This Saturday night (Dec. 28, 2013) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweights Dustin Poirier and Diego Brandao will go to war on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 168 from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The bout will hold dire rankings implications for number six-ranked Poirier, who was most recently seen outpointing Erik Koch en route to a unanimous decision at UFC 164 in August. Before that, "Diamond" had been on a bit of a snide, losing two out of three to top divisional contenders Chan Sung Jung and Cub Swanson.
The Jung loss was a "Fight of the Year"-winning performance that earned him a ton of supporters, even in defeat. He sits with an impressive 14-3 record in mixed martial arts (MMA) and is one signature win away from establishing himself as a true player in the stacked UFC 145-pound division.
Unfortunately for him, he'll need to get past Brandao to get that fight, something that will be no easy task.
The unranked Brandao rose to fame as the winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14. He came into UFC with a ton of hype behind him, but it cooled substantially when he lost his first non-TUF bout to Darren Elkins. Brandao responded well by reeling off three straight victories over Joey Gambino, Pablo Garza, and Daniel Pineda.
The streak earned him a big step up in competition. Brandao has a golden opportunity to prove he's a featherweight force to be reckoned with in 2014.
But will he?
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Dustin Poirier vs. Diego Brandao:
Record: 14-3 overall, 6-2 UFC
Key Wins: Erik Koch (UFC 164), Jonathan Brookins (TUF 16 Finale), Max Holloway (UFC 143)
Key Losses: Cub Swanson (UFC on FUEL TV 7), Chan Sung Jung (UFC on FUEL TV 3)
Keys to Victory: "Diamond" is a well-rounded fighter who mixes up his game effectively. He has five knockouts, six submissions, and three decision wins on his record.
He's faced many of the top contenders at 145 pounds, but has yet to get over the hump by notching a truly defining win.
Brandao may not present that challenge quite yet, but that doesn't make him any less dangerous. Poirier is a smart fighter who knows what's at stake at UFC 168. Brandao is a thunderous striker with solid Brazilian jiu-jitsu to match, so Poirier needs to show up with the perfect gameplan in place.
He proved how much his stand-up game is progressing against Koch last summer. He could definitely use his range and speed to pick apart the more power-focused Brandao on the feet. If he does choose to go that route, however, he needs to get in and out of the pocket quickly. Standing and trading with Brandao for too long could send him crashing to the canvas.
Poirier has never been knocked out, but he can't let that fact lead to any overconfidence.
His grappling is also top shelf, evident by his rousing back-and-forth war with "Korean Zombie" in 2012. He owns a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu that is slightly outranked by Brandao's black belt, but that won't make him shy away from a chess match on the ground.
Poirier has all the skills to put a stamp on Brandao. He needs to control the stand-up with crisp combinations while maintaining advantageous positions on the ground. If he can neutralize Brandao's formidable power, this should be his fight to win.
Record: 18-8 overall, 4-1 UFC
Key Wins: Dennis Bermudez (TUF 14 Finale), Joey Gambino (UFC 153)
Key Losses: Darren Elkins (UFC 146)
Keys to Victory: Brandao is an exciting fighter who has looked impressive during his recent win streak. But he didn't face anyone close to the caliber of Poirier, so this fight is going to be an excellent litmus test of exactly where he stands in a crowded division.
In order to score a huge win and catapult himself into the top 10, Brandao needs to keep his wits about him. We saw him explode at his opponents with devastating knockouts on TUF 14, but against an opponent like Poirier, that's going to be hard to pull off.
Brandao can't get frustrated if his initial flurry fails to floor Poirier. Doing so will lead to a clear opening for "Diamond" to score with strikes or take this fight to the ground. Brandao showed that he might expend his energy too early when he gassed at UFC 146 and allowed Darren Elkins to come back and grind out a decision win.
The Brazilian has the mat skills to put Poirier in trouble but they won't be worth much if he is too tired to use them. He has to come in with his conditioning at an all-time high in order to win this fight.
Brandao has been presented with a great chance to prove all his hype is justified at UFC 168; he just cant let his confidence turn into arrogance. Brandao believes he will be featherweight champion one day, but he has a long road to travel first. That road to glory starts against Poirier on Saturday night.
If he can keep his emotions in check and fight an aggressive yet calculated fight, an upset may be in the works.
Bottom line from Las Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is that it will be a very interesting bout that could provide a dark horse contender in a crowded division. With contenders like Ricardo Lamas, Chad Mendes, and Cub Swanson all lining up for a shot at Jose Aldo's belt, Poirier has kind of got lost in the discussion.
He can put his name back on the map by beating Brandao in impressive fashion. Most of the pressure lies on Poirier's shoulders as the ranked fighter. A win will continue his rise but a loss may relegate him to gatekeeper status until he can string together a streak of consistent wins.
This fight is huge for Brandao. It's a main card bout on arguably the biggest PPV of the year and he's the underdog. Most will expect Poirier to win, so Brandao can make some big headway if he can figure out a way to crush "Diamond." We're going to find out just how legit Brandao really is this Saturday night. If he shows up and finishes the notoriously tough Poirier, he should get another huge fight against a top-five opponent.
On the other hand, if he gets destroyed, we could see him labeled as a talented fighter who wilts in the face of top-level opposition.
This is an unpredictable fight that's an under-the-radar "Fight of the Night" candidate. Both fighters have the complete games to make this a war wherever it goes, and both have the resiliency to make it last. Poirier may hold the edge in conditioning, which is a big feather in his cap.
This match could go either way and the fans should end up winning overall. Don't be surprised to see either fighter win with a big finish or a grinding decision. It's that degree of unpredictability that will make this one so much fun. Enjoy the fight.
It's going to be a struggle for featherweight position when ultra-talented Dustin Poirier and Diego Brandao clash in the Octagon at UFC 168. Will it turn into a slugfest, or will we see a technical ground war?