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What’s next? UFC 264 fallout points to McGregor-Poirier IIII

FILE PHOTO: UFC 246 – Conor McGregor v Donald Cerrone

Conor McGregor (22-6) was rendered unfit to continue past the first round at UFC 264, suffering a brutal ankle injury in the closing seconds of his first round against Dustin Poirier (28-6).

Where the two fighters go from here is clear only in the near-term. McGregor went off to surgery, while Poirier advances to the promised title fight with Charles Oliveira.

The specter or a fourth McGregor-Poirier fight lingers with strong hints at another bout landed from McGregor and UFC president Dana White post-fight.

Poirier dominated the first round, taking down McGregor and battering him with a barrage of ground strikes while avoiding McGregor’s threat of a guillotine choke from bottom position.

When the two returned to their feet, McGregor threw and missed a punch as his ankle twisted gruesomely underneath. The fight was called off as a doctor’s stoppage, with Poirier closing out the trilogy as the victor by TKO once more.

Two of the fight’s three Octagon-side judges awarded Poirier a 10-8 first round edge.

Poirier told UFC commentator Joe Rogan he believes the ankle break was a result of his checking of one of McGregor’s frequent early-fight leg kicks.

“He fractured it on one of the checks at the beginning of the fight,” Poirier, 32, said. The Louisiana native also took the opportunity to criticize McGregor’s pre-fight trash talk, which Poirier said went too far.

“Murder is something you don’t clown around with. You don’t talk to people like that,” he added, before wishing McGregor safe travels home to his family.

McGregor, who had to be interviewed by Rogan post-fight while still seated on the canvas as his ankle was being tended to, argued that prior to the injury, “I was boxing the bleedin’ head off him and kicking the bleedin’ leg off him.”

The former two-weight world champion promised, “This isn’t over.”

White confirmed McGregor would enter surgery this morning to repair his damaged leg.

“The fight didn’t get finished. You can’t have a fight finish that way,” White added, touting the possibility of a fourth bout between the two bitter rivals.

White promised that Poirier’s next fight would be for the UFC lightweight title against Brazilian champ Oliveira (31-8).

Oliveira, 31, captured the title in May with a sensational second-round knockout of former Bellator champion Michael Chandler (22-6) at UFC 262 earlier this year.

The UFC’s all-time submissions leader, Oliveira has in recent years added a dynamic striking arsenal to complement his world-class grappling and establish a well-rounded and superbly dangerous MMA game.

For Poirier, who once held the interim UFC lightweight title, to fulfill what he believes to be his destiny and become UFC lightweight champion, he will face a stiff test in Oliveira.

McGregor, meanwhile, will likely be out of action for some time as he deals with what looked to be a frightening and significant injury.

While a timetable for his return is yet unknown, possible fights for McGregor on the horizon include a fourth bout with Poirier, a trilogy matchup against fellow star and nemesis Nate Diaz (20-13), or a contest with another of the lightweight division’s top contenders.

As Forbes’ highest-paid athlete in 2021, some questioned McGregor’s willingness to return to the Octagon at all following the second loss to Poirier, his third defeat in his past four outings.

Late Saturday, McGregor sounded focused.

“If we have to take this outside with [Poirier] it’s on. I don’t give a bollocks!”