Two of the UFC's brightest young featherweight prospects will take center stage on Saturday night (November 12, 2011) as 22 year old Dustin Poirier takes on the ever-unpredictable Pablo Garza in a thrilling showdown on the UFC on Fox: "Velasquez vs. dos Santos" preliminary card.
Poirier came out of nowhere in 2011, taking a fight on short notice and dominating number one featherweight contender Josh Grispi at UFC 125. If he can impress on Saturday night against "The Scarecrow," he'll likely be entering top contender status himself.
Pablo Garza has quickly built a reputation as one of the most exciting fight finishers in the UFC today, with both of his UFC fights in his career being put on the short list for knockout and submission of the year respectively. He is hoping to legitimize himself in the featherweight division with a victory on Saturday night.
Will Poirier continue to emerge as one of the best UFC featherweights? Does Garza have one more trick up his sleeve for Saturday night? What is the best path of victory for each 145 pound prospect?
Let's find out:
Record: 10-1 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Danny Castillo (WEC 50)
How he got here: Dustin Poirier, a disciple of UFC and Ultimate Fighter veteran Tim Credeur, has come a long way despite just being 22 years old. He got off to a very promising 7-0 start to his career on the regional circuit with no fights even going to the third round. He caught the attention of the WEC, who gave him a shot against veteran lightweight Danny Castillo in his promotional debut in August of 2010.
Poirier would come up short against Castillo, who used his wrestling to secure a unanimous decision victory but he would get right back on track less than three months later with a first minute knockout of Miletich Fighting System's Zack Micklewright.
After his victory, he informed Zuffa that he was dropping down to featherweight and to keep him on notice if any fights became available. He probably wasn't expecting to get a bout against the number one contender in the featherweight division for his 145 pound debut, but that's what happened when Jose Aldo got hurt and his opponent, Josh Grispi, still wanted to fight at UFC 125.
Poirier would go on to dominate Grispi with unrelenting physical pressure and would unanimously earn a decision victory which was a tremendous upset at the time. He followed it up by defeating UFC newcomer Jason Young later this summer with another decision. Poirier gladly accepted a fight against Garza for the UFC's network debut on FOX as his fight was the first preliminary bout announced.
How he gets it done: Poirier is a very well-rounded fighter. His biggest strength is his offensive aggression and the pressure he puts on his opponents. He's got knockout power as well as being well versed in the art of submission while training under Tim Credeur, but what he really loves to do is just scrap it out if he gets the chance.
Poirier pushes a tremendous pace in his fights. That's what forced Grispi to wilt at UFC 125 and his aggression was what helped him defeat Young earlier this summer despite not being as technical on the feet. He simply forced the Brit to have to fight more defensively.
Don't be surprised at all if Poirier tries to swarm Garza early with strikes, getting in his face and throwing short combinations. He also wouldn't mind to get in the clinch or working for takedowns, as long as he can avoid eating a knee on the way in. The best plan of attack would be to put Garza on his back as long as he can avoid submissions from the submission fighter, he should at least be able to grind out a decision victory if nothing else.
Record: 11-1 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Zhang Tie Quan (WEC 51)
How he got here: Pablo Garza got into MMA after he couldn't find any amateur boxing fights, skipping an amateur MMA career entirely. His risk seemed to pay off when he won his first fight in 38 seconds and then proceeded to go 9-0 against the local North Dakota circuit.
"The Scarecrow" would earn an invite to participate in season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter but would lose a tough decision to eventual finalist Michael Johnson for a shot to get into the house. Despite the loss, he would earn an invite into the WEC to take on undefeated Chinese prospect Tie Quan Zhang on just five days' notice. Garza would succumb to Zhang's patented guillotine choke in the opening frame.
When the UFC and WEC merged, Garza was given one more shot as a reward for stepping up to the plate on late notice when he took on former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Fredson Paxiao in the first featherweight fight in UFC history at The Ultimate Fighter season 12 finale. In less than a minute, Garza landed a brutal knee that knocked Paxiao out cold and earned him a fight night bonus.
Garza would return at UFC 129 in the opening bout of the night against Yves Jabouin. After a rough start, he put Jabouin in a clinch and jumped up for a flying triangle choke, eventually securing the submission and another huge fight night bonus. He returns with a shot at going 3-0 in the UFC against Poirier on Saturday.
How he gets it done: Garza is lankier than Poirier and that means he's going to have a leverage issue if he allows the Louisiana fighter to get inside on him. Garza is primarily a submission fighter but his striking has been improving considerably as of late. His knockout victory against Paxiao is a testament to that, but he still has some major holes in his striking with his punches and kicks.
A major strength for "The Scarecrow" will be if he can put Poirier on the defensive with a Muay Thai clinch, throwing knees to the body. His knees are definitely his biggest weapon in the stand-up department and he needs to use them early and often. If he can soften Poirier up with knees to the head or body, that could lead to a potential takedown or submission for the North Dakota native.
Garza has two submission victory in his career by triangle choke but he's significantly more dangerous when fighting from top position. It won't be easy to get there as Poirier has a good base and is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt himself, but Garza also takes a lot of risks when he fights that most people don't expect. You're a liar if you saw a flying triangle coming in his last fight.
The key for Garza is to be unpredictable in both the striking and grappling department. If he can keep Poirier off balance, he could definitely be sniffing an upset.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this fight could be size. You'd think Garza would have the size advantage because at 6'1, he ties George Roop as the tallest featherweight in the UFC but it's the 5'9 Poirier who will be the physically larger man in the cage on Saturday night. Poirier usually cuts down from 170-175 to make featherweight, which means he could have 10+ pounds on Garza after rehydrating when the weigh-ins are over.
How Poirier uses his size could be a huge factor in obtaining a victory. If he can push Garza into the fence or put him on his back and force the Academy of Combat Arts fighter to carry his weight or have to work extra hard to get out of a situation, he could wear him down drastically. It could also take a bit of the spring out of Garza's step and that could be all he needs to win.
Bottom Line: Plain and simple, Garza and Poirier are two of the most entertaining young featherweights in the UFC today. Both of them have terrific fight records and neither man has ever lost in the 145 pound weight class. This fight also has some divisional implications. With a victory, the winner will be 3-0 in the UFC featherweight division and will be ready to take on some of the top contenders. The fact that Garza is one of the riskiest fighters in the promotion also adds to the potential that something incredible could happen. You do not want to miss this fight, not even for a second.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FOX? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!