Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight contenders Anthony Pettis and Dustin Poirier clash TONIGHT (Nov 11, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 120 inside Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Virginia.
At one point, the top three Lightweights from the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) promotion — Pettis, Donald Cerrone, and Benson Henderson — came over and wrecked shop, but that time seems to have passed. Unlike the other two, however, Pettis is still a UFC Lightweight looking to retake the crown. Meanwhile, Poirier began in the Featherweight division and left for greener pastures a couple years back. His Lightweight venture started with incredible results, but “The Diamond” has struggled to keep his momentum going recently. That’s not entirely Poirier’s fault, but the Louisiana-native is still looking to get back on track opposite Pettis.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Charles Oliveira (UFC on FOX 21), Benson Henderson (UFC 164, WEC 53), Gilbert Melendez (UFC 181), Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 6)
Key Losses: Rafael dos Anjos (UFC 185), Eddie Alvarez (UFC Fight Night 81), Edson Barboza (UFC 197), Max Holloway (UFC 206)
Keys to Victory: On paper, Pettis is largely the same fighter as ever. A lethal kicker with opportunistic Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Pettis doesn’t seem to be quite the finisher he once was, but “Showtime” still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
In this bout, Pettis has to earn Poirier’s respect quickly. If given the chance, Poirier will put the pressure on Pettis. Against a heavier puncher and better wrestler, Pettis needs this fight to happen from his distance, not with his back jammed up against the fence.
Pettis might have to engage in a firefight at the start of the bout. Whatever happens, he simply can’t allow Poirier to dictate the range and force him to the cage. Pettis’ chin is impressively durable, so it’s worth the risk of getting hit a few times in order to keep Poirier from pressuring relentlessly.
The end game for Pettis is to establish his distance and back Poirier up himself. Standing his ground when Poirier advances will help him do so, but just one or two well-placed body kicks from Pettis could really change the bout. If he knocks the wind from “The Diamond,” it will be far easier to keep Poirier on his back foot.
Record: 21-5 (1)
Key Wins: Joseph Duffy (UFC 195), Bobby Green (UFC 199), Carlos Diego Ferrira (UFC Fight Night 63), Erick Koch (UFC 164)
Key Losses: Conor McGregor (UFC 178), Michael Johnson (UFC Fight Night 94), Cub Swanson (UFC on FUEL TV 7), Chan Sung Jung (UFC on FUEL TV 3)
Keys to Victory: Poirier is a monstrous puncher who alternates between being a technical Southpaw and aggressive brawler. In fact, he hits so hard it’s easy to forget that his base is wrestling and jiu-jitsu, as submissions account for six of his victories.
In this match up, Poirier might have to lean towards that brawler side.
The blueprint to defeat Pettis has been written, and there’s not yet a reason to believe it’s changed. Pettis does not like fighting from his back foot or with his back along the cage, and even less-than-technical pressure can put him there if it’s back by determination and grit.
Poirier has those attributes in spades, and he also punches like a man well-above his weight class. In all likelihood, Pettis will look to avoid straight up exchanges of punches, which means he’ll be backing up. Once that happens, Poirier can keep the aggression up until Pettis hits the fence, at which point things get easier.
With Pettis backed into the cage, “Showtime” is far less offensive and more vulnerable to both strikes and takedowns.
Bottom Line: It’s a huge bout for both men.
Pettis has to win this bout. It’s his ticket back into the Top 10, an important step for the former champion who desperately wants his name back in the title mix. Once there, Pettis is one fight away from returning to the Top 5 and — best case scenario — two away from a title shot. Even now, Pettis vs. Conor McGregor sounds like a fun and easily sold fight, no?
If Pettis comes up short, there will be no fast track towards the belt. He’ll have to go on a long win streak, and those are incredibly difficult to come by at 155 lbs.
The stakes are similar for Poirier. He comes into this fight at No. 8, but without any Top 10 victories. If he turns away the former champion, it sets him up for a Top 5 opponent, his second attempt to break those ranks since the Eddie Alvarez controversy earlier in the year. Alternatively, a loss ejects him from the Top 10, and while a return is always possible, there are a lot of dangerous Lightweights looking to make that same climb.
TONIGHT at UFC Fight Night 120, Anthony Pettis and Dustin Poirier will go to war in the main event. Which man will have his hand raised?