Ignore the bluster, Stephen A. Smith is right about Conor McGregor
For all his bluster, the ESPN presenter makes a valid point
Introducing the hyperbolic Stephen A. Smith to the UFC mix was always going to produce contentious results, but tear away some of the outlandish statements and he sometimes hits upon a core truth.
Last year, Smith evoked a strong reaction from Conor McGregor when he claimed Donald Cerrone quit in The Octagon the moment he lost the opening exchange. McGregor came to Cerrone's defence and demanded an apology from the veteran reporter.
"Fighting is vicious," McGregor declared. "Those who make the walk deserve full respect! Apologise."
12 months on and Smith's comments may irk the Dubliner again. Discussing McGregor's TKO loss to Dustin Poirier, at UFC 257, Smith pointed out the reason he believes McGregor is not ready for a title shot.
"He should get back as soon as he's getting back in there," he began.
"Because I'll tell you something right now, the minute I saw Poirier take him down, the first thing that came to my mind - and when I saw how long it took McGregor to get out of that situation - I said, 'This man ain't ready for [Khabib] Nurmagomedov. He ain't ready'.
"You want to beat Nurmagomedov but if you can't wrestle with Dustin Poirier - at least as effectively as we would like to see you, so you can get loose and really chop him down with some of those strikes - then guess what? You're not going to be able to beat somebody like Nurmagomedov.
"Remember, coming into the fight, Nurmagomedov had alluded to Dana White, and others, about needing to see something spectacular in order to be coaxed out of retirement. And to be able to have that big fight. We didn't see that.
"What we're seeing is that Conor McGregor has been inactive over the last four years. Just two UFC fights [before Poirier]. Obviously, he lost to Nurmagomedov in 2018 and beat Cerrone, who looked like a deer in headlights. But he went in against Dustin Poirier and wasn't ready for that."
Former UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier explained, on Monday, that McGregor would have been taken aback by Poirier's first round takedown as, normally, the standard technique would see Poirier put his head to the left. Poirier shot and put his head to the right, unconventionally, and also tripped McGregor in the process.
Cormier argued that such an unorthodox takedown would never work in wrestling but can be successful in MMA because fighters have to be on the alert for so many different forms of attack.
For John Kavanagh, McGregor's coach, the Poirier takedown was something his team had planned for and an area of the fight that, he feels, his man took the honours.
"In my head," he told Ariel Helwani's MMA Show, "Dustin's probably not going to try for more takedowns, because Conor dominated the clinch aspect of it. And it's quite tiring, trying takedowns and not really getting anything out of it. Maybe if he had taken Conor down and got a lot of ground control, he would have thought, 'Let's keep going back there'. But, from my point of view at the end of round one, I thought, 'That's it for takedowns. Now it's a kick-boxing battle'."
McGregor did win the first round on all three judges' scorecards but suffered a dead leg in the second round and Poirier finished him off in unforgiving fashion.
Stephen A Smith, though, has a point. Poirier is not renowned in the UFC as an elite wrestler but he succeeded with his one and only takedown attempt and ensured there would be no fast start for 'The Notorious'.
Watching on, master grappler Khabib Nurmagomedov would have surmised that McGregor had not learned too much since he made him tap out, for the fourth time in his career, at UFC 229.