On Sunday, in the main event of UFC 257, Dustin Poirier felled Conor McGregor with a procession of calf kicks and punches. It was a remarkably simple recipe for victory and a clear indication McGregor, long regarded as one of the sport’s best fighters, has hit a snag in his technical development. It was fairly easy to imagine Poirier submitting McGregor, or beating him by decision after five gruelling rounds. We’d seen the Irishman tap out to chokes and he’s always been known to slow down after the first few rounds. His weaknesses weren’t exactly mysteries. That being said, it was very difficult to picture Poirier beating McGregor by knockout. Perhaps we should have known better. At several points in MMA history, we’ve talked about wrestlers “falling in love with their hands”. Josh Koscheck (17-11) was a great example – after picking up a few knockout wins, he began to neglect his world-class wrestling and search unrelentingly for one-punch knockouts. McGregor has never been a great wrestler, but he’s fallen victim to a similar problem. He’s become so infatuated with his boxing – undoubtedly because of his 2017 bout with Floyd Mayweather and his dashed dreams of challenging Manny Pacquaio later this year – he has seemingly forgotten the other parts of his incredible striking arsenal. He’s effectively been fighting like a boxer in MMA. UFC: Mayweather reignites McGregor racism feud In the earlier phases of his UFC career, McGregor was known for his versatile and varied striking, for throwing a breadth of kicks to the legs, body and head. Remember his 2015 win over Chad Mendes (18-5)? He laid the groundwork for that knockout with a steady diet of kicks to the midsection, which quickly caused Mendes to drop his hands, widening the opportunities for McGregor to land to the head. And in his 2016 decision over Nate Diaz (21-12), McGregor’s early leg kicks were key part, as they slowed Diaz down and turned him into a more hittable target. That was the kind of clever striking we expected from McGregor for many years, but his kicks have almost disappeared. Sure, he’s thrown the occasional spinning attack, but with massively reduced frequency. Coach @mikebrownmma had a perfectly simple answer for why he thought calf kicks would be a key for @DustinPoirier against Conor McGregor at #UFC257 (via @bokamotoESPN ) pic.twitter.com/v5hpQaFe0A — ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 24, 2021 To make matters worse, McGregor has recently fought like he believes all his opponents have also forgotten about kicks. His strategy in his last three MMA bouts has seemed to boil down to stopping takedowns and landing punches. It was just a matter of time before somebody realised McGregor – who has always been very heavy on his lead leg – had become vulnerable to kicks. Poirier (27-6, one no contest) didn’t just target McGregor (22-5) with traditional kicks to the thigh, he went after the Irishman’s calf. Calf kicks are a pretty new addition to the MMA toolkit, but are extremely effective at flat-out destroying legs. “My leg is completely dead, and even though I felt like I was checking them, it was just sinking into the muscle at the front of the leg and it was very badly compromised,” McGregor said. “It’s like an American football in my suit at the minute. “Those leg kicks are not to be messed with. That calf kick, that low calf kick, I’ve never experienced that before.” McGregor has always considered himself a student of martial arts, but that he was taken aback by what is now one of the most popular attacks in the striking arsenal speaks not only to his failure to evolve, but his bizarre regression into a simplified version of the fighter he used to be. The good news for McGregor and his legions of fans is he seems to recognise he’s stuck in the mud. “It’s not that I don’t have the style in me to switch it up and keep [those kicks] at bay,” he said. “I’ve a lot more weapons that I didn’t get to show.” Hopefully he dusts those off and incorporates them into his game plan for whoever he ends up fighting next. Hopefully, he once again starts mixing his martial arts.