Conor McGregor 'never been more dangerous' ahead of trilogy decider against Dustin Poirier

Exclusive: Irishman discusses his preparations for UFC 264 in Las Vegas and why Dubai holds a 'special place' in his life

Jan 23, 2021; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Conor McGregor of Ireland punches Dustin Poirier in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Having used his new Dubai base to shut off and then sharpen his skill set ahead of a potentially future-defining bout at UFC 264 next week, Conor McGregor has a warning for Dustin Poirier.

Chiefly, that he's more serious a threat than at any time in his storied mixed martial arts career.

“I’m solely, singularly focused on winning,” McGregor tells The National not long from the trilogy clash against the American on July 10 (July 11 in UAE). “That’s it. I don’t need any more motivation than that. All I want to do, in everything I do, is win. That’s what drives me.

“I am locked in on taking out my opponent on July 10, and I’ve never been more prepared, more dangerous than I am now.”

Call it typical fighter bravado, or McGregor’s “Notorious” MO, but the former two-division champion's confidence is buttressed by banking the hard yards ahead of his comeback. The Irishman, 32, spent the majority of the interim between Poirier 2 and Poirier 3 in Dubai, initially recovering from his second-round TKO at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi – the first knockout of his professional MMA career - before refocusing and then refining his game plan for the series decider in Las Vegas. McGregor won the initial encounter with Poirier, way back when at UFC 178 in 2014, by first-round TKO.

In preparation for the rivalry's finale, McGregor trained largely at the UFC Gym in Jumeirah Beach Residence before relocating earlier this month to California. The rubber match against Poirier had demanded a reset and a reinvigoration: with two defeats in his past three octagon appearances, the trilogy is viewed as crucial to McGregor's aspirations of reigning supreme once more in the sport he lifted to unprecedented levels.

For that, he insists lessons have been learned from UFC 257, when Poirier's success at Etihad Arena owed much to punishing calf kicks that impeded severely his movement. In the past, McGregor (22-5) has responded well to adversity: following his other two losses in the UFC - Nate Diaz in 2016 and Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018 - he countered next with significant victories.

Poirier, though, represents a clear and obvious threat to that record. For many, the former interim champion (27-6) constitutes the best active lightweight around, even after Charles Oliveira last month captured the belt vacated, finally, by Nurmagomedov.

The winner of McGregor-Poirier is expected to face the Brazilian for the title. The former is adamant that's going to be him.

“I say all the time that you learn more from your setbacks than from your successes,” McGregor says. “I’ve had setbacks before in my career; this isn’t the first time. Why I’ve been so successful in business and in my MMA career is because I bounce back. I evolve.

"Every time I fight, I have a new skill or a new tool at my disposal. After January, I went back to the lab and worked as hard as I’ve ever worked to make sure I’m ready to dominate on July 10. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

Physically in stellar shape, McGregor seems in a decent spot mentally, too. The time in Dubai was memorable, both personally and professionally. Last month, McGregor and fiancée Dee Devlin welcomed their third child into the family, a boy named Rian, while days before the birth the Dublin native was for the first time named the world’s highest-earning athlete for the past year. Forbes estimated his annual haul tallied $180 million.

Naturally, welcoming the latest member of the McGregor clan trumped all else. It’s why McGregor feels Dubai resonates now so strongly with him and his family.

“Without a doubt,” he says. “That’s one of the most important moments of my entire life, let alone my time in Dubai. Rian is such a blessing already, and I’m just very thankful him and his mother are happy and healthy.

“Outside of that, experiencing Ramadan here was very special. Obviously where I’m from, it isn’t celebrated nearly as widely. So getting to see it here was beautiful and something I’ll remember for ever.

"Dubai has been a really amazing place to spend the last few months. Add on to that some expanding business opportunities in the area, and the UAE provided a great base for myself, my team and my family.”

Business, patently, is booming. His place atop the Forbes list is veritable proof of that.

“That was an honour, yes,” McGregor says. “Something I had been targeting for a long time. It means a lot. It shows that what we’re doing is breeding success and that people are responding to it.

"Clearly my message and my personality resonate widely - and my business ventures. They all have my vision, my drive and the right people behind them. It’s an affirmation of years of hard work. It's a dream to see it realised.”

The connection with Dubai could offer yet more business opportunities long after UFC 264, reiterates Azhar Muhammad Saul, partner/senior vice president of Paradigm Sports, the agency that represents McGregor. Paradigm launched their international office in the emirate last year, which in part prompted McGregor’s stint in the UAE.

“Having Conor here was just great,” Muhammad Saul says. “The support we have received in the UAE has been humbling; we’re really grateful to everyone. You’ll see soon the results of the prodigious work Conor has put in - July 10 will be another memorable occasion."

A return to the T-Mobile Arena, then, should provide a fitting setting. McGregor and the venue share a pretty hefty history together already: it was home to his rematch against Diaz, the money-spinning crossover fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2017, his recording-breaking title encounter with Nurmagomedov 14 months later, and McGregor's most recent pro victory, against Donald Cerrone, early last year.

After welcoming back fans for the first time in almost a year during Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island 3 in January – almost 3,000 were present for McGregor-Poirier 2 – the UFC has led major sport's response to the pandemic by opening up again to capacity crowds. The promotion has already confirmed UFC 264 will play out in front of 20,000-plus in Las Vegas.

Still the sport's grand draw, McGregor is suitably excited.

“It’s going to be incredible,” he says. “Losing fans at sporting events - and even live sports in general for a while - was tragic. Fighting with fans in Abu Dhabi was incredible, so I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be going back to Vegas to be in front of fans from across the world.

“Vegas obviously is a place that I’ve had many of my legendary victories. I can’t wait to bring the Mystic Mac back to that city and remind them of what they’ve been missing.”

Updated: July 1st 2021, 5:37 AM
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