Dan Hardy believes Dustin Poirier has more to lose from his main event bout with Conor McGregor at UFC 257 and that defeat is not an option.
However, ‘The Outlaw’ believes Poirier is more than capable of ruining the Irishman’s return to the octagon after an absence of more than 12 months.
McGregor knocked out Donald Cerrone in just 40 seconds back at UFC 246 last year, before riding off into the proverbial sunset to retire once more.
However, he is back and seemingly more driven than ever and is planning on knocking out Dustin Poirier once again on Fight Island in a rematch of their 2014 bout.
‘The Diamond’ has since admitted he was too emotionally invested during their featherweight grudge match, with his stellar record since moving to lightweight a prime example of the maturity and development he has shown as a fighter.
But defeat would certainly leave the Louisiana-native in an uncompromising position and Hardy told talkSPORT.com a defeat would hardly take the shine off of McGregor’s star power.
He said: “Honestly, it’s not really going to effect Conor because he is kind of bullet-proof to it! He is a superstar in his own right and he could lose three times this year and at the start of 2022 people would still want to watch him fight.
“It’s his style, it’s his charisma…if Poirier loses, it is unlikely he is going to get to a title shot without having to go through four other lightweights and there are some killers in this division.
“He doesn’t want to be dealing with the likes of Gregor Gillespie or Islam Makhachev – they are horrible fights for him. So he needs to keep himself in this top elite pool and the only way to do that is to beat McGregor.”
Technically, Poirier is one of the most complete fighters in the 155lbs division with his slick hands complimenting the wrestling skills he has honed at the American Top Team gym in Florida.
If there is perhaps one weakness in his arsenal, it comes when facing southpaw counter-punchers; not only did McGregor render him unconscious in the first round, it took Michael Johnson even less time to spark him out cold in 2016.
While the 31-year-old may well have worked on his defence to prevent McGregor’s infamous left hand from breaching his guard once again, Hardy believes the biggest challenge will be working on his mental preparation.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” he added. “That first 90 seconds for Poirier is a consistent struggle for him in his fights, he seems very tense.
“Michael Johnson knocked him out in about 90 seconds, Gaethje hurt him about a minute into the fight so Conor is leaning on that.
“There aren’t a lot of psychological games going on right now, but just that little nugget of ‘I’m coming for him in the first 60 seconds is certainly going to put Poirier on the defensive.
“Because that is the biggest challenge, I don’t think Poirier is technically lacking in anything – this is not an unwinnable fight for him. It’s definitely a winnable fight, but he has to be cautious and strategic.
“The danger of the low kick, and this is much more of a technical thing, obviously Conor is a southpaw so most of the time he is fighting orthodox fighters.
“So when they throw kicks to his lead leg, they are leaving themselves right into the centre line and in this situation he is fighting another southpaw which means it is much easier for Poirier to get his head off the centre line when he is throwing his kicks and maybe not leaving himself right down the pipe for the left.
“It’s certainly a winnable fight for him; it’s just that 90 seconds.”
If logic suggests McGregor’s best chance is to finish the fight early, then this theory extends itself in the other direction. Quite simply, the later the fight goes; the greater Poirier’s odds become on exacting his revenge.
Hardy, who has since established himself as one of the best analysts in the sport since retiring from his days as a UFC welterweight, believes Poirier must turn the fight into a ‘dogfight’ to get the victory but remain wary of McGregor’s underrated ground game.
He added: “Poirier just seems to get more durable as the fight goes on and he gets more relaxed and more confident.
“He gets cut up and scratched and that kind of stuff, but if you look at the way he fights and the way he brings his shoulders up and squares up, a lot of the time when he is being punched it lands on his shoulders.
“So he’s not really taking a lot of damage and a lot of it is superficial and Conor is not the type of fighter to leave you with superficial cuts and bruises.
“He’s a one-punch knockout guy. So it is honestly just about staying away from that left hand and trying to get it into a dog-fight because Poirier is a war-monger.
“That’s what we saw in the Hooker fight, it’s what we saw in the Gaethje fight. I’ve not seen that in Conor and I’m saying he doesn’t have it, but I’ve just not seen it.
“And I think if Poirier is going to win this fight, he’s got it make it ugly and get in his face to make it scrappy because it’s kind of his signature.”
He continued: “I think the one thing that everyone is neglecting is the fact his [McGregor] ground game is continuously evolving. I think that it’s neglected for the fact that he never gravitates towards that unless he is forced to.
“Then you put him in there against Khabib and everyone is like, ‘Oh yeah he got taken down.’ But everyone gets taken down by Khabib, even guys that have been wrestling since they were six like Justin Gaethje.
“I actually think Conor’s takedown defence in that fight looked excellent; when I see great takedown defence, it is only ever coupled with an even better offence.
“You don’t just work takedown defence, you work on your wrestling game and you also understand the offensive style better.
“So I expect Conor to have a much improved ground game – the way he threw that left hand at Cowboy in those first two seconds suggests he wasn’t bothered about getting taken down!
“But then the shoulder strikes was a new facet to his game which we have seen before – Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz used to use them back in the day – but no one has broken fighters mentally with it.
“There are definitely other facets to Conor’s game which I don’t think he has been forced to show yet. The question is, if it goes past the second round in the Poirier fight, what other facets are we going to see?
“Because if he does start to slow down, Poirier is going to force him to work harder and he might shoot like he did against Nate Diaz.”
BT Sport Box Office will show UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 exclusively live from 3am on Saturday 23rd January. UFC 257 can be watched on 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