Updated January 23, 2021 - 11:02 pm
Conor McGregor’s return to competition did not go as planned.
The former two division champion was knocked out by Dustin Poirier midway through the second round of the main event of UFC 257 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Poirier appeared to damage McGregor’s leg with a calf kick and immediately pressed him back to the cage with a series of punches.
The decisive blow came on a big right hand that dropped McGregor, and Poirier landed another right as McGregor fell to the mat at 2:32 of the second round.
“I’m happy, but I’m not surprised,” Poirier said. “I put in the work. We’re 1-1 now. Maybe we have to do it again.
“The goal was to be technical and pick my shots, not brawl at all. I have a tendency to go a little crazy, and I did in this one a little at the end, but I had him hurt.”
It was McGregor’s first fight since a 40-second knockout of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in January 2020.
McGregor said he wouldn’t sit as long this time, insisting he will fight again in 2021.
“It’s hard to overcome inactivity over a long period of time,” McGregor said. “The calf kick was very good. The leg was dead, and then I just wasn’t as comfortable as I needed to be. But Dustin is some fighter. I’ll have to dust it off and come back, and that’s it.
“This is a tough one to swallow.”
McGregor had early success in the lightweight bout, winning the first round on the strength of several left hands that appeared to hurt Poirier.
It didn’t take long for Poirier to turn the tide and avenge a first-round knockout loss from 2014 when they were fighting in the featherweight division.
Now, Poirier is a prime candidate for another title shot, depending on what happens with retired champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I feel like this was a title fight,” Poirier said. “If Khabib isn’t coming back, then I feel I’m the champion now.”
Former three-time Bellator champion Michael Chandler also made a statement in the lightweight division, as he made quick work of contender Dan Hooker in his UFC debut.
Chandler stalked Hooker along the fence as Hooker tried to stay away from Chandler’s dangerous overhand right and takedowns.
The movement allowed Chandler to set up a left hand that folded Hooker to the mat, where he followed up with short right hands to stop the fight at 2:30 of the first round.
Chandler thought about trying to secure a choke once the fight hit the mat, then pulled away and continued the onslaught of right hands.
Top women’s flyweight contender Joanne Calderwood scored a unanimous decision over fellow Las Vegan Jessica Eye.
Calderwood found a great deal of success landing shots at distance and preventing Eye from doing much damage on the occasions she was able to close distance.
“I could have probably taken her down or submitted her, but I was just so in the moment,” Calderwood said. “Whatever she gave me, I kind of reacted. The main thing for us was to get the win.”
Breakout star Amanda Ribas had her rapid ascension through the women’s strawweight division halted by Marina Rodriguez in the opener of the pay-per-view broadcast.
Ribas, who had won five straight and was undefeated in four UFC bouts, controlled the first round on the ground before getting dropped by a big right hand early in the second.
Referee Herb Dean briefly appeared to step in to stop the fight, then backed off only to see Ribas take several more shots. Dean called it 54 seconds into the round.
Ribas landed several endorsement deals and saw an exponential increase in social media following after a star-making submission win over Paige VanZant in July, but she couldn’t keep the momentum going.
Results of Saturday’s card at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi:
— Dustin Poirier def. Conor McGregor, lightweight, KO, second round (2:32).
— Michael Chandler def. Dan Hooker, lightweight, KO, first round (2:30).
— Joanne Calderwood def. Jessica Eye, women’s flyweight, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
— Makhmud Muradov def. Andrew Sanchez, middleweight, KO, third round (2:59).
— Marina Rodriguez def. Amanda Ribas, women’s strawweight, KO, second round (0:54).
— Arman Tsarukyan def. Matt Frevola, catchweight (157 pounds), unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26).
— Brad Tavares def. Antonio Carlos Junior, middleweight, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
— Julianna Pena def. Sara McMann, women’s bantamweight, submission, third round (3:39).
— Marcin Prachnio def. Khalil Rountree, light heavyweight, unanimous decision, (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
— Movsar Evloev def. Nik Lentz, catchweight (150 pounds), split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28).
— Amir Albazi def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov, flyweight, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).