The Doomsday Clock: A metaphorical device that measures the impending likelihood of something catastrophic; the closer it gets to midnight, the more impending the doom. In reality it’s been maintained for matters far more serious than fist-fights, but it’s a great lens through which to view the countdown to Dustin Poirier vs Conor McGregor 3; a bout with huge ramifications for the career trajectory of both participants.
It feels incredibly strange to talk about a pair of thirty-two year olds at the top of the game in terms of ‘now or never’, especially in a game where the right fighters with the correct training can enjoy elite status well into their thirties and (in some cases) beyond. But in a way it feels like where we are with both Poirier and McGregor, albeit for different reasons.
McGregor – despite a tumultuous few years in the cage – is still the sport’s biggest ticket and unquestionably UFC 264’s A-side fighter; a notion verging on the bizarre, considering the ruthlessly efficient way in which he was dispatched by the self-same opponent less than six months ago. But that’s McGregor, he’s unique. Still, the Irishman’s journey from apprentice plumber to international icon has been discussed ad nauseum on MMAOddsbreaker (admittedly, often by me) over the years and it feels like the well is close to running dry on new stories about MMA’s most successful prizefighter.
Granted, with a character like McGregor there will always be more tales to tell, but should he lose on Saturday night it feels like they’ll increasingly be epilogues, at least as far as fighting is concerned. McGregor is, after all, a multi-millionaire businessman; shrewd financial moves, like selling off his Propper No 12 whisky brand and the recent launch of an Irish bar/steakhouse franchise, may soon see his earnings outside the cage eclipse those within it, if they haven’t already.
That’s not to say that McGregor will fade into obscurity should he come out on the wrong end of this trilogy; far from it. Conor, much like his old nemesis Nate Diaz, has attained the kind of love/hate authenticity within the MMA fandom that will see the demand for his services remain high, long after his stock has fallen.
Unlike Diaz though (a man who doesn’t exactly fight on prelims for peanuts himself), McGregor won’t be content filling an undercard slot as a sacrificial lamb for the next big thing. If he’s not in the immediate title picture, McGregor is way past the point of being anything less than a special attraction; the star player wheeled out every so often to pop a buyrate and remind everyone why “the Double Champ does what the f**k he wants”, when he wants.
It feels like the time for a truly redemptive arc, a remoulded legacy built on recapturing and defending a title (let alone two) over multiple years, has passed. And that’s fine; McGregor has already won the game. It’s also a great pity, because a fight with current 155lb champion Charles Oliviera might be the most intriguing (and winnable) for the former title holder in years. So too would bouts with the likes of Michael Chander or Justin Gaethje should McGregor want to scrap his way back to the top of the division, but that feels like an unlikely path for an extremely wealthy man who now fights sporadically at best in a promotion that will go to any lengths to keeps its divisions moving.
A more prescient prediction for the Irishman is a shift to the kind of occasional marquee bout the UFC are increasingly invested in; a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz, a ‘superfight’ with Nick, or perhaps a revival of the BMF title against the currently somewhat directionless Jorge Masvidal.
All of the above is, of course, assuming the some-might-say bold prediction that he’ll lose on Saturday night bears fruit. Lest we forget, McGregor is not an opponent to be taken lightly by anyone and besides, he won’t be the only man walking into Saturday’s main event with one eye on The Doomsday Clock.
Ahead of UFC 264’s centerpiece at the T-Mobile Arena, Dustin Porier must also be aware that the clock is ticking. In many ways the diametric opposite of McGregor, ‘The Diamond’ is a blue collar battler that fights and fights and then fights some more. Prior to their January rematch he’d competed thirteen times in the lightweight division since last facing McGregor. Conor? Just twice, yet both are within the same touching distance of Charles Oliviera’s belt.
While it’s that fighters’ fighter mentality that has almost universally endeered Poirier to the fandom – and what made his capture of the interim lightweight title in 2019 that little bit sweeter – it’s also put some serious miles on an already overclocked engine. Aside from the first McGregor fight and an outlier loss at the hands of Michael Johnson, Poirier hasn’t exactly made a habit of getting stopped. On the flipside, that legendary durability has seen him involved in countless wars; hard knocks against the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, Dan Hooker, Max Holloway and even his epic straightener from the pre-McGregor days with Chan-Sung Jung.
It’s something of a cliché to refer to fights as ‘taking years off a person’s career’, but like all good clichés there’s a measure of truth to it. Nobody – tough as Dustin Poirier or otherwise – can endure dogfights forever, and The Diamond has been doing it for a decade. How much tread is left on the tires, and can he afford a high-profile loss to a part-timer at this point in his career?
That likely depends on how you define ‘afford’. While Dustin’s hot sauce empire doesn’t look like it’ll afford him the same retirement cushion as McGregor’s vast portfolio just yet, if there’s one thing this sport is good for it’s continuing to provide paychecks to those willing to put their health on the line for the sake of our entertainment. Despite ever diminishing returns in the cage, the UFC will always have a home for hard-nosed, crowd-pleasing fist-fighters like Poirier.
Can Dustin eat the loss in non-financial terms? That’s the trickier question. There’s certainly a quagmire of contenders at the top of the 155lb division right now, so should McGregor earn the next shot on Saturday, another title run for Dustin may have to go through some combination of Benil Dariush, Tony Fergusson or Michael Chandler. That could be two years’ worth of work though; who knows which of the young guns hanging around on the periphery of the lightweight top ten may have a stronger claim by then?
There are no guarantees in this often cruelest of sports, but one assumes the closest Dustin will ever come to a safe bet is by doubling down on the thudding right hand that first put McGregor away in January. If he can’t, it’ll be a long, arduous road back to the top.
Due to a myriad of factors (McGregor’s ‘golden goose’ status, the decisive finish of their previous bout and Poirier’s solid claim to being the best fighter in the division, champion included) it was easy for critics to write this fight off as a mere cash-grab; the latest example of the UFC’s increasingly demanding schedule prioritising bankable content over purely sporting competition.
In reality there’s much more to it than that. Like it or not, this is the fight that will shape the immediate future of the lightweight division. For Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier as individuals, the Doomsday Clock is ticking. The stakes have perhaps never been higher and the deafening pre-fight silence serves as a fine reminder of the focus in both camps and the gravity of the situation as it pertains to their immediate futures.
For one of them, it’s almost one minute to midnight.