The words were a clear sign of frustration:
These guys should just release me.
— The Diamond (@DustinPoirier) February 20, 2019
Dustin Poirier had obviously had enough of the runaround from the UFC. Once happy after signing a new contract with the organization, the lightweight contender was banging heads with the UFC brass about money and matchmaking.
Poirier isn’t a middling member of the roster or a grinder who bores fans. He’s a contender who entertains and delivers finishes. He’s also in prime position to be of great use in the UFC’s lightweight matchmaking plans. He’s not a fighter that the UFC should be willing to lose to Bellator or ONE Championship. Fortunately, the company’s suits were well aware of this. After a week highlighted by Poirier’s frustrations, the UFC found an answer heading into the weekend: install Poirier into an interim lightweight title fight against reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway.
The move came after Tony Ferguson declined to accept an offer to fight Holloway for the belt. Ferguson undoubtedly deserved the opportunity to fight for the gold, but his decision to opt out actually works to the UFC’s favor. Now, Poirier gets what he wants, and the UFC continues to have plenty of options near the top of an extremely stacked and fresh lightweight division.
The recent news of the Holloway-Poirier fight, which is set to headline UFC 236 in April, means a jostling of the lightweight division’s potential pairing. Ferguson is now the odd man out, while Poirier meets Holloway and Conor McGregor is expected to eventually fight Donald Cerrone.
McGregor is partly to blame for Poirier’s rise through the lightweight ranks. The Irishman could also serve as one of the most attractive pairings for Poirier if the “Diamond” emerges with the title. McGregor defeated the “Diamond” at featherweight. After he fell to the Irishman, Poirier moved up to lightweight.
Upon entering his new weight class, Poirier rattled off a series of wins over Carlos Diego Ferreira, Yancy Medeiros, Joe Duffy and Bobby Green. He got caught by Michael Johnson for a first-round knockout loss, but rebounded to take a majority decision over Jim Miller. In his next fight, Poirier endured two illegal knees from Eddie Alvarez that ended the fight in a no-contest ruling. He answered with stoppages of Anthony Pettis and Justin Gaethje before finally making things right with a second-round TKO of Alvarez. Unfortunately, Poirier’s next fight, a November bout against Nate Diaz, was scrapped when Poirier withdrew with a hip injury. He hasn’t seen action since.
While the American Top Team fighter’s injury stalled his efforts to climb further up the ladder in the UFC’s lightweight division, he had still done plenty to prove himself prior to the canceled bout. In a UFC run that stretches back to the beginning of 2011, Poirier, now 30 years old, has scored seven victories by some form of knockout and four submissions. More importantly, he also has a clear storyline in front of him.
It comes in the Holloway rematch that’s on the immediate horizon. Holloway is the fighter of higher stature at the moment, thanks to his featherweight title reign, but he lost in the original meeting with Poirier. In fact, he lost rather quickly by triangle armbar. Given Holloway’s rise to the top as a 145-pounder — the Hawaiian has won 13 straight and technically scored title defenses of some variety in his three most recent affairs — it makes sense for him to work on avenging what few losses he has on his resume.
Regardless of which fighter emerges as the victor at UFC 236, there’s a McGregor rematch in the making. McGregor has never been viewed as a completely invincible fighter, primarily due to holes in his takedown defense and ground game, and he’s just 2-2 over his last four MMA fights. The Irishman is more than capable of generating buzz for any fight he’s in, though, and a rematch with Poirier has a compelling backstory and at least a believable possibility that the “Diamond” can even the score. The same is true for a fight between McGregor and Holloway, who suffered a decision loss to the Irishman in 2013. Of course, McGregor would likely have to get past Cerrone if he wants a crack at the belt.
Cerrone is another interesting piece of the puzzle. He had started to fade as a welterweight, but his return to the lightweight division has led to yet another career resurgence for the veteran. The “Cowboy” has performed well across two divisions in his last two outings, and he’s quickly put himself in the mix as a result of his war of words with McGregor. Cerrone can never be counted out, and a win over McGregor would put him in prime position to fight a long list of top lightweights, including Poirier, Holloway, Ferguson and reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Every one of those fights would mark the first encounter for those fighters and Cerrone.
This brings us full circle to the man who declined a shot at interim gold. Ferguson was the UFC’s first choice of opponent for Holloway. He already served one term as interim champion, but an injury forced him out of a potential fight with Nurmagomedov and led the UFC to strip him of his interim strap. Amazingly, he, too, has yet to fight anyone in the current logjam atop the division. This means he has fresh potential match-ups with Nurmagomedov, Poirier, Holloway, McGregor, Cerrone and even Al Iaquinta, who looked like a possible dance partner for Poirier before the UFC 236 headliner was announced.
Naturally, not all of these pairings will materialize. Someone will lose or get injured and fall out of the race to the top of the lightweight mountain. However, it’s rare that a division is so full of intriguing fights. Fans are already salivating at the upcoming Holloway-Poirier bout and prospect of McGregor-Cerrone, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even with Nurmagomedov on the sidelines, the UFC’s lightweight division is a matchmaker’s dream.
The UFC entered the weekend with what looked like a Dustin Poirier problem. However, the company solved its issue and emerged with a different problem. Yet, it’s perhaps the most enviable scenario imaginable.