- Publish Date
- Monday, 25 January 2021, 9:54AM
Conor McGregor blamed Octagon rust for his devastating loss to Dustin Poirier on Sunday and it's shone a torch back on the UFC's failure to unleash him in 2020.
UFC great Chael Sonnen said after the fight McGregor was the victim of the sport's "big miss" when he was able to fight just once last year — a 40-second KO win over Donald Cerrone in January — before all plans were put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic.
McGregor was slow and sluggish in his return to the Octagon — and his hopes of a title fight in 2021 have likely gone up in smoke with it. Poirier is now certain to fight for the title next — with the lightweight division still in murky territory following the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The lack of action for McGregor resulted in a weakness Sonnen says the world has never seen before — with Poirier chopping up McGregor's front leg.
Front leg kicks is a tactic McGregor usually owns and uses to open up opportunities for his hands — but it was Poirier who was chopping wood on Sunday before he finished Conor with some sweet jabs in the second round TKO.
McGregor's beaten up legs were the story of the fight — and it was clearly evident when he left his changeroom to make his walk to the post-fight press conference limping on crutches.
Sonnen said McGregor's failure to win the southpaw-against-southpaw leg kick duel was the biggest consequence of McGregor's time in the UFC wilderness.
"If there was a miss in 2020 by us as an industry it was that Conor McGregor wanted to fight four times and we allowed him to fight once," Sonnen told ESPN.
"In all fairness it was a miss. Conor was slow tonight. He was sluggish, that's going to happen."
He said of Conor's failure to stop Poirier's leg kicks: "We've never seen that as a weakness of Conor McGregor's.
"Guys in the past have tried to give him leg kicks and Conor gives them a left down the middle. For some reason Conor was not responding. Part of the reason I'm blaming is that inactivity."
McGregor confirmed it in his post-fight press conference.
"My leg is completely dead. Even though I felt like I was checking them... I was badly compromised.
"Those leg kicks are not to be messed with. The calf kick, the low calf kick, I hadn't experienced that.
"My knee is like an American football inside my suit pants."
In a juicy post-fight wash up, UFC commentator Ariel Helwani speculated a trilogy fight between McGregor and Nate Diaz is the right fight next for The Notorious, who desperately needs to regain some credibility before any type of title run.
Helwani also told ESPN Poirier will get to fight for a vacant title if Nurmagomedov continues to stay out of the game.
It was the leg kicks that opened up an avenue for Poirier to land shots from long range and the fight was turned on its head when a left hand hurt McGregor.
McGregor tried to dance his way out of trouble, but with Poirier having time to pick and choose his shots, it was a slow, painful demise for McGregor.
It was a right hand that McGregor leaned into that eventually broke the former dual-division champion, who fell backwards before the fight was stopped.
The defeat leaves the lightweight division in a complete mess and leaves McGregor's career at the crossroads again.
McGregor said after the fight he will fight again in the Octagon this year – but a title shot suddenly seems a long way away.
McGregor said after the fight it was his lack of time in the Octagon - just one fight since October, 2018 - that left him rusty and ripe for an upset.
"The leg was dead. I just wasn't as comfortable as I needed to be. It's the inactivity," he said.
"If you put in the time in here, you feel cosy in here, and that's it. I have to dust this one off and come back and that's what I'm going to do.
"You don't get away with being inactive in this business.
"It's a tough one to swallow."
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission