When Dustin Poirier and Michael Johnson collide later tonight (Sat., Sept. 17, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 94 live on FOX Sports 1 from State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas, two of the most promising names outside of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight elite will lock horns in a match up capable of determining each fighter's 2017 potential. Poirier, 27, will attempt to lock down his fifth-straight win since moving up to 155 pounds last year, while Johnson, 30, will look to end a two-fight skid in his first Octagon appearance since losing to Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX 17.
For the most part, Poirier has looked unstoppable since making the jump to lightweight. He has showcased elevated knockout power, ground control and conditioning, en route to defeating the likes of Bobby Green, Yancy Medeiros and Joseph Duffy. Johnson represents the stiffest test to date for Poirier at 155 pounds and will have more to offer than any of Poirier's previous lightweight opponents.
To determine which Top 10 contender has the upper hand heading into tonight's main event tilt, we take a closer look at what both Poirier and Johnson need to do in order to leave Texas victorious.
1. Close the distance ...
The proof is in the pudding. Poirier has undoubtedly made gigantic strides in his striking game since journeying up from 145 pounds. He has shown an uncanny ability to land devastating power shots and put some serious strikers out on their feet.
But against a seasoned boxer like Johnson, who failed to show his true colors against Diaz last year, "Diamond" may be better off closing the distance and taking his chances inside. With solid footwork, lunging combinations and considerable quickness, Johnson is able to land in bunches from around the edges. His ability to gauge distance and attack from angles is directly attributed to his time training under striking coach Henri Hooft.
In order to take away Johnson's biggest offensive weapon, Poirier must close the distance, force "The Menace" to exchange in close quarters and make this contest a battle of attrition and clinch work.
2. Believe in his grappling ...
While Poirier is capable of delivering significant damage on the feet, even if he's unable to close the gap on Johnson, his best chance of controlling the action and working towards a finish remains on the ground. After all, Johnson has been finished six times in his career via submission. He has never been knocked out.
That said, Poirier, being the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt that he is, would be foolish not to test the waters on the Octagon canvas. Johnson is incredibly tough to bring down, but "The Diamond" has been a different type of grappler since moving up to 155 pounds. It may take a trip, knockdown or tedious takedown attempt against the cage, but Poirier has the stuff to put Johnson on his butt.
Once he's there, Poirier may very well maintain top control, score points in bunches and ride the momentum until Johnson makes a mistake(s) and gives up a submission.
1. Land early ...
While Johnson sports fast hands, natural knockout power and well-rounded technique on the feet, he isn't really going to surprise anyone with his versatility. That's not a knock on his ability to outsmart Poirier in the striking department, it's just the type of fighter he is.
So, it's key that Johnson lands early and throws his best stuff at "The Diamond" before Poirier can sharpen his reaction time, adjust to the offensive overload and collect his wits. Sort of what Conor McGregor did to Poirier at UFC 175 when he rushed the veteran and forced him to make uncalculated decisions. Johnson obviously isn't the same type of striker as McGregor, but he's super athletic and usually hot to trot.
If Johnson can throw Poirier off of his game in the early going and make him fight defensively instead of offensively, it could be a long night for the former featherweight title threat.
2. Stay off his back ...
As previously mentioned, Poirier is an outstanding grappler. He may only hold six career submission wins to 10 knockouts, but "The Diamond" is truly at home when he's on top of an opponent and softening them up for ultimate disaster. Heck, he remains the only man to ever tap Max Holloway, and the Hawaiian has faced notable ground specialists like Ricardo Lamas, Charles Oliveira and Cole Miller.
In order to take Poirier's bread and butter away and not resemble Duffy from his matchup with Poirier at UFC 195, Johnson must stay off his back at all costs. If he has to eat a few punches or even a knee to get back to his feet it'll be worth it.
Prediction: Poirier via third-round submission
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 94 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.