if he wins. He could have fought for gold already, but he chose the more lucrative option to face McGregor a third time. But what if McGregor wins? Will he challenge Oliveira, or could he choose to complete another trilogy with a blockbuster against Nate diaz? Even if he lost to Diaz at a higher weight, that theoretically might not affect his chances of fighting for the lightweight title in his next fight.
The heavyweight title image has become more interesting – unnecessarily? – last week, when UFC President Dana White announced the creation of an interim belt. It will be online for Derrick lewis and Ciryl Gane in the main event of UFC 265. Was that the right decision, considering Francois Ngannou just won the title on March 27?
The ESPN panel of Mike Coppinger, Carlos Contreras Legaspi, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim separates what’s real from what’s not for UFC 264 and beyond.
If McGregor wins, he will definitely fight for the title next
Raimondi: That’s just a question as he’s Conor McGregor – the greatest star in UFC history – and can essentially call his own shot. So if McGregor wanted to end his trilogy with Diaz next – whether he won or lost to Poirier – the UFC would likely back that up. You never know with McGregor. Perhaps he will want to box again, although it appears the match discussed with Manny Pacquiao is over now that McGregor’s portrayal, Paradigm Sports Management, is suing Pacquiao for breach of contract.
If McGregor loses to Poirier, the Diaz Trilogy could be the fight. But if McGregor wins, the most logical step is to challenge Charles Oliveira for the belt. McGregor was once a UFC lightweight and featherweight champion, but he’s surely motivated by the possibility of becoming the first fighter to win the UFC lightweight title more than once.
It seems he is seen more as a popular attraction than an elite fighter since losing in his boxing foray to Floyd Mayweather in 2017 and against Khabib Nurmagomedov the next year. McGregor would surely love to reclaim the title he once held, burn his name again in the UFC history books and prove a lot of people wrong. And that’s why it’s the next title or bust if he beats Poirier.
Win or lose, Poirier won’t regret skipping a title fight to complete the Conor trilogy
Legaspi: Definitely real. Minutes after knocking out McGregor at UFC 257, Poirier expressed his intention to close the trilogy with McGregor to fight for a vacant title. He even played matchmaker and mentioned that Michael chandler is expected to fight Charles Oliveira – which finally happened four months later. The 155 belt was not on his mind, and it was clear from the start.
Poirier embraced his short tenure as interim champion in 2019 and set that run with the moment he tied the score with the Irish superstar as the highlights of his long career. Now, for the first time in over 25 fights in the UFC, he had the edge over the fight for money and knew McGregor was going to push for third over any other pick.
Skipping the trilogy fight would have opened a different path for Conor, full of options like Nate Diaz, Justin gaethje and probably Jorge masvidal. All with a higher PPV sales potential than Poirier compared to any deserving lightweight competitor (and there is no guarantee that he would have won this fight, which would have been the ultimate disaster: no big purse, no title).
Poirier is convinced that he is the best fighter in the division and that he will fight for the belt again sooner or later, but opportunities like this only present themselves once, maybe twice in one. life.
Conor McGregor event in Las Vegas is bigger than anything boxing can offer right now
Copper: Real. McGregor is currently the biggest star in combat sports. Canelo Alvarez is second, with Manny Pacquiao and heavyweight champion Tyson Fury just behind them.
These three boxers are all major assets on the Strip, but none possess the star power of McGregor, a true cross-attraction that invades Vegas every time its fight week arrives.
Its events sell out instantly, regardless of the competition. A fight with a major outsider Cowboy Cerrone? Another mega-event.
And now, with Las Vegas emerging from the pandemic, who better than McGregor to be the first star to reach his full potential?
The fact that this is a trilogy fight with another popular fighter from Dustin Poirier makes the event even more monstrous.
And the stakes are high, as McGregor looks to bounce back from his KO loss to Poirier in January. With another loss, McGregor will remain a star, but when it comes to Vegas’ best fighter, Alvarez is on his heels and considering a September 18 fight with Caleb Plant in Vegas for all four belts.
UFC made the right choice by booking an interim heavyweight title fight
Okamoto: Not true. It was a puzzling UFC decision, and I think most of us caught it off guard.
Ngannou has come a long way to the UFC championship: he was essentially a No.1 contender for years, but was forced to wait for his shot due to timing and circumstances beyond his control. During that time, he’s never had a chance to fight for an interim title – but now, three months into his reign, the UFC is creating one for Lewis and Gane?
It seems difficult to justify. As to how it all turns out impacts him, it could be very minimal, really. Yes, there will be an interim champion in his division on August 7, but what does that mean? No one will consider Lewis or Gane more of a champion than Ngannou. This winner will essentially be a No.1 competitor.
There was of them interim champions crowned during Khabib Nurmagomedov’s reign as the UFC lightweight champion, but has anyone ever considered his title to be anything less than “undisputed”?
Frankly, I don’t mind seeing Lewis and Gane making more money for their fight on August 7th, which they will do now that is for an interim title. So ultimately, I think Ngannou will do very well. But if he feels the UFC disrespected him and what he accomplished by making that decision, it’s certainly valid – and it doesn’t look like the UFC had to.
Instead of interim titles, UFC should draw inspiration from BMF belt
Wagenheim: No one is going to complain about being able to watch Lewis and Gane punch each other. And yet, booking their August 7 fight created a windstorm of return from everyone from fans to the media, from promoters to managers. It’s all about that damn temporary belt.
The UFC clearly likes to dominate the marquee with a title fight, and if there isn’t a champion available on a given date, sometimes the promotion is just one. At least that’s what it seems to us on the outside. And the problem with this business plan is that it distorts reality. Everyone knows that Ngannou is the biggest heavyweight in the world, so why do we have to pretend someone else is a champion?
Instead, put the imagination to more creative use. Think like Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz, who both saw the value of injecting their 2019 fight with a bigger storyline than them. The winner, they decided, would be the BMF. Fans loved the idea and the UFC got on board by creating a belt. It was fun. It was lucrative.
Of course, there is only one BMF – and only a Jorge and a Nate, for that matter. But scattered throughout the UFC roster are fighters who are not (yet) at championship level but could be part of original “title” fights that could resonate. The most beautiful MF. Pound-for-pound to ground and pound. King of the leg kick. Gimmicky, I know, but this approach seems a lot more real than playing with the hierarchies of weight classes. And a gimmick title can build its own narrative – like Lewis and Gane battling for the belt of the third baddest man on the planet.