Dustin Poirier takes on Charles Oliveira for the UFC lightweight championship in the main event of UFC 269 on Saturday, Dec. 11. Poirier has had a long road to get to this point. Will he be able to get over the final hurdle and finally become an undisputed UFC champion?
In the aftermath of Poirier’s knockout of Conor McGregor at UFC 257, many expected the Louisiana native to compete for the vacant UFC lightweight title in his next bout. However, Poirier made it clear that his intention was to have the rubber match with McGregor. He felt that the financial rewards of a McGregor fight outweighed the opportunity to fight for the title next.
Charles Oliveira was widely considered to be the number-one contender at the time. With Poirier out of the title picture, UFC newcomer Michael Chandler was selected to be his opponent. After Oliveira was almost knocked out in the first round, he dramatically delivered a TKO of Chandler just seconds into the second round.
Poirier then secured a victory over McGregor in their trilogy at UFC 264 in somewhat bizarre circumstances. After a strong start by McGregor, Poirier started to take over. At one point, he looked be on the verge of getting a finish with his heavy ground-and-pound strikes. He then allowed McGregor to get up, and the Irishman took a step back before collapsing. McGregor had suffered a broken leg and the fight was brought to an end. Poirier got the TKO victory by doctor’s stoppage.
Now, it was clear that Poirier was the number-one contender, and he would challenge Oliveira for the title in his next bout. Poirier is viewed by many to be the best lightweight on the planet, despite not being the champion. One reason for this is the fact that he arguably has a greater resume than many current UFC champions, including Oliveira. He has victories over five former world champions, including McGregor, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis and Justin Gaethje. Oliveira is currently on a nine-fight win streak but his strength of schedule is still inferior compared to Poirier’s.
Another factor that has led many to believe Poirier will persevere on Saturday is his ability to endure punishment and survive difficult moments. In his fights against Alvarez, Gaethje, Holloway (the rematch) and Dan Hooker, Poirier suffered a great deal of damage, but still managed to win. The best example of this was against Hooker. The second round in this contest is widely considered to be one of the greatest rounds in MMA history.
The fight started at a scarcely believable pace, and it seemed inevitable that one fighter would land the knockout blow. Hooker was getting the better of the exchanges, and he had Poirier badly hurt towards the end of the second round. The former interim champion looked to be out on his feet, but Poirier somehow grew stronger in the championship rounds to ultimately secure the victory by unanimous decision.
Before the Chandler fight, Oliveira was viewed as a talented fighter, but was also perceived to lack mental resolve and the capacity to overcome adversity. The fact that he was able to recover from the verge of being knocked out in a high-pressure spot, such as a title fight, showcases his improvement in his mental strength. However, it does not change the fact that he has been stopped on seven different occasions.
Conversely, Poirier has become one of the most durable fighters in the UFC. This has been a valuable trait to have in a division full of hard-hitting strikers and dangerous grapplers. Poirier will be especially wary of Oliveira’s finishing ability on the ground. The Brazilian holds the record for the most UFC wins by submission, with 19. This means that Poirier has almost no margin for error in the grappling against Oliveira. Like Oliveira, Poirier is also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he will still not want to put this to the test against the champion.
In his first undisputed UFC title contest, Poirier felt that the threat of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s wrestling caused him to be hesitant on the feet. Whilst Oliveira has a greater BJJ pedigree than Nurmagomedov, his wrestling is not on the same level. As long as he does not over-commit on the feet, and present Oliveira with an easier set-up for a takedown, Poirier will be confident that he can keep the fight standing. The champion is not renowned for his wrestling, and his takedown accuracy in the UFC is only 44 percent. Several of Oliveira’s submission wins have come after his opponents initiated takedowns after getting hurt on the feet.
For this reason, Poirier will need to curb his natural instincts and likely need to fight in a more controlled manner. Poirier is expected to have the edge in the striking, but Oliveira has made significant improvements in this department. Three of his last five wins have come by knockout. His jiu-jitsu prowess allows him to walk down his opponents and throw big strikes, without any fear of takedowns. However, this may suit Poirier, who is an outstanding counter-striker. For all the development Oliveira has made in his stand-up, his footwork is still somewhat basic. Chandler was able to land big, swinging punches on him without using feints and set-ups.
Poirier could employ a back-foot strategy and allow Oliveira to get close, knowing that the Brazilian’s footwork is not good enough to evade the precise counter shots coming his way. The American Top Team athlete had success using this game plan against another elite pressure fighter in Holloway.
If Poirier is victorious then it will be the crowning achievement of a long career which has been full of ups and downs. However, losing on Saturday night could mean that Poirier likely ends his career as an all-time great of his weight class, but his achievements are overshadowed by his failure to become undisputed champion. This would be a bitter pill to swallow for an athlete who had an arduous journey to earn his first title shot, and then worked his way back to the top after falling short the first time.
Brandon Moreno, Glover Teixeira and Oliveira are all fighters who were doubted throughout their careers, but overcame the odds and became undisputed UFC champions in 2021. It remains to be seen if the man who has had arguably the toughest road to the top of all, joins them in capturing UFC gold.
UFC 269 takes place in front of a capacity crowd inside the T-Mobile Arena. The early prelims air live on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the televised prelims on ESPN2 and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. From there, the action shifts to ESPN+ pay-per-view for the main card at 10 p.m. ET.
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