The main event of UFC 264 didn't end as expected, but after a frenetic first round, Dustin Poirier earned a TKO victory over Conor McGregor, as the ringside physician said McGregor could not continue due to an injured ankle. Poirier dominated much of the five minutes and landed a number of big strikes, and now he has his eyes set on UFC gold.
Before the main event festivities, Gilbert Burns entered UFC 264 hoping to hold onto his place at welterweight. After a dominating performance versus Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, Burns is still one of the men to beat at 170 pounds, but was his win enough to get him back to another title fight against Kamaru Usman?
Sean O'Malley entered the Octagon as a massive favorite against late replacement Kris Moutinho and, as expected, got the job done with ease. O'Malley landed 230 significant strikes before referee Herb Dean had seen enough in the third round. In his postfight callout, O'Malley rattled off a bunch of names as he searches for the fight that will propel him closer to a title opportunity.
So what's next for the new No. 1 lightweight contender and other standouts from UFC 264? Let's take a look.
Dustin Poirier, lightweight (defeated Conor McGregor by TKO)
Who should be next: Charles Oliveira
Poirier gambled on himself, and it paid off. Now that the money fight is in his rearview mirror -- and his bank account is fatter -- the real goal is next.
Poirier wants to be a UFC champion. It's the one thing he hasn't accomplished. Yes, he won an interim title in 2019 by defeating Max Holloway, but that's not the same as the real thing, and Poirier has said as much. This title fight between Poirier and Oliveira will pit two of the most consistent lightweights of the past five years against one another. It's a legitimate 155-pound title fight, and it should be quite competitive.
Wild card: Conor McGregor
Going into Saturday, it felt like regardless of what happened, this would be the final chapter of McGregor vs. Poirier. And in some ways, it does still feel that way. Once the dust settles, I'm not convinced there will be a huge demand for these two to fight again -- not right away, at least. UFC president Dana White said Poirier will fight for the title next, and when McGregor heals, he might get a fourth shot at Poirier.
Conor McGregor, lightweight (lost to Dustin Poirier by TKO)
Who should be next: Nate Diaz
I feel like I've written this numerous times over the past four years -- that the time had come to do McGregor vs. Diaz 3. And the UFC could have easily done it, any one of those times. But now, it's really time for the trilogy.
I wouldn't say there is nothing else for either one, but there is nothing else that even comes close in terms of making sense. McGregor, for the time being, is no longer seen as a legitimate title threat. Maybe he'll return there someday, but he's not there now. Neither is Diaz. But they are the two biggest stars in the sport.
A third fight has always had to happen. I'd love to see this booked for the UFC's final 2021 pay-per-view in December.
Wild card: Jorge Masvidal
Masvidal fits tor the same reason a Diaz fight would make sense: It makes a lot of money. Time will tell what McGregor's long-term goals become in MMA. Does he want to try to re-climb the ladder and be elite again? Does he want money fights, mixed in with the occasional boxing appearance? Depending on what those long-term goals are, a fight against Masvidal might make sense or it might not.
If McGregor is just looking around for something people will care about -- something that will capture the sport's world attention, as he is used to doing -- a fight against Masvidal would definitely suffice.
Gilbert Burns, welterweight (defeated Stephen Thompson by unanimous decision)
Gilbert Burns, Stephen Thompson let it fly in co-main event of UFC 264
Gilbert Burns and Stephen Thompson show off their skills in a high-paced bout at UFC 264.
Who should be next: Leon Edwards
Sometimes, there are a ton options. Other times, there are basically no options. This falls into the latter category.
Burns just beat a guy in Thompson who was on a roll and could have fought for the title next, had he won. Burns should be rewarded for that. Unfortunately, there's nowhere for him to go right now. Kamaru Usman is likely fighting Colby Covington next, and Burns just lost to Usman. Even if Covington were to take the title from Usman, an immediate rematch between those two would be very likely.
Edwards, frankly, also deserves a title shot. The welterweight division is in a bit of a logjam, and part of that is due to the fact Usman has already beat all the top contenders. But at the end of the day, there is no title shot coming to Burns in the very near future, so what is he going to do? Sit? I think he takes a fight, and Edwards would make sense.
Wild card: Jorge Masvidal
This makes a lot of sense. The problem is that other fights make more sense for Masvidal. A fight against Covington, for the title or not, makes sense. A fight between Masvidal and Edwards makes all the sense in the world.
Masvidal has expressed interest in a fight against Nick Diaz. Really, he could fight Thompson, as well. Those two fought before, and both have expressed interest in doing it again. Masvidal could take this fight against Burns to bolster his case for another shot at the title, but ultimately, I think Masvidal has other, better options. So, Burns will likely have to find another dance partner.
Sean O'Malley, bantamweight (defeated Kris Mountinho by TKO)
Who should be next: Rob Font
You know what? Why not? I will say, when I first heard O'Malley's callout of Font, I thought to myself that it was a good callout, but I didn't see it happening because Font deserves better. Font is the UFC's No. 4-ranked bantamweight. O'Malley wasn't in the top 15 going into this weekend. But when I look at it closer, who is Font going to fight?
We still don't have a firm date for the Aljamain Sterling-Petr Yan title rematch. Even if it's in the near future, the next No. 1 contender will be determined in a fight later this month between TJ Dillashaw and Cory Sandhagen.
Font is probably going to need to fight again before he gets a title shot. Why not O'Malley? It raises Font's profile. It's a fun, stylistic fight. If Font is open to it, I wouldn't mind seeing O'Malley jump the line. O'Malley doesn't deserve it based on record, but sometimes this sport is about more than record, and it'd be silly for any of us to pretend that's not the case.
Wild card: Dominick Cruz
O'Malley suggested that Cruz is "ducking" him in his postfight callout. Who knows if that's the case, but if you're Cruz, isn't this kind of an appealing fight? O'Malley has looked spectacular, but he hasn't been tested in certain areas. I believe Cruz could offer those tests. And for a former champion who just fought and came up short for the title last year, a big win over a guy who has gained a lot of popularity could help him out quite a bit.