Conor’s back, but for how long?

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The more things change the more they stay the same. That’s the subtitle the UFC didn’t go with for this main event rematch between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 Saturday in Abu Dhabi.

It was just over six years ago at UFC 178 where McGregor knocked out Poirier in Las Vegas to really cement himself as a force to be reckoned with in the UFC. A lot has changed since that fight and yet here we are for a second go-round and the same question from the first fight shrouds the rematch when it comes to handicapping it.

Can McGregor land the kill shot before he gasses out?

To be fair, it’s the same story for virtually every McGregor fight, with the exception being the Nurmagomedov fight where the question was, Can Conor stay on his feet long enough to land a KO shot?

We know who Conor is at this point and there’s very little surprises. Sure, this fight is at a different weight and Conor has only had 40 seconds of cage time in the last 2+ years, but it all still boils down to the same thing of Conor landing a big power shot before his cardio reveals the fighter proper.

Conor knows this. Dustin knows this. The coaches know it. The old guy at the bar knows it and, most relevantly, the bookmakers and bettors know it.

So, what’s the answer to this obtrusively obvious question? For me, it’s a pretty definitive “Yes.” McGregor is -185 to win by KO at Circa Sports and he is listed as a 3-1 favorite to win by decision. The takeback on Poirier is +260 to win by decision and +600 to win by KO. The over/under on rounds is 2.5 with the under favored at -185.

For all the arguments you can make in Poirier’s favor, such as this fight being at lightweight (155 pounds) as opposed to featherweight (145) like the first one, it still comes down to Poirier’s ability to avoid damage.

Just looking at the last fight for Poirier, a fight of the year candidate against Dan Hooker last June, you can see that there are a ton of openings left by Poirier and particularly early one. Poirier lost the first two rounds of that fight and took a substantial battering in the first 10 minutes (really all throughout) where he relied on his unquestioned toughness to absorb the punishment while he figured out the Hooker puzzle.

The power presented by Hooker and the power presented by McGregor are two entirely different things and Poirier won’t be able to absorb as many of those same punches in the early goings like he was able to in June. Yes, at 155, Poirier has been able to survive some stiff strikes due to the less strenuous weight cut, but he’s still had his lights turned off at lightweight by Michael Johnson which came in the first round.

The argument for McGregor’s power not translating going up in weight is valid as knockout of Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo came significantly quicker at featherweight than the work needed to beat Eddie Alvarez by TKO at lightweight or Nate Diaz (a true lightweight) at 170 pounds.

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The issue is the amount of damage Conor can do early on as demonstrated by his breaking of Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 where he blitzed another notoriously slow starter with psychology issues for a quick TKO win.

It’s pretty much the same formula here for McGregor and Poirier has acknowledged that he wants to drag the brash Irishman into deep waters through a “blood and guts” fight. That doesn’t bode well for those thinking Poirier will show some strategy to wear down McGregor early on and then finish him off late.

If Poirier tries to wage a war with McGregor in the pocket in an effort to get him to fade, rest assured there will be openings for McGregor to exploit that I don’t believe Poirier will be able to withstand. Playing right into McGregor’s strength and relying on your toughness is not the smartest or most efficient strategy for Poirier to employ and that’s what his game plan appears to be heading in to this rematch.

Add all it up and recognize that Conor’s only real way to win is via an early knockout and the bet is pretty simple on this one. MCGREGOR BY KO

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