UFC 264 is in the books. It was a Saturday evening full of highlight-reel finishes, gruesome injuries, exciting interviews and, of course, shoe-beers (yes, shoe-beers). Below are my biggest takeaways from a wild, memorable night in Las Vegas and the fallout that proceeded.
Poirier-McGregor hostility boils over
WWE creative writer Vince Russo is widely responsible for developing some of pro wrestling’s most popular rivalries, working behind the scenes to draft scripts of dialogue for the company’s promotional giants for over two decades.
If you would have told me he was hired to pull the strings on the post-fight antics after Saturday’s main event at UFC 264, I probably would have believed you.
Combat sports has long been the host of brash personalities, unkind utterances and, at times, over-the-top trash talk. Then the fight happens, hands are shaken, mutual respect is displayed and, for the most part, the hatchet is buried. That’s just how the fight business works.
Well, that wasn’t the case Saturday night.
The exhibition of ill will from both Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor following the abrupt conclusion of their highly-anticipated trilogy fight left an especially bad taste in my mouth.
Poirier began by mocking McGregor while he lay on the floor with his left leg snapped in two pieces, imitating his renowned “billionaire strut.”
During his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, Poirier called McGregor a “dirtbag,” and implied that McGregor had this gruesome, career-threatening injury coming to him, because, well, “karma is a mirror.”
Then ESPN producers decided it was a good idea for Rogan to have a seat next to McGregor and shove a microphone in his face.
This is when things got really ugly.
McGregor fired some pretty disgusting insults at Poirier and his wife, Jolie, and videos have surfaced revealing McGregor making the gun gesture to his head and shouting “in your sleep, you’re both going to get it.”
Some of McGregor’s most die-hard fans will write this off as the product of body shock from his broken leg and overall frustration with the way the fight ended. Those inklings may be true, to an extent, but the remarks are still inexcusable.
McGregor has rarely recognized boundaries to his trash talk, always willing to dive deep into his opponent’s personal life to gain an edge and sell a fight. It’s part of what has made him MMA’s most momentous draw. That said, threatening death, regardless of how empty those threats are, is a new low for McGregor.
In short, this series of events could be described in two words: a mess.
A classless, pathetic circus involving two of the sport’s biggest stars on the grandest of stages with the whole world watching.
As short-lived as it was, the fight itself was exciting. Both fighters landed clean strikes in the opening minutes, McGregor locked in a tight guillotine choke, Poirier escaped and unleashed heavy ground and pound.
In the closing seconds, the two stood up from the canvas, McGregor threw a front kick which Poirier blocked with his elbow and that was it. McGregor’s tibia bone snapped, thus providing an anticlimactic end to a legendary trilogy.
However illegitimate McGregor thinks the result is, Poirier won, plain and simple. He will go on to fight Charles Oliveira for the undisputed lightweight championship, while McGregor will nurse his injury and begin working back to a potential return to the Octagon.
The fight wasn’t the story of the night, though, and that’s what bothered me. The rancor the two men have for each other left a disturbing stain on what should have been a monumental night for them, the fans and MMA as a whole.
Burns grinds out critical victory
In the least entertaining fight of the evening, Gilbert Burns defeated Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson via unanimous decision.
Burns used his prowess in the grappling and clinch departments to control Wonderboy for the vast majority of the fight, negating Wonderboy’s dangerous range-striking.
It’s difficult to say where each of these fighters goes from here, but one thing is for sure: Dana White and Sean Shelby have some decisions to make at the top of the UFC’s welterweight division.
White has been adamant about Colby Covington getting another crack at Kamaru Usman’s undisputed strap before the end of the year and Burns already realized his title shot in 2021, which he lost by brutal knockout in February.
Regardless of who wins Usman vs. Covington 2, it stands to reason that England’s Leon Edwards will be first in line as the challenger thereafter, which leaves Burns on the outside looking in.
In his post-fight interview, Burns called out Edwards, Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz. It’s hard to imagine Edwards will accept another non-title bout and Diaz will probably seek a more lucrative counterpart, which leaves Masvidal as the leading candidate for Burns’ next opponent.
Per usual, we’ll just have to wait and see what the UFC decides to do.
Tai “Shoey-vasa” shines
In the featured bout, Australia’s Tai Tuivasa earned himself a Performance of the Night bonus with a blistering first-round knockout of Greg Hardy.
What Tuivasa did after the fight might have been more impressive, though.
Following his victory over Stefan Struve on Fight Island last fall, Tuivasa grabbed a beer, poured it in his shoe and drank it. The clip went viral and fans insisted on him making it a routine in his victory celebrations.
That tradition continued Saturday when a fan tossed both a can of beer and a shoe into the Octagon, and Tuivasa once again performed a “shoey.”
As he exited the Octagon, the shoes and beers kept flying at him and he obliged, performing two more shoeys with fans before leaving the arena floor. One of them was even mixed with what appeared to be some sort of hot sauce.
Gross, sure, but hilarious nonetheless.
The Suga Show turned bloodbath
When Kris Moutinho agreed to make his UFC debut as a late replacement to fight “Sugar” Sean O’Malley, most, if not all, fans believed it would be a quick night at the office for O’Malley.
Moutinho had other plans.
Joe Rogan summarized it perfectly on the telecast when he referred to Moutinho as a “zombie.” O’Malley absolutely teed off on the newcomer’s face for 14 straight minutes, but that didn’t stop Moutinho from walking forward over and over again.
Regardless of how many punches he took, the 28-year-old New Englander was there to fight and he proved it. The toughness he displayed was stuff of legend, eating killshot after killshot without going unconscious.
The fight was stopped with just 23 seconds remaining while Moutinho was still on his feet, sending MMA Twitter into an angry uproar. I don’t agree with the stoppage, but I don’t blame referee Herb Dean. The guy had taken so much head damage and he wasn’t landing anything on O’Malley.
While Moutinho’s chin and heart were the highlight of the fight, we mustn’t discount what O’Malley did. Statistically, it was one of the best three-round performances in UFC history. O’Malley landed 230 total significant strikes at an 80% clip, including 177 head blows.
Mind-blowing numbers, to say the least.
If this performance proved anything, it’s that O’Malley needs to take a step up in competition. Some will argue that the UFC is protecting him, while others will say no ranked fighters want to accept the challenge.
Either way, it’s time for The Suga Show to start climbing the ladder.