Poirier, meanwhile, says he wants both fighters to be dripping with blood by the end of the first minute.
How does McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh see the main event in Abu Dhabi playing out?
“I like Dustin’s prediction,” he tells The Independent. “He said he wants both of them to be bloodied and battered and hurt after one minute…
“I will say he’s half-right.”
Such is Kavanagh’s confidence in his fighter’s abilities that McGregor’s training camps differ very little from one to the next, regardless of the opponent. “The fact that it’s Dustin is somewhat inconsequential,” the 43-year-old suggests.
When McGregor and the American last squared off, at featherweight in September 2014, ‘Notorious’ dismantled Poirier in just over 90 seconds. That victory, which aligned with McGregor’s prediction of a first-round knockout, came during a period in which the Irishman was in a scarily single-minded pursuit of Jose Aldo’s title at 145lbs.
McGregor has always seemed to be at his most prolific and clinical when eyeing a specific feat, whether that be collecting Aldo’s featherweight championship in 2015 or Eddie Alvarez’s lightweight belt in 2016, but there was a grander goal motivating McGregor as he prepared for Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in his last bout 12 months ago.
“He was trying to be the best version of himself, and that’s when he’s at his most dangerous – when he’s really in tune with that vision,” Kavanagh says. “Belts come and go, but he’s at his most dangerous, efficient and clinical when he’s aiming to be the best version of Conor McGregor he can be – whether or not there’s a belt on the line or some storyline towards some other opponent.”
Despite McGregor’s inactivity over the last year, that particular motivation has lost no momentum. “He’s on that now at a completely different level to what I’ve ever seen,” Kavanagh says about his compatriot’s preparation for Poirier.
“Even we were surprised with just how one-sided [the Cerrone] fight was. The challenge this time is to make sure this Conor McGregor would beat that Conor McGregor, that if he was facing himself from one year ago it would be one-sided. I feel that goal has been achieved. I actually feel that some of the new skills we saw in the ‘Cowboy’ fight that were more lethal… maybe there’s more new shots for this fight that we’re gonna see,” Kavanagh says with a smirk. “New weapons coming out.”
The 40-second destruction of Cerrone was of course rewarding for McGregor’s coach, yet Kavanagh admits he would also happily watch Poirier offer more resistance on ‘Fight Island’ on 23 January than ‘Cowboy’ did in Las Vegas last year.
“I suppose I wear two hats,” he says. “From a fan point of view, the more seconds and minutes I get to see of Conor I just enjoy. The Alvarez fight looked like it was gonna be over in a minute or a minute-and-a-half, and you’re almost regretting it. You almost wanna shout one or two bits of advice to Eddie just to see a couple more sequences.
“I would love to see a couple of rounds [against Poirier], so that I can see some of the sequences we’ve been doing – some of the stances, new techniques, clinch work, some stuff on the ground. I hope Dustin is the one to bring that out of him, but it could be an Aldo, it could be a ‘Cowboy’; it could be over in seconds.”
After McGregor (22-4) and Poirier (26-6) last fought one another, the former went on to become the UFC’s first ever dual-weight champion before vacating each strap, while the latter captured the interim lightweight title in April 2019. In his attempt to unify the division’s belt against Khabib Nurmagomedov in September 2019, Poirier suffered the same fate as McGregor had against the Russian 11 months prior: a submission defeat.
“I don’t see a major change stylistically to what he does [since the first fight against McGregor],” Kavanagh says of Poirier. “He’s a kind of come-forward fighter, a hell of a lot of pressure, boxing-orientated with a little bit of kicking, a couple of takedown attempts on Justin [Gaethje]. But besides that there’s nothing hugely different than the guy Conor fought all those years ago. I think fundamentally he’s a similar style fighter with the same tendencies he had all the way back then, he’s just better in each area equally.
“He’s gone up a weight, he can take a few more shots maybe, but he hasn’t been hit by Conor [at lightweight]. Let’s be honest here: There’s being hit, and then there’s being hit by Conor.”
McGregor, 32, has insisted he is not looking past Poirier, 31, but rather through his old rival. On that note, Kavanagh says: “Who is next matters a lot less than that Conor is just rebooked soon.
“We were twisting the UFC’s arm all through 2020 and we got close on a few cards, then it just didn’t happen for one reason or another. So if I have one New Year’s wish, it’s that they can get us back in there as soon as possible.”
Fans will indeed hope McGregor’s meeting with Poirier is no false start to an active year for the Irishman, as the dominant victory over Cerrone was.
Kavanagh puts it simply: “Get him busy, get him busy, get him busy.”
BT Sport Box Office will show UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 exclusively live from 3am GMT on Saturday 23 January. UFC 257 can be watched on BT TV, Virgin TV, Sky, online via the web or the BT Sport Box Office App and is available to buy at www.bt.com/sportboxoffice