UFC debate — Conor McGregor? Michael Chandler? This is who Dustin Poirier should fight next

7:14 AM ET

  • Brett Okamoto.


ESPN employee

    • MMA Columnist for ESPN.com
    • Analyst for MMA Live
    • Indoor MMA for the Las Vegas Sun
  • Mark Raimondi.

All eyes are on the UFC’s lightweight division, which features many of the big names in MMA and where many of the biggest question marks are passionately debated.

The greatest uncertainty lies at the top: Who is really the champion? Dustin Poirier considers himself the rightful champion after his win over Conor McGregor at UFC 257 because Khabib Nurmagomedov is actually retired. For now, however, Nurmagomedov is still listed as the titleholder in the UFC rankings.

The question then becomes who should Poirier fight next? Assuming the title is on the line, it should go to the main competitor, which would be Charles Oliveira, or maybe Michael Chandler? Or should the 10-year veteran try to cash in and take a trilogy fight against McGregor, whether the title is on the line or not?

Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi of ESPN agree that Poirier is the linchpin of all scenarios, but they disagree on how the PDU should proceed.

Okamoto: Assuming Khabib Nurmagomedov gives up the 155-pound title in the near future, which we both believe, this division of the Marquee is up for grabs.

Apparently, Dustin Poirier on the 23rd. In January, Conor McGregor was knocked out. Michael Chandler also comes from Bellator and immediately caused a stir by arresting Dan Hooker on the same card. You have Charles Oliveira and his eight-game winning streak. Justin Getji, who is always very commercial. Nate Diaz is a wild card. Good options. I guess it kind of starts with Poirier, right? It’s the first domino to fall. Let me ask you a question: Who should fight Poirier next?

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Raimondi: That really is the million-dollar question, isn’t it, Brett? And if I use that terminology, it’s because to me the answer is simple. Poirier should take the fight that makes him the most money. It’s most likely a trilogy with Conor McGregor.

I know what the hardcore fans will say. I get it. I also know that Poirier wants to be champion more than anything. But he also has to think of his family.

How many people have already been paid by McGregor’s opponents? Besides, how many of them have it twice? Only Nate Diaz has that, and he’s made so much money that he’s only fought twice in the last five years and is doing very well. If Poirier beats McGregor again, the title is his. Millions of dollars too.

Okamoto: I’m disappointed in you. I thought I was communicating with an MMA purist. You know if Poirier fights McGregor again, the UFC championship will probably be on him. And we both know that as great as McGregor’s career has been, and as popular as he has been, he shouldn’t be fighting for the UFC title in his next fight. I don’t even see him in the top ten lightweights right now. He hasn’t won a 155-pound fight since 2016.

But, uh… I know what you mean. And I don’t quite agree with that. Poirier himself said he was interested in another fight with McGregor, or another with Nate Diaz. It’s a fight for the money that Poirier makes. He fought for over 10 years in the CFU – and before that in the WEC. Cash.

But I think there is a way for him to collect and still do what is right for the department. But before you propose: What do you think the odds are of it being the 3 books of UFC Poirier vs McGregor at the same time, and how do you justify this title?

Raimondi: To be honest, I really can’t justify it. The UFC really hit a dead end by not making UFC 257 the main event of the fight between Poirier and McGregor for the title. That would solve all the problems we are trying to solve now.

In a perfect world, Poirier would not be fighting McGregor 3 for the title. But you’re 100% right. If he’s next, I can see the UFC buckling down. I think the argument would be that McGregor has already beaten Poirier and this is all about? I wouldn’t believe it since McGregor beat Poirier almost seven years ago.

I’d like to see Poirier tackle the McGregor trilogy first and let the Olive, Chandlers and Gethers of the world deal with the division. Then Poirier can go for the gold if he beats McGregor. I really think the opportunity to beat the biggest star in the history of the UFC twice is too important to pass up.

The PDU resumes operations on the 6th. February returns to the UFC Apex, where Alistair Overeem (6 ESPN points) and Alexander Volkov (7 ESPN points) will fight for promotion to the heavyweight division. Overeem has won four of his last five fights, while Volkov picked up a win against Walt Harris in October.

CFU Fight Night: Overeem vs Volkov
– Saturday 6. February, Las Vegas (UFC Apex)
Main card: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN+
Preliminary rounds: 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+

Subscribe to ESPN+ for exclusive live UFC events, weigh-ins and more, Ariel and the Villain, Dana White’s Contender series and other exclusive MMA content.

The title is great, but many have won it. Beat McGregor twice if he can? Poirier will become a legendary name in martial arts. If Poirier takes on Oliveira, with all due respect to the excellent Brazilian fighter, it will bring viewers, attention and money.

Okamoto: Well, I’m glad you said all that because it confirms my decision perfectly. And I don’t even know if we’re really fighting right now, Mark, but my competitive spirit is coming up and I’m going to let you off the mic, my friend. Are you ready for this?

