This was written just before the big rubber match occurred. I'm glad I was correct in picking the winner, I was a little off in how quickly the finish would come!
I'm not here to tell you who is going to win, but I think it's important to look back on how these two men grew from their first encounter and what took place in the rematch. From here maybe we can find some insights on what might happen in the rubber match.
First Fight: Stances
The first thing to note is the stances. Contender Conor used to throw a ton of spinning kicks through out his career. This is important to note because the basis of being able to throw spinning kicks at a the snap of a fingers stems from the bladed stance. Attribute it to Karate, Taekwondo, Capoeira, or whatever. By staying on a line, you reduce the distance needed in order to spin effectively. This is why you'll see taekwondo practitioners take this as their default stance when it comes generating insane torque on their back kick/spinning hook kick. It's less distance to travel relative to the traditional striker's stance. This is important to note for later.
Dustin Poirier on the other hand, looks like the prototypical MMA Striker with a focus on boxing. If there's something to note here it's his limited shot selection through out the fight. He aims for the head and over extends himself a few times. He does throw the occasional inside/outside leg kick but nothing of substance. If anything it shows McGregor's lack of concern for the leg kick at this point his career (granted he does subtly check them in his own way)
Second Fight: Mixing it Up
The first thing I want to note about the rematch is the absence of the bladed stance and the economy of movement from McGregor. It's no secret he started focusing strictly on his hands in the later portion of his career. You can see that he isn't as light on his feet as he used to be. He stays closer to the floor and doesn't make any unnecessary movements. In exchange for mobility, he gained power and stability. I wouldn't say that this is a pro or a con, just a game of choices and consequences. I just think that this is an interesting development and explains the absence of the spinning kicks later in his career. His actions basically tell me that he went down the route of eliminating things that aren't necessary and focussing on what was working really well (his left hand).
I would say that McGregor was winning the entire fight up until the finish. So how did Dustin set up such a devastating finish? I initially thought the takedown played a larger role in that fight but upon closer examination, McGregor had a lot of really good answers for Dustin on the floor
It's been no secret that the calf kicks that Dustin utilized were instrumental in Mcgregor's downfall. I want to note is how devastating half a dozen calf kicks can be. Look at the difference in the quality of movement in the start of the fight, to the end. To give Conor credit, I don't think the initial shot that started the KO actually finishes him on fresh legs. I think he eats it and manages to circle out. But because of the accumulated damage on his leg, he was no longer able to get out of harm's way. Having a stance with increased stability may let you throw harder, but it makes it much harder to actually check a kick. Even if you do check the calf kick in time, the way Dustin was throwing still causes you to take damage.
Approaching the Trilogy
I think it's clear both men are capable of finishing each other at a moment's notice and both are exceptional fighters and athletes. Looking at the variables I've discussed above, logic dictates that McGregor only has to shore up the stance issue in his style to accommodate for what we saw from Dustin Poirier in the rematch. Either that or commit to staying out of kicking range or staying in the pocket. It would most likely be easier to modify is stand up game to include the possibility of the calf kick.
For Dustin, It would probably be wise to revisit that same strategy to test the waters, but I wouldn't bank on it, even if the rematch game planning from the McGregor Team can be a little lack lustre. With American Top Team backing Dustin Poirier, I imagine they'd come in to the fight playing on the third variable of the takedown.
Whether Dustin chooses to implement a takedown emphasis into his game plan is a different story though. This is still something that only Khabib Nurmagomedov has managed to enforce on the Irishman. Nate Diaz had to rock him to initiate the grappling exchange that lead to his downfall. It's a viable move for Dustin given that he's shown competent takedown/grappling acumen in the rematch and fights prior. McGregor adapts quickly, but I wouldn't put it past ATT to come up with a plan to keep him guessing for 5 rounds.
I honestly think Skill for Skill, McGregor comes out on top, but Dustin has a superior support network around him and that will be the difference be in the game planning. I personally think Dustin weathers an early storm from McGregor in the first two rounds and takes a late stoppage in the championship rounds after establishing a takedown threat.
Dustin Poirier def. Conor McGregor R4 via TKO (Punches)