FOR ALL THE MARBLES: Is this make or break for Conor McGregor?

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With Conor McGregor having won only one of his last three fights in the Octagon, and only three of his last seven in combat sports, many believe it’s do-or-die for the Irishman in the upcoming trilogy bout with Dustin Poirier.

Image courtesy of BT Sport

The third fight is set to take place at UFC 264 on Saturday 10 July at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, just three months away. Both athletes have recently confirmed their participation via social media.

The Notorious took to Twitter to announce the news and make his game plan crystal clear: “adjust and absolutely f*cking destroy!”

In the first fight between the two men back in September 2014, Conor scored an impressive knockout just 1 minute and 46 seconds into the first round. In the rematch at UFC 257 in January 2021, Dustin returned the favour with a brutal TKO in the second round after a series of leg kicks completely broke McGregor’s base.

Image courtesy of ESPN MMA

With the score now set at one apiece, the trilogy bout will decide once and for all who the better mixed martial artist is, as well as their ranking and stature in the fluid lightweight division, where the winner will more than likely challenge for the title next against either Michael Chandler or Charles Oliveira.

But is there even more at stake than this for the man who calls himself Mystic Mac?

Whisper it softly, but there are rumblings in MMA circles that if Conor McGregor loses this next fight, he is ‘finished’ as a top contender and top draw in the UFC.

Conor McGregor’s recent record

After Conor’s incredible initial run in the UFC in which he blitzed his way through the featherweight division with seven straight wins, his more recent record in the company at lightweight and welterweight poses some questions.

  • McGregor vs. Diaz – Submission Loss (5 March 2016)
  • McGregor vs. Diaz – Decision Win (20 August 2016)
  • Alvarez vs. McGregor – KO/TKO Win (12 November 2016)
  • Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor – Submission Loss (6 October 2018)
  • McGregor vs. Cerrone – TKO Win (18 January 2020)
  • Poirier vs. McGregor – KO/TKO Loss (23 January 2021)

We also can’t forget his 10th round TKO loss to Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather on 26 August 2017 in his first and only professional boxing match, although the jury is still out on whether that appearance actually did more for his star power and appeal in combat sports, in terms of transcending MMA and being thrust into the mainstream.

Image courtesy of The New York Times

If Conor loses the trilogy bout with Poirier, he will have lost 5 of his previous 8 fights in combat sports, which doesn’t sit pretty with his self-proclaimed status as ‘the face of the fight game’.

We’ve seen it before with big-name fighters: results don’t go their way, their star starts to wane and their appeal weakens quickly. The fight business is a fickle game – just ask the likes of Anderson Silva, Ronda Rousey and Jose Aldo.

While Conor is still comfortably the pay-per-view king, the biggest draw in the UFC and the biggest star in MMA, there might be more riding on this fight than just the lightweight division’s crazy see-saw of current title contenders.

Can Conor make the necessary adjustments?

With legacy on the line, the former Champ Champ is not taking preparation lightly.

“My ufc debut I found out 9 weeks out. I took a week to get right from not training/partying, and then 8 weeks out I moved to my sisters apt which was close to the gym. I woke up, trained, walked back to apartment, ate my meals and rested, trained again, back to apt, sleep, repeat.

Double skills work. I also didn’t take rest days unless I absolutely had to. Not one. Not even a Sunday. I will take this approach again for my comeback fight. I didn’t become ufc champ champ with this method but I did become ufc 145 champion. Also the cage warrior champ champ.”

– Conor McGregor

His post-fight assessments are always interesting to read, especially since one can tell that they are authentic and genuine, coming from the man himself, and always full of martial arts insight and context:

With the leg-kick strategy employed by Dustin Poirier in the last fight, Conor knows he needs to adjust his approach and his stance. The mind-games and trash talk have already begun between the two.

One thing we do know is that McGregor does have the ability to analyse a loss, make the required adjustments and come back to put on a performance and get the W.

After his loss against Nate Diaz, his first in the UFC after moving up two weight divisions on short notice, he went away and completely changed his preparation, upgraded his fight camp, corrected his weight, nutrition, cardio, and obsessively corrected all aspects of his arsenal to successfully out-strike and outlast the Stockton boxer and triathlete over 5 championship rounds, in one of the greatest fights in UFC history.

The question is, can he do it again, and if he doesn’t, will it mean the beginning of the end, and a fade away into obscurity for mixed martial arts’ most enigmatic messiah?