It’s the right thing to do. The UFC should crown the champion Poirier. I know I don’t like promotion, historically. They want the belt to win the fight, in case they can go higher. But here’s what you do. Take the Poirier train now. You take advantage of Nurmagomedov’s decision to resign – which will be great news once it becomes official – and you say Dustin is the man for the job. It’s the best 155 pounds in the world. He beat Max Holloway twice. He knocked out Justin Getji. He defeated former champions Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez. And he just knocked out the great Conor McGregor! We had to put a belt around the man’s waist! It’s him!

And by doing that, you do a few things. They’re giving Poirier a championship contract, which means he’ll win more in his next fight. You add your marketing weight and you promote the legitimacy of the belt, which is best for the sport. And then you book McGregor v. Diaz 3, knowing full well that the fight is for sale, and you can sell the winner – whoever he is – as the future reigning Pear Tree challenger. Boom! Mark, tell me how good it is.

After his win at UFC 257, will Michael Chandler get his next shot at the UFC lightweight title? Jeff Bottari/Zuffa Ltd.

Raimondi: I don’t disagree with the principle of what you just said. Poirier should be champion by now. But the UFC doesn’t just hand out titles. If that is what is happening in this case, I am in complete agreement.

And the idea of making it McGregor vs. Diaz 3 fight to schedule with a possible win against Poirier seems like a great idea. But what happens if Poirier loses to Oliveira or Chandler? Clearly, Gaethje would have a chance to beat Poirier if they had a rematch. Should Poirier turn down the opportunity to take on McGregor in a trilogy fight that will define his career?

Poirier is an athlete, and I think he’s going to try his luck anyway. But it’s pretty risky. What if McGregor loses the third fight to Diaz and leaves MMA? The big money trilogy would be over forever. I believe in striking while the iron is hot. It’s a fight for the prize, and more than the title – for better or worse – the prize is money. And that means McGregor is a fight that should be fought right away if you’re more pear-shaped.

The good news is that Mr. Poirier has put himself in the driver’s seat. He has many options, most of which are very good. A question for you while we’re here, Brett: If Poirier wins the title now, who will be his first challenger?

Okamoto: All points are correct. In my scenario, it’s really up to the UFC to make it worthwhile for Poirier to give up an immediate trilogy of fights with McGregor.

To answer your question: Personally, I’d go for Michael Chandler. Speaking of forging the iron when it’s hot, Chandler is the hot hand when it comes to a title contender right now. He was perfect in that fight against Dan Hooker, and his post-fight speech was up to the task when he mentioned McGregor and Nurmagomedov.

If the UFC chooses Oliveira, there’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously, he deserved it. But I think Chandler has a former champion from another class who came to prove himself in his early days. So I would put Poirier against Chandler and make it Poirier’s first defense.

Thank you all for your support! It wasn’t my night/morning, but it was a great improvement game. I’m excited about the trilogy of blockbusters I now have in my hands. Dustin is a great competitor and I look forward to the next time. God bless us all, have a great Sunday ❤️.

– Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) 24. January 2021.

To close the Poirier-McGregor file, the UFC could take a big step forward by checking all the boxes if it truly supports Poirier. Recognize him as a champion. Give him a contract for a championship. Advertise him as the worst man for £155. You’re always right, none of this is going to make him as much money as his next trilogy fight with McGregor, but it makes sense for Poirier to get the recognition he deserves as the undisputed UFC champion for the first time.

And when McGregor beats Diaz, he sells out over a million payers and says he’s obsessed with fixing Poirier. Poirier just cashed in more than he would have gotten if he had booked that fight now.

Raimondi: I would not object to any of these scenarios. I’d rather choose Oliveira, if only because of that amazing performance against Tony Ferguson. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone treat Ferguson the way Oliveira did. There is reason to believe that Oliveira is the world’s best lightweight right now, having won eight consecutive victories. That said, Chandler would be a strong challenger to Poirier, and if negotiated properly, I think it would be a very big fight.

Let’s fight for the crown. The winner wins the whole thing and becomes the King of Lightness https://t.co/fGJd6OlvIX.

– Charles Oliveira (@CharlesDoBronxs) January 26, 2021

But those two are nothing compared to the trilogy’s fight with McGregor. Of course, that could still happen if Poirier is the reigning champion, but that’s relying a lot on coincidence. It’s a crazy world. We’re still dealing with a global pandemic. And when it comes to taking McGregor’s salary for Poirier, no one should be jealous of him taking it. It’s not just about the money. Even if Poirier becomes champion – which he should be at this point – it still doesn’t have the same cachet as the potential of two wins over McGregor. If Poirier had truly ended McGregor’s career as an elite fighter with two fist wins, he would have been remembered forever.

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