But Poirier, who now has a UFC record of 27-6, used low calf kicks in an effort to put McGregor (22-5) off his usual ferocious stand-up game – and it worked.
American underdog Dustin Poirier has shaken up the world of mixed martial arts by beating up the legs of Irish superstar Conor McGregor before knocking him out at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m happy but I’m not surprised. I put in the work,” Poirier on Sunday after the referee stepped in after two minutes and 32 seconds of the second round to save McGregor from further damage after he was dropped by a fierce combination of punches.
Poirier, 32, was ranked second in the lightweight division going into the fight, but still rated a heavy underdog by bookmakers to beat his fourth-ranked opponent, arguably the most famous fighter the sport has seen.
The controversial McGregor, known as “Notorious”, was returning to the octagon for the first time in a year and hoping for a repeat of the pair’s first contest in 2014, which he won by TKO after just 109 seconds.
“First off I want to say Conor took this result professionally. We’re 1-1 and maybe we’re going to have to do it again,” said Poirier, hinting at the prospect of a trilogy fight.
“I’m happy with the place I am in. I’m happy with the face I see in the mirror. The goal was to be technical and to pick my shots, not brawl at all. I had him hurt and I went a little crazy.”
Worked the legs
McGregor likes to call himself “Mystic Mac” and had spent the week leading into the fight predicting he would end it inside 60 seconds.
But he met a different Poirier to the one who had looked overmatched when the pair previously met at UFC 178 at the lighter featherweight.
Poirier worked the legs and took McGregor down into a grapple for much of the first round – avoiding a boxing face-off against a man who once shared the ring with Floyd Mayweather and had touted a future fight against Manny Pacquiao.
Poirier then found his range in the second, weakening McGregor’s base with more calf kicks before exploding for the shock finish.
He staggered McGregor with a big overhand left and then dropped him to the canvas with a straight right flush on the Irishman’s nose before referee Herb Dean waved it off.
“You know, it’s hard to overcome inactivity over long periods of time,” said McGregor, who had not fought since beating Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds last January.
“The low calf kick was very good but Dustin is some fighter,” said McGregor.
“I’ll dust it off and come back because that’s what I’ll do. I’ll take my licks. I’m gutted, it’s a tough one to swallow. I just want to go back to the hotel and chill with my kids and regroup.”
The second-ranked Poirier is now in prime position to either inherit or fight for the UFC’s lightweight belt, most recently held by the now-retired unbeaten Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I felt like this was the title fight. If Khabib’s not coming back then I’m the champion,” said Poirier.
UFC President Dana White had made no secret of the fact that he would like to see Nurmagomedov, who retired undefeated after beating Justin Gaethje last October, come back for a lucrative rematch with McGregor.
White was in immediate contact with Nurmagomedov to see if he had seen anything that would entice him back into the octagon, but he said the undefeated Dagestani was apparently sticking by his decision to retire, for the time being at least.
“He said ‘Dana, be honest with yourself. I’m so many levels above these guys. I beat these guys’,” White told a media conference as he watched what would undoubtedly have been a very lucrative pay-per-view event slip away.
Saturday’s fight was held inside the new Etihad Arena on the “Fight Island” bio-secure sporting hub of Yas Island, which Abu Dhabi’s government established last July.
The three UFC events staged over the past week have been the first to allow fans to sit cage-side, with about 2,000 in attendance for the main event.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is an American mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company based in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is owned and operated by Endeavor Group Holdings along with Silver Lake Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and MSD Capital via Zuffa, LLC.