It makes sense that Dustin Poirier – as one of the lightweight division’s best talents – would be keeping watch on UFC 229. The headline bout, a title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, has major implications for the weight class. Especially for those few fighters that are in spitting distance of their own chance at the belt.
For Poirier, more even than Tony Ferguson or Kevin Lee, the outcome of the fight may have a very direct impact on his future. Even if it was four years ago and down a division, he’s already lost to McGregor. An elusive superstar known more for his willingness to search out new challenges than to sit and defend a belt, a win for the ‘Notorious’ may mean that the American Top Team talent’s hope of being next in line would be significantly diminished.
Maybe that math is playing into the ‘Diamond’’s prediction of the October 6th Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor fight, where he admitted in a recent interview on the MMA Hour that he sees Khabib taking home the win (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“I’m kinda leaning toward Khabib,” Poirier said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I just don’t know if he’s going to stop Conor or whatnot, but I’m thinking he’s going to get the victory.”
Nurmagomedov is coming off a one-sided, if slightly puzzling, victory over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223, back in April. The ‘Eagle,’ after leaning on his wrestling early, spent the latter half of the fight jabbing his way to victory – a stylistic choice that asked as many questions as it answered. McGregor’s recent fight time is a bit more thinly spread. The former two division UFC champion was last seen in competition back in August of last year, when he was TKO’d in his boxing debut, by Floyd Mayweather Jr. His last fight in the Octagon came almost two years ago, when he defeated Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight title – of which he would later be stripped.
But that inactivity doesn’t mean Poirier is counting the Irishman out. He gave McGregor a strong shot at scoring the upset.
“I mean, he has a huge chance,” Poirier said. “He’s got great timing, great judge of distance. We’ll just see if the takedown defense holds up and the cardio holds up. That’s all he has to do. The openings will be there, but he just has to stand the test of the wrestling and the conditioning, the physical part that Khabib’s going to put on early in the fight.”
Poirier, meanwhile, is scheduled to fight former lightweight title contender Nate Diaz on UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden, in November. That bout will mark the first return to action for the younger Diaz brother since losing his rematch with McGregor back in 2016. If both Nurmagomedov and Poirier win, that could be Poirier’s ticket to no. 1 contender status. If not, all bets are off.