MMA

UFC 257 takeaways: Poirier rises to the moment; Chandler makes a statement

Al Iaquinta was wrong after all.

In October, before the Dustin Poirier-Conor McGregor rematch was officially finalized, Iaquinta told me he thought Poirier had already lost the fight.

“What is that guy doing?” Iaquinta said. “What is he, Conor’s fan? It’s so cringy. Conor’s like, ‘I’ll fly you over, and I’ll donate my money to your charity.’ I’d be like, ‘Bro, I’ll fly my f—ing self over and when I beat the f— out of you, I’ll donate my own money. What is this? Kumbaya? Like what the hell. Are you kidding? He’s lost the fight already.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind Dustin’s losing that fight. He’s already [conceded] in everything. He’s like, ‘Thank you for the fight. We’ll fight in Ireland or wherever, and thank you, we’ll fight for charity, it’ll be great.’ It’s like, dude, get out of here. This is a fight. What? Are you freakin’ kidding me? You’re gonna thank the guy? You think Conor is really gonna — this is for him, this is not for you, Dustin. Relax, bro.”

When he said that, some said it was harsh.

I’ll admit, I, too, thought Poirier was falling for McGregor’s mind games. I thought McGregor was disarming him and luring him into a false sense of security.

In the end, though, Poirier was right where he needed to be. Both mentally and physically.

Poirier has made a living off the motto “25 minutes to make the world right again.” Saturday night, after a career filled with ups and downs, he needed less than 10. Poirier told me in June that the McGregor loss in 2014 changed his career for the better. It was impossible to know that for sure until they fought again. Now we know. He’s one of the best fighters on the planet.

Where does he go from here? A fight against Michael Chandler for the interim title would make a ton of sense, right? If not, how about Charles Oliveira? Either way, the man deserves a big fight next. That’s obvious. If Khabib Nurmagomedov is really done, Poirier should absolutely fight for the undisputed title next.

What’s not so obvious is what this all means for McGregor. The loss is a massive one. There’s no doubt about that. He had big plans for 2021, in and out of the Octagon. Does this result ruin those plans? To a degree, yes.

Does it dim McGregor’s star momentarily. Yes. Absolutely.

But he said afterwards inactivity hurt him and he wants to rectify that this year. That’s good news for the UFC. He’s still a big draw. Losses don’t mean as much in MMA as they do in boxing. Speaking of which, I’d say it all but kills — at least for now — his Manny Pacquiao dreams. That’s not a big deal. He should focus on MMA.

But McGregor has been here before. He was supposedly done after the Nathan Diaz loss in 2016.

Of course, we all know, he bounced back then and became even more popular. Five years later, he’ll have to do it again.

Hmm. Diaz, eh? This would seem like the perfect time for the trilogy, right?

— Ariel Helwani

Welcome to the UFC, Michael Chandler

If Khabib Nurmagomedov needed to see something impressive to consider a return, Michael Chandler more than provided it. In the former Bellator champion’s maiden Octagon voyage, Chandler flattened the famously durable Dan Hooker with a two-punch combination, then finished a fallen Hooker with incessant punches for a first-round TKO. In 150 seconds, and with one backflip off the cage, the lightweight division found yet another title contender.

Nine years after winning his first major world title and being projected into the UFC rankings by fans and media alike since, Chandler showed remarkable patience in this long-awaited debut. He chased down the ever-circling Hooker, coping well with an onslaught of calf kicks before timing a “2-3” combination — straight right, left hook — that spelled the beginning of the end for Hooker.

Absent clarity on the status of Nurmagomedov atop the division and — with it — any certain consequence of either featured lightweight bout at UFC 257, Chandler’s most important skill may have been his ability to cut a versatile promo. Taking a page from the book of Ric Flair, in order, Chandler called out Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Nurmagomedov. It gives the UFC material for a booking either opposite the odd-man out of the Nurmagomedov sweepstakes or in a title fight himself for a vacated belt.

Chandler’s debut could not conceivably have gone better, for him or the promotion.

— Phil Murphy

Jojo Calderwood should get a title shot

If you want to argue with me on this one, that’s fine, but hear me out. Calderwood defeating Jessica Eye via unanimous decision, after coming off a loss in her last performance, doesn’t exactly scream title shot, but there’s more to the story than that.

Calderwood was scheduled to fight Valentina Shevchenko last year, but missed out on the opportunity when Shevchenko was injured and needed to push back the date of their fight. Rather than wait for the shot, Calderwood took a dangerous fight against submission artist Jennifer Maia and lost in the first round.

Shortly after the fight, Calderwood fainted in the back and required medical attention for a low heart rate, and later revealed she’d been sick the week of the fight. That’s not to take anything away from Maia, but Calderwood risked a guaranteed title shot to take a fight, fought sick and lost — and then came back at UFC 257 and recorded a dominant performance against a former title challenger.

If she wants to wait for a shot this time around, I wouldn’t begrudge her. Shevchenko needs to fight Jessica Andrade first, and if Calderwood comes after that, I’ve got no problem with it.

— Brett Okamoto

Peña won’t get a title shot next, but isn’t far off

Some might have rolled their eyes when they heard Julianna Pena say in her postfight interview that UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes has been ducking her. But Peña’s tactic was ultimately successful, because it raised Nunes’ ire enough to respond to her via Twitter. Peña’s comeback submission win over Sara McMann was very impressive, but it might have gotten lost in the shuffle without that little exchange with the champ. Those postfight interviews are a fighter’s forum to drum up interest in his or her next fight. In that way, Peña was successful.

No, Peña won’t get the next title shot. She lost to Germaine de Randamie in her last fight, and even though de Randamie has already lost to Nunes, the division is thin. Aspen Ladd and Pannie Kianzad have some momentum, too. But these are not huge hurdles for Peña. She’s much closer to a title shot than many people think. Nunes is the UFC women’s featherweight champion, as well, and will defend that in March against Megan Anderson. There’s a chance that by the time Nunes returns back to bantamweight, Peña will have shored up a good enough streak to earn the right to face her. If so, it all would have started with this postfight interview that some people put down.

— Marc Raimondi

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