Conor McGregor was sensationally defeated for the second time in two fights after breaking his leg at UFC 264 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
The Irishman, 32, was stopped after the first round against former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier.
Replays showed his ankle rolling over as he stepped backwards seconds before the end of the round and the fight was stopped by doctors, handing Poirier a second straight win in their trilogy.
“This is not over,” McGregor said.
“If I have to take it outside, let’s take it outside,” he added as he was interviewed while sitting on the canvas with his ankle strapped in a protective cast, before being taken out of the ring on a stretcher.
UFC president Dana White said after the fight McGregor had broken the lower tibia in his left shin.
McGregor had defeated Poirier via first-round TKO at UFC 178 in 2014, but the American, also 32, evened the score with a second-round TKO at UFC 257 in January.
It meant the rivalry was perfectly poised heading into their trilogy bout in Las Vegas, and it was Poirier who emerged victorious in unfortunate circumstances.
The action was fast and furious as McGregor switched his tactics from the second fight and opened up with a succession of kicks.
But Poirier kept his cool and, after fending off McGregor’s early attacks, pushed forward with a flurry of punches before eventually forcing the action against the cage.
McGregor attempted to surprise Poirier with a guillotine choke, but the American stayed calm and escaped before punishing McGregor with heavy punches and elbows from top position.
And, when the fight returned to the feet, both men attempted to throw huge shots, with McGregor rolling his ankle when stumbling backward. Poirier then poured on the pressure in search of a finish, but the Irishman was saved by the buzzer.
However, it quickly became apparent that McGregor had suffered a serious injury, with replays showing the Irishman’s leg breaking as he stepped backward.
The event was the first time the UFC had played to a full crowd in its home town since UFC 248 in March 2020, as a capacity crowd packed the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The level of anticipation was down in large part to an ill-tempered fight week that saw McGregor turn up the heat on Poirier in an attempt to get under the Louisiana man’s skin as the fight drew closer.
While the build-up to their second bout at UFC 257 was remarkably cordial, tensions were sky high before the trilogy bout, with McGregor issuing a chilling warning to his opponent ahead of fight night, declaring, “I’m gonna make this man pay with his life. And I mean it!” after the pair faced off at the ceremonial weigh-ins on Friday.
It meant the atmosphere inside the arena was electric by the time both men made their walk to the octagon.
And tensions were still high at the conclusion of the bout, with Poirier suggesting a checked leg kick caused the initial injury to McGregor and his stumble later in the round exacerbating the injury and forcing the stoppage.
“He fractured it in one of the checks at the beginning of the fight and he broke it on a punch, for sure. I felt something, he was kicking me hard,” he said.
“There’s no coming back from that,” the American added. “He was saying he was going to murder me, that I’d leave here in a coffin. You don’t talk like that about people. I hope he gets home safe to his beautiful family.”
McGregor angrily rejected that assessment as he vowed the rivalry between the pair was far from over.
‘McGregor can’t end his legacy on this’
Nick Peet, MMA journalist on BBC Radio 5 Live: “Conor McGregor can’t end his legacy on this, a freak injury. It won’t sit right with him.
“Let’s not get away from the fact we got one round of action, and that was categorically won by Dustin Poirier.
“You wanted a conclusive finish so the trilogy could end but now the trilogy hasn’t ended, in my opinion.
“We’ve got to see something else. To end it here doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t think Poirier-McGregor is done.”
Jack Shore, Welsh UFC bantamweight on BBC Radio 5 Live: “It was a really dominant first round from Dustin Poirier, it’s just a shame to see it end the way it did. The fact it ends in an injury does take something away.
“There’s definitely unfinished business. McGregor’s a fighter first. Despite everything else he’s got going on, he’ll always want to fight.
“He’s not going to want to go out like this, to let this be the end. He’s going to come back and there’s many options for him.”
What’s next for both men?
For Poirier, a lightweight title shot with undisputed 155-pound champion Charles Oliveira awaits, with the Brazilian in attendance in Las Vegas.
McGregor’s future looks less certain, however.
The nature of his injury means it may be some time before he is back to fighting fitness again. But, once he is ready to return, his star power means he will still have plenty of options in front of him.
The Irishman remains the UFC’s biggest box-office draw, but after four stoppage defeats from his past seven bouts – and only one win at lightweight in the UFC – it will need him to defeat a legitimate contender to position him for a potential shot at the lightweight belt.
However, McGregor could opt to pursue another trilogy fight with the first man to defeat him inside the octagon, Nate Diaz, while a bout against “BMF” champion Jorge Masvidal may also offer the type of stylistic match-up the Dubliner would likely relish.
Another option could be Rafael dos Anjos. The pair were due to face off for the lightweight title at UFC 196 before a broken foot sustained by the Brazilian forced the ex-lightweight champion off the card. Dos Anjos was drafted in as a back-up fighter for Saturday’s main event, and was involved in an angry altercation with McGregor earlier in the week.
Then there is the lure of a return to boxing. McGregor was preparing to face Manny Pacquiao before his defeat to Poirier in January derailed those plans, and that match-up could potentially be revisited once McGregor is back to full fitness.
There is also the option of taking on the man who has repeatedly called him out for a boxing match – YouTuber-turned-prizefighter Jake Paul – while a rematch with Floyd Mayweather is something both men have spoken openly about.
However, given the events of Saturday night in Las Vegas, the fight McGregor is most likely to pursue upon his return is a fourth bout with Poirier.
The best of the rest
In the night’s co-main event, former welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns kept himself in the title picture with a unanimous decision victory over fellow former title challenger Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson.
Burns mixed up his grappling with his striking to keep Thompson on the back foot as he earned scores of 29-28 on all three scorecards before calling for bouts against Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal and Leon Edwards.
Also on the main card, Australian heavyweight Tai Tuivasa made a huge impression on the Las Vegas crowd as he danced to the octagon to the Spice Girls’ Wannabe, then knocked out Greg Hardy in stunning fashion before celebrating with a succession of ‘shoeys’ – drinking beer from a shoe – in front of the fans.
The main card kicked off with a stellar display from rising bantamweight contender Sean O’Malley, who finished gritty short-notice debutant Kris Moutinho with 27 seconds remaining.
And there was also a big knockout on the preliminary card, as South Africa’s former KSW champion Dricus du Plessis finished American Trevin Giles with a straight right in the second round of their middleweight bout.
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