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Done and Dusted UFC 257: Conor McGregor leaves on crutches after being knocked out by Dustin Poirier

It’s heart-breaking. It’s hard to take – the highest highs and the lowest lows in this game, my leg is completely dead,” he sighed at a press conference shortly after the ignominious end to the fight.

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Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor

Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor

Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor promised his fans a new masterpiece this week but instead it was him who wound up on the canvas as Dustin Poirier knocked him out to elbow his way to the front of the queue of potential UFC lightweight title challengers.

The cumulative effect of Poirier’s brutal leg kicks robbed McGregor of his usual fluid movement and left him a sitting duck when the Louisiana native poured on the punches to the head to end the fight.

McGregor had looked in control until that point but the leg kicks – a tactic he himself had used to devastating effect in his rematch with Nate Diaz – were too much to bear, and he arrived to the post-fight press conference on a crutch, saying his right leg was like an American football due to the swelling.

“It’s heart-breaking. It’s hard to take – the highest highs and the lowest lows in this game, my leg is completely dead,” he sighed at a press conference shortly after the ignominious end to the fight.

“It is what it is. Dustin fought a hell of a fight.”

The new, humbler McGregor had looked unshakably confident in the run-up to the rematch with Poirier, who he beat during his meteoric rise in the UFC.

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Conor McGregor takes on Dustin Poirier in a rematch of the Dubliner's win early in his UFC career. Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images via Sportsfile

Conor McGregor takes on Dustin Poirier in a rematch of the Dubliner's win early in his UFC career. Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images via Sportsfile

Conor McGregor takes on Dustin Poirier in a rematch of the Dubliner's win early in his UFC career. Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images via Sportsfile

He arrived in Abu Dhabi on his yacht in midweek with an entourage of dozens and his family at the centre.

He undertook his media obligations effortlessly and breezed through the weigh-in, hitting the 155-pound mark as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

Facing another southpaw was nothing new to the Irishman. He and Poirier had met in 2014 and McGregor had previously faced another left-hander in two of his toughest octagon tests against Nate Diaz in 2016, losing the first bout by submission but winning the second on points after a fierce five-round war of attrition later that same year.

Gone is the McGregor who needed to dominate everybody and everything about the sport, to win every altercation, be it verbal or physical. Instead he is now in a phase where his legacy is most important.

He spoke this week of wanting his highlight reel to be as long as a feature film that he could watch with his son as he grows older, but on Sunday he came up short, never landing the clean left hand that has been his trademark.

Poirier’s task looked insurmountable, but he had a devastating secret weapon in his low kicks. Both fighters spoke at length afterwards about them, how Poirier targeted a thin sliver of muscle to cause maximum pain, and how McGregor couldn’t angle his leg correctly to nullify them.

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Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor face off

Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor face off

Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor face off

When the time came to finish the fight, Poirier was ruthless, slamming punches at McGregor’s head. The Irishman tried to slip them, but the sheer volume was overpowering, and he eventually slumped against the cage as the referee stepped in to save him from more punishment.

The end result was the first knockout loss of McGregor’s career, which left him sanguine afterwards.

“I felt no different. Inside the octagon is inside the octagon, I just need more time in there,” he told reporters.

It’s hard to argue with that conclusion, given that he had spent all of 40 seconds in the cage since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018.

MMA is a sport that grows and changes quickly, and no matter how many rounds of sparring you can get through in a camp, nothing can simulate the cage door closing behind you and the referee calling for combat to begin.

Having retired at least three times already, some in the assembled media whispered that he might be set to hang up his gloves again, and UFC president Dana White suggested they might be right, given his wealth and his business interests.

McGregor himself was non-committal at first, but gradually warmed to the idea of trilogy fights with Poirier and Nate Diaz, and a boxing match against Manny Pacquiao that would be as lucrative as it would be pointless.

But this time, he was different in defeat. In the aftermath of his first UFC loss to Diaz he wanted an immediate rematch at the same weight to try to erase the stain on his record, and when he lost to Khabib he seemed similarly eager to throw down again.

This time, McGregor was more pensive, noting that the sun was up outside and that his children were waiting for him back at the hotel. The flame still burns, but perhaps not as fiercely as it once did.

That’s a dangerous place for a mixed martial artist to be. No-one has made the money McGregor has out of this game, and many lesser lights push their careers two or three fights too far in the hope of one last title shot or one big payday to ease them into retirement.

Prize-fighting is not like that. There are not many happy endings, and the few that there are are more often enjoyed by promoters than fighters, as are the riches.

Poirier will likely now have a shot at becoming the undisputed champion. For McGregor, the path is less clear and there are other legal issues that will require his attention, but the belt is still on his mind.

“I would like to get in and get back on the horse and secure the new belt with the Irish flag on it for sure, and anything can happen in this business, as long as you stay active, as long as you compete, things shape around you. You show up and you reap the rewards, and that’s what’s happened for Dustin tonight and what’s happened against me. I’ll keep my eye on the prize, for sure,” he said.

“The competitive fire is still in me and I will regroup and adjust and come back. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.”

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