2021 might only be a couple of weeks old, but we may well have already seen the most earth-shattering UFC event of the year. UFC 257 was always billed as a big show, thanks to the return of Conor McGregor. However, nobody could’ve seen quite how shocking it would turn out to be.
McGregor got sparked out by Dustin Poirier in the main event – the first time he’d been knocked out in his UFC career – and with plenty of fun fights up and down the card, this was a hugely memorable event overall.
Here are the best and worst moments from UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor II.
#1 Best: Dustin Poirier picks up a much-deserved career-best UFC win
Dustin Poirier has already held UFC gold, as he won the Interim UFC Lightweight title back in 2019 with a win over Max Holloway. However, the fact that he then lost his unification bout – badly – to Khabib Nurmagomedov meant that he’s never felt like the top guy in the UFC Lightweight division.
That all feels different this morning.
Khabib is now retired and doesn’t seem to be coming back. And last night – in what was almost a de facto fight for the vacant UFC Lightweight title – Poirier picked up easily the biggest win of his UFC career when he sparked out former champ Conor McGregor in the second round of their rematch.
And this wasn’t a one-punch knockout, either. Poirier took McGregor’s heaviest shots in the first round and took them well. Then he beat up the Irishman’s leg, and when it was clear that he was hurting, he went for the kill.
Many fans – myself included – figured Poirier’s pressure-boxing game wouldn’t work against McGregor. That idea was put to bed as ‘The Diamond’ unloaded on the Irishman with some huge punches, finally sealing the deal with a vicious combination.
To compare Poirier to the overawed fighter who was knocked out by McGregor in 2014 was like night and day. With Khabib now gone, it’s hard to dispute that Poirier is probably the best Lightweight in UFC right now. And one more fight – for the vacant title – should prove it.
#1 Worst: The McGregor era in UFC may be over
Coming into UFC 257, Conor McGregor was saying all the right things. His old bluster was heavily calmed down, he didn’t insult Dustin Poirier as he once would’ve, and he generally looked focused. When he made 155lbs with ease, it felt like ‘The Notorious One’ was taking this very seriously indeed.
In the Octagon, though, it didn’t quite play out like that. McGregor didn’t look terrible per se, but he also didn’t look like the fighter who’d terrorized UFC half a decade ago.
The Irishman hit Poirier with plenty of good shots, but unlike in their first fight, Poirier took them excellently. And by the second round – when Poirier began to unleash his leg kicks – it became clear that McGregor was in trouble.
When he was eventually knocked out midway through the second round, it came as no surprise really.
So is the McGregor era in UFC now over? The likely answer is yes.
Based on the little we’ve seen of him in recent years, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll get back to the top of the UFC Lightweight division. His best bet would probably be to take one more fight, perhaps the ludicrous boxing match with Jake Paul, and then hang it up.
The unfortunate truth is that while he’s still the biggest star in UFC history, ‘The Notorious One’ chose to sacrifice potential sporting greatness to chase the almighty dollar when he focused on his fight with Floyd Mayweather in 2017.
It’d be hard to call that move a mistake given the money he made, but he could’ve been remembered as an all-time great in UFC. And after last night, it’s hard to imagine that now being the case.
#2 Best: Chandler makes good on his UFC debut
Champions entering UFC from rival organizations like Bellator MMA have had mixed results over the years. The last Bellator Lightweight champion to enter the Octagon, for instance – Will Brooks – was thoroughly embarrassed. So it was hard to guess quite what would happen to Michael Chandler in his UFC debut against Dan Hooker.
Incredibly, despite fears that his athletic prime was over, Chandler put on one of the best UFC debuts in years. He never really allowed Hooker to get out of first gear, and midway through the first round, he absolutely waylaid him with a left hook.
Hooker attempted to recover, but simply couldn’t manage it, and with that, Chandler became only the second man in UFC to stop the ultra-tough Kiwi.
Throw in an absolutely charisma-filled promo after the fight, and it’s clear that in Chandler, UFC have a potential megastar on their hands.
Why it took him so long to leave Bellator for UFC is anyone’s guess, but now that he’s here, the promotion have to make hay while the sun is shining. Chandler vs. Poirier for the UFC Lightweight title at UFC 261, anybody?
#2 Worst: What was Herb Dean doing in the Rodriguez/Ribas fight?
The opening fight of the pay-per-view main card saw an entertaining fight between Strawweights Amanda Ribas and Marina Rodriguez. However, despite Rodriguez coming away with an excellent win that should put her into UFC title contention, the fight still left a bad taste.
That’s because referee Herb Dean made a simply awful gaffe when it came to stopping the fight.
Rodriguez dropped Ribas in the second round, and the fight was clearly over. Ribas was barely defending herself and took a bunch of unanswered punches, and it looked like Dean was about to stop things.
However, despite leaning in and causing Rodriguez to begin celebrating, it turned out that Dean hadn’t stopped the fight. And so Ribas had to wobble back to her feet and took a handful of pointless and damaging shots before the fight was finally ended.
Only Dean can explain why he made this call, but it was absolutely horrible. And more worryingly, it was just the latest in a series of bad gaffes from one of UFC’s most experienced referees. Ho much longer can this continue?
#3 Best: Muradov impresses with KO of Sanchez
Until a massive and downright unprofessional mistake from Ottman Azaitar – who broke UFC’s COVID-19 restrictions and earned his release as a result – the fight between Makhmud Muradov and Andrew Sanchez was scheduled for last night’s prelims.
In the end, the fight was moved to the main card of what was one of the biggest UFC pay-per-views in some time. This was a huge spotlight for the two Middleweights, and Muradov definitely made the most of it.
After a bit of a back-and-forth fight, he took Sanchez out with an absolutely vicious barrage in the third round – triggering ‘El Dirte’ to do the infamous “fish dance” in the process.
The win was Muradov’s third in UFC and his second by knockout. He’s now on a massive 14-fight win streak, and it’s hard not to consider him an outside bet to rise into title contention in the UFC Middleweight division.
Basically, this was a huge chance for him, and he took it with both hands.