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Date With Destiny Beckons For McGregor

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Conor McGregor had his 2021 all mapped out. It was to begin with a spectacular highlight reel stoppage of Dustin Poirier, before taking maybe another top five challenger. Then the path would be cleared to, possibly, tempt lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov out of retirement for a blockbuster rematch.

But unless you were living under a rock, you'd know this plan was shattered to pieces when the UFC returned to Fight Island in January. Dustin Poirier shook up the world when he hobbled, wobbled and knocked out The Notorious. To make matters worse, Khabib would double down on his retirement decision a couple of months later.

Instead all roads lead to International Fight Week in July, where McGregor will get his chance at redemption with his UFC career delicately hanging in the balance. A loss here is as good as the end of the road for the Irishman, a win will be a giant step forward back towards the lightweight title and once again scaling the heights of the sport. 

It's an occasion that will determine the timeline and extent of The Notorious' legacy. Will he be remembered only for the magical first UFC run? Did the Mayweather super fight mark the end of his prime? Did the riches from that spectacle wash away his hunger?

Image: Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC

Conor McGregor captured the world when he ripped through the featherweight division like a hot knife through butter, going on to ice then pound-for-pound king Jose Aldo in an astonishing 13 seconds. Graceful in defeat after being stunned by Nate Diaz, he would go on to write the wrongs of that fight in an epic rematch, and then flew the flag for the UFC in their New York City debut, making history of his own with a performance for the ages as he demolished Eddie Alvarez. At that point, he really had transcended the sport, doing so figuratively less than a year later when he signed to fight the best boxer of this generation, Floyd Mayweather. 

The showdown with Money May skyrocketed his net worth and superstardom but in the process may have eroded the qualities that got him to that point in the first place. He walked into the T-Mobile Arena 14 months later like it was his house and got mauled by Khabib Nurmagomedov for four rounds before tapping out to a choke. Either side of that, McGregor was embroiled in legal trouble as public opinion began to turn, but in January 2020 The Notorious appeared refreshed and would blast through Donald Cerrone to set up for a stellar year.

However, just like the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic would leave his plans in limbo, and he would end up spending another year on the shelf. When he did rock up to Fight Island on a super yacht, who knew what was going through his mind. Perhaps it was a businessman rocking up for work and to collect another cheque, or a caged animal ready to don the gloves and make a statement of intent. Either way, he was stopped by strikes for the first time in his MMA career, and now the doubters are back in full force. For a man who had the entire industry on the backfoot, Conor McGregor know finds himself with his back against the wall.

Image: Getty Images

Dustin Poirier made excellent adjustments after being caught cold in the first fight, employing calf kicks to hinder Conor's movement, and eventually knocking him out with shots on the ground. The sting of defeat at UFC 178 that The Diamond endured will now be felt on the other side, and the onus is on McGregor to fix what went wrong.

How Conor McGregor responds to calf kicks will be key to the fight. It will be all about stripping things back to basics and reawakening the supernova that was the fighter in his first UFC run. McGregor came forward with a traditional boxing stance in Abu Dhabi, putting weight on his front leg and trying to wipe out Poirier with pull counters. But he was also troubled by the right hook that was timed excellently. 

What made McGregor's left hand so devastating on previous occasions was the digging kicks to the body that not only took the wind out of his opponent's sails, but also primed them for the left hand as they had more weapons to worry about and react to. A patient, old-school stance McGregor is the critical to win this fight, but let's not just assume that Dustin isn't going to evolve either. He has plenty to improve upon after being hit clean several times during the rematch, any one of which could have badly hurt him.

Avenging defeat to an opponent he has beat so soundly before will put McGregor back on track, but he must not get carried away. He will have to accept the reality that Poirier may not be put away - this could just be a five round war of attrition. 

This moment in McGregor's career is on a similar level to two previous, must-win fights that would have shifted the course of his life: Chad Mendes at UFC 189, and Nate Diaz at UFC 202. On both occasions McGregor went through tough times and came out victorious, on both occasions doubters were made to eat their words, and on both occasions he went on to something bigger and better. We all know better than to follow patterns though, right?

McGregor more than anyone will know the importance of this fight. Should he lose again, then we could be looking at one last rodeo before he takes his super yacht and rides into the sunset. He had a career to remember before he stepped in there with Floyd, but even after, there was so much more that could have been achieved. July 10 will be his date with destiny to see if this magical story has a few more chapters left.

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SportingMatrix • We Live For Sport: Date With Destiny Beckons For McGregor
Date With Destiny Beckons For McGregor
McGregor more than anyone will know the importance of this fight. Should he lose again, then we could be looking at one last rodeo before he takes his
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SportingMatrix • We Live For Sport
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