“It’s hard to overcome inactivity over a long period of time,” McGregor said after only his third MMA fight since 2016. “I just wasn’t as comfortable as I needed to be, you know what I mean? It’s inactivity, and that’s it.”
Poirier landed a left hand that sent McGregor reeling against the cage midway through the second round and followed with shots that floored McGregor, with the TKO arriving at 2:32.
“I need activity, guys, come on,” said McGregor, who last week told ESPN that he would like to fight seven times in the next 18 months. “You know, you don’t get away with being inactive in this business, and that’s the way it is. So I’ll take my licks.”
Those licks were painful, and the Irish fighter went on to add, “Me leg is completely dead.”
It wasn’t the anticipated result for many, including UFC President Dana White. The upset probably dims the possibility of Khabib Nurmagomedov being lured out of retirement for a blockbuster rematch with McGregor.
As for what happens next, White told reporters he believes Poirier (27-6) will fight Michael Chandler for the lightweight title after a recent conversation with Nurmagomedov (29-0), who holds the title but said in October that he was walking away from competition. “He said to me: ‘Dana, be honest with yourself. I’m so many levels above these guys. I beat these guys,’ ” White said of Nurmagomedov. “I don’t know. But it doesn’t sound very positive. We’ll see.”
White added that he planned to speak to Nurmagomedov again but didn’t plan to press him to return.
Poirier, 32, ranked second in the lightweight division, wasn’t thrilled with the idea of facing Chandler, who impressed in his UFC debut Sunday morning. Chandler (22-5 overall), a three-time Bellator champion, knocked out Dan Hooker in the first round of the co-main event.
“I can guarantee I’m not fighting Michael Chandler,” Poirier said. “They can do whatever they want with the division. It’s not a knock against him. It’s just my feeling toward the division and the sport.”
Poirier, who avenged a loss to McGregor in 2014, wants a title shot. “I feel like I’ve done it all except I can’t walk away and say I’m the champ,” he said. “I want to be the champ. When you’re the champ, you can say you’re the champ forever.”
Nurmagomedov couldn’t resist a jab at McGregor after his loss. “This is what happened, when you change your team, leave the sparring partners who made you a champion and sparring with little kids, far away from reality,” he tweeted.
That drew a response from McGregor (22-5), who told reporters: “My team has been the team since Day 1. I have not changed anything. It is what it is. Respect the athletes. That’s the character of the man, for sure, behind the mask. Whatever; what’s he want to do? Does he want to come back or no? If he wants to have his disrespectful comments, come back and let’s go again, my man. I’m here for it. That’s fighting talk.”
Nurmagomedov did not seem inclined to take the bait, offering a more congenial message to White on Instagram. “You can like him or hate, but you have to Respect him. This guy build this sport @ufc. Thank you for everything @danawhite. I have so much respect for you.”
Whatever the future brings, McGregor, 32, will have a place in it. He expressed his wish for a third fight with Poirier and said he would “adopt a different approach” for it. “Those leg kicks are not to be messed with,” he said. “The calf kick, the low calf kick, I hadn’t experienced that.”
Later Sunday, McGregor tweeted: “Was not my night/morning in there but a great contest to improve on. I’m excited at the blockbuster trilogy I now have on my hands. Dustin is a hell of a competitor and I look forward to going again.”
“I think it will make him hungrier,” he said. “There’s two ways this goes: hungrier or ‘I’m done.’ ”