Aussie UFC champion Robert Whittaker says mentality, not ability, will determine whether superstar Conor McGregor can bounce back in Sunday’s (AEST) trilogy fight against Dustin Poirier.
Irishman McGregor is bidding to avenge January’s second-round TKO defeat to Poirier when the pair meet again at UFC 264 in a bout that looms as pivotal when it comes to his career and legacy. The duo have won one match-up apiece with McGregor needing less than two minutes to KO the American when they first met in 2014.
Former middleweight champion Whittaker believes McGregor still possesses the striking precision and power present in that win but has bluntly questioned whether the 32-year-old still has the same hunger.
“He (McGregor) knows how to strike with the absolute best of them, he is so good at what he does, at his craft,” Whittaker said of McGregor on Fox Sports’ Fight Week.
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“Honestly I thought in the second fight he displayed that (striking ability) as well. But I think … there is a difference in mentality. That hungry McGregor might not be the same. Whether the latest loss against Poirier changes that up, we’ll have to wait and see.
“McGregor’s made a lot of money. Back then (the first fight) he hadn’t done that. He’s achieved a lot of things now. He’s achieved titles, double titles, big money. He’s not the same McGregor”
Whittaker said talent-wise and skill-wise, McGregor was “still there with the best of them”.
“You could see that in that (second) fight but I think honestly it’s mentality, and I think that’s going to be the biggest thing moving forward and in this next fight — which McGregor, head-wise, comes into this fight?”
Australian UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski agreed McGregor still presented a major threat to Poirier with his striking ability.
“Going into this next fight, that’s going to be something that has to play a factor again — the fact that (in the second fight) he (Poirier) got hit a few times and it made him think, ‘I’ve got to play a bit of strategy here — look for the calves, take-downs, get him thinking and slow him down,” Volkanovski said.
“I feel he needs to do that again. He can’t get caught up in the strikes especially early because Conor is still very dangerous and very crafty on the feet.”