UFC 264 is shaping up to be one of the most stacked MMA cards of the year as it will see several top contenders and fan favorites return to the octagon. Despite its obvious lack of championship fights, UFC 264 will go down as an event as significant as any other pay-per-view.
The main event will feature a collision between two of the UFC’s biggest stars, Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier. Each boasting TKO wins against one another, the rivals will get the opportunity to prove who the better fighter is, in a trilogy of epic proportions. To sweeten the pot, UFC president Dana White has confirmed that the winner of the main event will get a lightweight title shot.
This event will also answer what the future will look like for the welterweight division. Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and Gilbert Burns will look to take one step closer to title contention. Veteran Carlos Condit will also try to remain relevant while Niko Price and Michel Pereira continue their quest to crack the division’s top 15 at UFC 264.
Needless to say, UFC 264 will be an impactful event. But for some fighters on the card, winning or losing will have huge implications for their careers moving forward.
On that note, let’s take a look at the four fighters who will engage in career-defining fights at UFC 264.
#4 UFC heavyweight Greg Hardy
Former NFL pro-bowler Greg Hardy was, at one point, among the hottest UFC prospects after showcasing tremendous potential as an MMA fighter. He made a splashy professional MMA debut knocking out fellow ex-NFL player Austen Lane in an episode of Dana White’s Contender Series.
Unfortunately, Hardy’s potential and inherent athleticism haven’t translated into meaningful success in the octagon. Since making his debut at UFC proper, Hardy can’t seem to string together a winning streak longer than two. Granted, it was his ignorance of the rules and not his lack of ability that prevented him from snagging two victories against opponents he would’ve beaten.
But Hardy has also proven himself incapable of going toe-to-toe against middle-of-the-pack heavyweight contenders Alexander Volkov and Marcin Tybura.
Tai Tuivasa serves as a litmust test for ‘The Prince of War’ at UFC 264. If Hardy prevails, he might become a serious threat at heavyweight, down the line. But if he fails, we could very well witness the end of a short-lived UFC career.
#3 UFC welterweight Stephen Thompson
Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson is widely respected as one of the most accomplished strikers in MMA. He trained with former champions Georges St-Pierre and Chris Weidman but has yet to capture a title of his own after two chances.
After suffering back-to-back losses against Darren Till and Anthony Pettis, Thompson looked like he was headed towards a downward spiral. However, ‘Wonderboy’ seemed to have found a second wind, re-establishing himself as a top contender with two straight wins against Vincente Luque and Geoff Neal.
Thompson will be presented with a golden opportunity when he takes on number two-ranked welterweight Gilbert Burns. A win over the Brazilian will give ‘Wonderboy’ a timely victory, as reigning champion Kamaru Usman has already defeated every single contender in the top 4 besides Thompson.
All signs indicate that Colby Covington will challenge Usman in a rematch. Leon Edwards is also in the conversation as many believe the Englishman’s championship opportunity is long overdue. But if Thompson can get past Burns, he’ll automatically insert himself into the conversation.
#2 Top-ranked UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier
Dustin Poirier could have pursued the UFC lightweight title if he wanted to, but settling his unfinished business with Conor McGregor seemed to be his top priority. That decision could haunt Poirier for a long time if his rival gets the better of him at UFC 264.
Based on their most recent fight, though, Poirier showed that he has thoroughly done his homework on his opponent. ‘The Diamond’ implemented a game plan that caught the former two-division champion by surprise, avenging his TKO loss in 2014. But this time around, the element of surprise won’t be an advantage for Poirier as McGregor will have ample time to strategize against his offense.
If Poirier can make it two in a row against McGregor at UFC 264, a date with newly-minted UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira is all but guaranteed. But if he loses, he will have squandered an opportunity to become an undisputed UFC champion.
#1 Former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor has fallen from grace as he finds himself on the brink of crashing out of the lightweight title picture. Despite being a former lightweight titleholder, McGregor’s record in the 155-pound division is only 1-2. If he drops to 1-3, guys like Justin Gaethje, Beneil Dariush and maybe even Michael Chandler will all be ahead of the Irishman.
That’s not to say, however, that McGregor won’t ever have the chance to fight for a title if he loses at UFC 264. After all, he’s still going to be a big draw win or lose; his status as the UFC’s most reliable cash cow does have its perks.
But the road back to the top would be a hellish one. That said, it wouldn’t be very surprising if McGregor calls it quits if he loses once again to Poirier. And with that in mind, UFC 264 is almost a do-or-die scenario for the Irishman.