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MMA

Conor McGregor Can’t Back This Up Anymore

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 10: Conor McGregor of Ireland is carried out of the arena on a stretcher after injuring his ankle in the first round of his lightweight bout against Dustin Poirier during UFC 264: Poirier v McGregor 3 at T-Mobile Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

For years, the Conor McGregor process—the process that made him into the modern UFC’s biggest star—was defined by outrageous pre- and post-fight shit-talking that was backed up in the cage with comparably outrageous performances. Anyone can crank the racism dial up to 10 and grab Jose Aldo’s championship belt; sleeping the featherweight GOAT in 13 seconds was something only McGregor could do. A fighter can’t ascend to MMA stardom without mastery of both pro-wrestling braggadocio and actual athletic talent, neither of which McGregor has a handle on any longer.

The Irishman lost to Dustin Poirier this past Saturday night in Vegas, stepping backward and liquefying the lower section of his left leg in the final seconds of the first round (a first round that two judges gave to Poirier, 10-8). McGregor has now won just one fight since 2016, a tailor-made January 2020 matchup against a mega-washed Donald Cerrone. Aside from maybe two minutes in the first Poirier fight and exactly one punch against Khabib Nurmagomedov, McGregor hasn’t done anything in his last three defeats. The physicality gap between him and his lightweight foes has been undeniable. McGregor’s UFC run went through featherweights, whom he could tower over and bully, though he hasn’t made the 145-pound limit since 2015 and there’s little reason to think he’ll ever go back to the division. Lately he hasn’t seemed all that interested in fighting, anyway.

Even though McGregor’s ass was in the process of getting beat on Saturday, the freak injury gave him a window through which he could push a narrative: that the loss, officially a TKO by injury, was illegitimate and merited a real rematch. UFC frontman Dana White said McGregor could earn a rematch if he won his way back into it against other UFC lightweights.

If the action inside the octagon was gross, what followed was even grosser. Joe Rogan sat down on the mat to conduct an interview with Poirier’s opponent as he wore an air cast and leaned against the fence. McGregor used his brief airtime to claim he was just about to win the fight (yeah, sure), but he mostly took shots at Poirier’s wife, whom McGregor had already spent time insulting before the fight.

This isn’t the first time McGregor has launched nasty attacks at an opponent’s wife, but it’s predictable that he’d keep getting more and more personal and outrageous as his fighting skills falter. That might be his only remaining avenue to lucrative, prominent fights. He continually threatened Poirier’s life before the fight, which Poirier said crossed the line.

“Like there’s no holds barred with the trash talk, right? But murder is something you don’t clown around [about] and you know, there’s no coming back from that,” Poirier said to Rogan after his win, while a prone McGregor continued to yell at him. “And this guy was saying he was gonna murder me and all kinds of stuff. He was telling me he was gonna kill me tomorrow, [how] I’m gonna leave here in a coffin. You don’t talk like that to people, man. I hope this guy gets home safe to his beautiful family.”

McGregor’s carnival act isn’t novel, but it’s developed a sweaty urgency. In the pre-fight presser he tried to make headlines by jabbing Poirier with replacement-level barbs for an hour. When none of those had any effect, McGregor tried to kick him. White called for McGregor to tone it down, as if he were more concerned with that than moving pay-per-view units. There are diminishing returns to this shit. McGregor has to get more and more loathsome to keep shocking people, but when he can’t even put up a fight, they have little incentive to take him seriously.