The path to Khabib: Analyzing the performances that earned Dustin Poirier a shot at glory at UFC 242 At UFC 242 Dustin Poirier becomes the 28th man to attempt to hand Khabib Nurmagomedov his first career loss but how exactly did he rise from the middle of the featherweight pack to become the biggest test of the Russian‘s career?
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They say pressure creates diamonds, and that is exactly the scenario Poirier is stepping into at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi on September 7. The current UFC interim lightweight champion has been displaying the best form of his career in his recent outings in the octagon, but is his brand of slick, powerful boxing enough to dethrone a fighter to whom there appears to be no equal?
Nurmagomedov has made a habit of stifling almost everyone he steps into a cage with. Conor McGregor, the sport‘s biggest star and the man considered to be a robust challenge for the Dagestani fighter, was resoundingly defeated last year. Before that, Al Iaquinta was served up on the chopping block.
Before him, there was Edson Barboza and Michael Johnson. The list goes on.
‘The Diamond‘ says things will be different this time around. His game is grounded in technically excellent boxing, impressive footwork and heavy hands – and while none of the elements by themselves have troubled Nurmagomedov in the past, the combination of them all might well present issues in Khabib‘s defense of his 155lb title on September 7.
Poirier will enter UFC 242 in the best form of his career. Wins against Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje were all delivered without controversy, but what exactly did he display in his most recent fights?
Max Holloway @ UFC 236, April 2019 – Poirier wins by unanimous decision
UFC featherweight champion Holloway was riding a significant win streak by the time he moved up a division to battle Poirier for the interim lightweight title earlier this year. But, despite being the underdog going into the bout, it was Poirier who proved the oddsmakers wrong.
Poirier had an answer for every attack that Holloway threw his way and landed the considerably heavier blows throughout 25 minutes of action. He used his natural size advantage to sit behind his ever-improving jab and pick opportunities to throw heavier blows, many of which noticeably shook the iron-chinned featherweight champion.
Poirier showed off a varied kicking game too, as well as opening a gash on Holloway‘s forehead with a nicely-timed knee. Perhaps most impressive was his composure in facing a fighter undefeated in six years. This, without doubt, was a world title caliber performance.
Eddie Alvarez @ UFC on Fox 30, July 2018 – Poirier wins by second-round TKO
After a crazy clash in the first meeting between the two fighters ended prematurely after Alvarez landed an illegal knee on Poirier, the two lightweight standouts again engaged in another wild brawl in their rematch a year later. But this time there was a definitive ending when Poirier got the best of a second-round shootout to drop the former 155lb champion to the canvas and claim victory.
The fight showed Poirier‘s ability to step up a gear when the situation calls for it, as he seized his opportunity to pummel Alvarez against the cage with a barrage of pinpoint strikes for the victory.
In one notable exchange, Poirier dealt with one Alvarez takedown attempt by locking in a tight (but ultimately unsuccessful) guillotine choke, which should remind Khabib of the risks of shooting in with an exposed neck.
Justin Gaethje @ UFC on Fox 29, April 2018 – Poirier wins by fourth-round TKO
Another fight where Poirier displayed an overwhelming pace. Justin Gaethje is a very difficult man to finish but Poirier became just the second man to do achieve it when the two 155lb standouts came face to face in Arizona last year.
Gaethje, a buzzsaw of a fighter, seems to have ‘Fight of the Year‘ candidates in practically every one of his performances and this fight was no different. But, against Poirier, he found himself up against a fighter who proved immune to Gaethje‘s relentless pace, nerve-shattering leg kicks and never-ending, walk-forward style.
Both fighters threw strikes with wild abandon through four rounds of action before Poirier dipped into his reserves to find the extra gear necessary to collapse Gaethje early in the fourth, first landing a telescopic straight right to buckle his opponent and following up with excellent shot selection to force the stoppage.
Anthony Pettis @ UFC Fight Night 130, November 2017 – Poirier wins by third-round Injury TKO
Former 155lb champion and world-class stand-up fighter Pettis presented a different challenge to the others listed here. Sure, his striking is just about as surgical as anyone, but it is his mastery of the kicking game, as well as his unorthodox approach, which has flummoxed fighters from featherweight all the way up to welterweight.
Poirier was a notable exception.
After a battle largely contested on the feet, Poirier opted to take the fight to the ground in the third against a fighter who has previously won a world title bout by submission. He transitioned to mount and, in doing so, induced an injury which eventually forced Pettis to verbally submit as the fight was declared an injury TKO win for “The Diamond”.
Joseph Duffy @ UFC 195, January 2016 – Poirier wins by unanimous decision
Two and a half years prior to Dustin Poirier‘s battle with Ireland‘s Joseph Duffy, he was forced to endure perhaps the single most stinging defeat of his career to Conor McGregor. The end of that fight, which came after months of prolonged verbal savagery from the silver-tongued Irishman, ended almost as soon as it began as McGregor floored the American with his most potent weapon, the straight left.
The defeat left Poirier in limbo. At the time, he was a potential challenger to the featherweight world title (and would likely have seen a title bout had he won). But, when all was said in done, it was McGregor who was thrust in the direction of that title shot. As for Poirier, he opted to move north to 155lbs and hasn‘t looked back since.
His third bout in his new weight class was slated to take place in the Irish capital in an advancement of the budding ‘Ireland vs. Poirier‘ rivalry which had captured fans‘ attention in the years prior. But an injury suffered by Duffy in the week of the fight saw the fight delayed until UFC 195 a few months later.
Duffy, the one-time conqueror of McGregor, was undefeated going into the fight, but was thoroughly outsmarted by Poirier who blended techniques seamlessly while Duffy set out his boxing-only approach.
After 15 minutes, Poirier was declared the victor and Duffy was left with a particularly nasty black eye – a physical manifestation of the improvements the American had made in the cage.
The reality for Poirier, however, is that if he is indeed to be the man to hand Khabib Nurmagomedov his first career defeat, he will need to improve upon all of the above performances to do so.
Luckily for him, he has a proven history of rising to the occasion. Will he rise once again on September 7? Watch this space.