Tuesday Takeaways: Post-fight animosity casts dark shadow on otherwise incredible night at UFC 264

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. 

5 things to watch on the UFC 264 undercard

Only four days remain until the world’s leading MMA promotion stages a historic trilogy fight between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor at UFC 264 in Las Vegas. While the main event will be in the crosshairs of most media focus, the rest of the card features several under-the-radar storylines that are worth noting in the lead up to fight night. Below, I highlighted five things to look for on Saturday night before the superstars make their walk to the Octagon.

1. Wonderful Wonderboy or Burns Bloodbath? 

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is the owner of one of the more peculiar careers in all of MMA. A former kickboxing world champion, Wonderboy burst onto the scene with a Karate-based style that nobody had ever considered bringing to the UFC Octagon. His fluid striking and unusual movements proved to be a puzzle which few are able to solve. 

After losing to Matt Brown in April 2012, Wonderboy rattled off seven straight victories en route to his first shot at UFC gold. He took then-champion Tyron Woodley to a majority draw, and then lost the immediate rematch by split decision. If it weren’t for a few punches here and there, it’s possible that Wonderboy could still be the UFC Welterweight champion today. 

Wonderboy isn’t one to bathe in self-pity, however, and the 38-year-old South Carolina native knows Father Time is likely on his heels. This could very well be his last chance at a run for the sport’s most coveted prize. With consecutive dominant victories over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, Wonderboy has once again placed himself in a prime position to earn another crack at the strap. 

Standing in his way is a Brazillian bulldog who gives new meaning to the word “dangerous.” Gilbert Burns is a jiu-jitsu master of the highest pedigree with a suitable boxing acumen, often combining dynamite punches with elite grappling. He’s the full package and he’s out for blood after faltering in his first title shot back in March when he was knocked out by Kamaru Usman. 

This fight between Burns and Wonderboy carries a plethora of championship implications in the UFC’s 170-pound division. The winner tosses his name in the hat as the next challenger to Usman’s throne, while the loser takes a massive step backward in the contention picture. 

2. The Suga Show, Episode 15

The latest installment of “The Suga Show” is set to take place in the first fight of the UFC 264 main card. “Sugar” Sean O’Malley is one of the most popular fighters on the roster and continues to flirt with superstardom, in search of a signature win to stamp his name in bantamweight contendership. 

Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen Saturday. Yes, he’s still fighting, but against an opponent of which nearly all MMA connoisseurs, including myself, have never heard. O’Malley’s original opponent, Louis Smolka, was forced to withdraw from the bout last week due to a staph infection. This sent Dana White and Sean Shelby into a frenzy to find a new counterpart for O’Malley, who desperately wanted to stay on the card.

Enter Kris Moutinho, a 28-year-old newcomer with a 9-4 professional record and zero UFC experience. It isn’t ideal for O’Malley and his forward march toward the top of the division, but it’s an opponent nonetheless and something tells me O’Malley better be ready for everything Moutinho has to offer (whatever that may be). 

Just put yourself in Moutinho’s shoes for a second: you get the phone call to debut against one of the most popular fighters in MMA on the curtain-raiser of a Conor McGregor card. A moment most athletes could never dream of and I fully expect him to try to capitalize on it. Sure, O’Malley will probably add yet another hair-raising knockout to his already-abundant highlight reel, but he mustn’t take Moutinho lightly.

As they always say in the world of sports: “crazier things have happened.”

3. Belated Fireworks Show

Over the weekend, people all across the United States celebrated the 4th of July with fireworks show, blowing things up in the name of freedom. Figuratively, the UFC’s fireworks show will come a week later. 

Skill, precision, technique and discipline often rule as catalysts for success. All that stuff is great, but there’s no denying that us fans are suckers for a good ol’ fashioned slugfest every once in a while. That’s what we’re getting with Niko Price vs. Michel Pereira.

Two unconventional, high-volume, downright wild strikers who love to fly all over the Octagon throwing killshots. Sign me up. (I highly recommend watching the video above).

Not only is this fight virtually guaranteed to be entertaining, but it’s an opportunity for the winner to ascend into the top-15 in the welterweight rankings and begin the climb toward UFC gold. 

You won’t want to miss this one. 

4. Du Damage, Du Plessis

Dricus Du Plessis entered the UFC with a bang in his debut in October, starching Markus Perez in the first round to earn his first victory with the promotion. While this was the first time he gained notoriety with most fans, Du Plessis has been a dominant force on the MMA scene for nearly a decade. 

Extreme Fighting Championship, or EFC, is a worldwide promotion that runs regional circuits. Du Plessis was signed to EFC Africa in 2013, and began an impressive run, at one point holding both the EFC welterweight and middleweight belts. He’s a certified killer in the cage, with bombs for hands and a full book of submissions, making him effective in every area. 

At just 27 years old, Du Plessis has yet to reach his prime and has the potential to become a serious threat to the UFC middleweight division in the coming years. 

On Saturday, Du Plessis will make his second appearance in the Octagon against UFC veteran Trevin Giles, who is riding a 3-fight win streak and looking to crack the top-15 with a victory. 

5. The Return of the Wizard

Ryan “The Wizard” Hall is finally making his much-anticipated return to the Octagon on Saturday after a 2-year hiatus. Prior to the long layoff, Hall was touted as one of the hottest prospects in all of MMA. He competed on The Ultimate Fighter Season 22 in 2015 where he won all but one bout. He started off his UFC career with four straight victories over a murderer’s row of opponents, which included company legends BJ Penn and Gray Maynard. 

Hall was kept sidelined from fighting due to a combination of injuries and fight cancellations. He’s back now, though, and it seems as if everyone is expecting big things from him. At 36 years old, it’s tough to imagine he’ll be as sharp as he used to be, but considering he only has nine pro bouts to his name, he’s still quite young in terms of fight years. 

Also, this isn’t the first time he’ll be coming back from an extended pause. After he disposed of Maynard in 2016, he waited two whole years before coming back to fight Penn, who he submitted in under three minutes.

Clearly the UFC still believes in Hall as a potential star, considering they’re putting him in a pretty big spot on a Conor McGregor card. It’s going to take a flawless performance from Hall to triumph over Spain’s Ilia Topuria, who is the owner of a perfect 10-0 record. In his last outing, Topuria put away Damon Jackson with ease to earn his second win in the UFC. 

This fight has all the makings of a high-level contest between two hungry featherweights.