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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 120’s Dustin Poirier

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Heavy-handed knockout artist, Dustin Poirier, will square off with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis, this Saturday (Nov. 11, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 120 inside Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Virginia.

It didn’t take long for Poirier to establish himself as a Top 15-ranked fighter in his new weight class. Four fights produced four dominant wins, including a trio of knockout victories. His momentum was halted by the counter strikes of Bobby Green, but a fun war with Jim Miller returned Poirier to the win column. Unfortunately, controversy arose in Poirier’s last bout. For 1.5 rounds, he looked better than ever, stabbing Eddie Alvarez with long straight lefts and keeping him at bay. The fight then turned into an all-out slugfest with both men landing haymakers, and an illegal knee from Alvarez brought an end to the contest. Poirier demanded a rematch, but he’ll have to settle for a different former champ.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

Poirier’s punching power at 155 pounds has been electric. Back at Featherweight, he could certainly hit hard, but he wasn’t stopping fighters as frequently or at the same level.

Poirier’s boxing game revolves around power. He’ll mix some jabs into his combinations, but there’s no doubt that Poirier is looking to step into the pocket and fire off combinations of potentially fight-ending shots.

For the most part, Poirier fights out of the Southpaw stance. Occupying his opponent’s lead hand with his own (assuming he’s facing a right-handed opponent), the lefty will shoot out a sharp cross into his opponent’s chin. While he can throw the punch from a measured stance, he’ll also step deeper into the punch, allowing him to more easily follow up with a crushing right hook (GIF).

One of the more interesting things about Poirier’s boxing is his recent addition of shifting punches and striking from Orthodox. Poirier may have absolutely massive power in his left hand (GIF), but he can crack from Orthodox as well.

In an example of shifting punches, Poirier will sometimes follow up his deep left hand by stepping into Orthodox rather than attacking with his usual right hook. This creates a new angle, and he’ll often fire off the jab from his new stance, a great tactic opposite opponents looking to back away from his punches.

Against Bobby Green, Poirier’s shifting tactics paid off in a big way. Green gets a fair amount of shit for dropping his hands and showboating, but he rolls with punches pretty damn well considering the 4 oz. gloves. Both men were landing some shots early, but Poirier dramatically shifted the flow of the bout by stepping into Orthodox with a left hand. Green deflected the first three punches, but when Poirier doubled up on the left (with the second coming as an Orthodox left hook), Green moved directly into the punch and went down (GIF).

In Poirier’s bout with Joe Duffy, he was forced to use his new comfort in the Orthodox stance in another way. Since he couldn’t afford to box with the Irishman, Poirier switched it up and made the fight ugly as possible, thriving in close exchanges. A couple times, Poirier would lunge with his left cross and use it to latch onto a single collar-tie with that same hand. From there, he would attack with right hooks and uppercuts.

Additionally, the aforementioned left hand roll into Orthodox and jabs helped him back Duffy into the fence.

Since the loss to Johnson, Poirier has focused on being more measured on his feet. That paid off against Alvarez, as it was genuinely his best display of kickboxing yet. Against the shorter boxer, Poirier relied on all the classic Southpaw tactics to great effect. His left kicks snapped into the body and head frequently, helping him land his left hand. Speaking of, that left hand was sharp and without any lunge, smoothly uncoiling from his chin to his opponent’s jaw.

Another improvement from Poirier was his feinting. A higher activity of feints allowed Poirier to make better use of the jab, as the feints drew Alvarez’s lead hand out of position and created an opening. Furthermore, Poirier drew reaching counter shots out of Alvarez that came up short, allowing Poirier to answer with his left.

When he remembers to kick, Poirier is especially effective. For example, Poirier made great use of his low kick opposite Joe Duffy. Attacking both inside and outside of his opponent’s leg, Poirier slowed him down and was able to land quality follow up punches. Against Alvarez, Poirier repeatedly finished combinations with the outside low kick, which threw the boxer way out of stance.

Lastly, Poirier was known early in his UFC career for his dangerous front kick. He doesn’t rely on it so often anymore, but Poirier found great success in walking his opponent down and pushing them into the fence with a punt to the chest (GIF).

Defensively, Poirier has improved quite a bit but will always be hittable due to his pressure-in-the-pocket style. He does a better job of not walking into punches or shelling up and taking shots, but he’s still a bit too happy to eat a shot in order to land one.

Wrestling

Early in his career, Poirier was not really known as a knockout artist. Instead, the former high school wrestler would physically overpower his opponents and submit them on the mat.

Poirier does much of his best wrestling in the clinch, as he definitely leans on strength more than speed. Once he commits to taking the fight to the mat, Poirier does a very nice job mixing together different trips and foot sweeps. Locking his hands from either the over-under or double underhook position to create a tight body lock, Poirier will look to land an outside trip. If that fails and his opponent is off-balance, Poirier will attempt to spin him with a quick foot sweep.

In addition, Poirier always has the option to pressure into the body lock and force his foe to the mat.

Poirier also looks to level change into the double leg takedown fairly often. There's nothing to complicated here, as Poirier will either look to blast his opponent off his feet with a reactive shot or wait until his foe's back is to the fence. Either way, Poirier's shot and finish are powerful enough to get most men to the mat, and his punches do a nice job of keeping his foe distracted. Opposite Duffy, Poirier repeatedly ducked into the shot following his cross, which allowed him to get in on his opponent’s hips well.

Defensively, Poirier has historically been a very solid. He has a strong sprawl and defends himself particularly well when pressed into the fence, using underhooks and collar ties to force his opponent's posture up. Once he's able to work back into the clinch, he's usually safe from takedowns.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Poirier began his career training under Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Tim Credeur and moved to another submission-heavy camp in American Top Team a few years back. Currently, Poirier holds a brown belt and has finished six of his opponents via submission.

Poirier is best known for his d’arce choke — he’s in second place for the most in UFC history — which make full use of his long arms. It’s a great move both when defending takedowns and controlling top position, and it’s also this week’s technique highlight.

Finally, Poirier is known to hunt for the arm bar from top position. In Max Holloway's debut, Poirier nearly disarmed the young Hawaiian. However, the "Blessed" fighter toughed it out and rolled into top position, forcing Poirier to change his attack. Rather than abandon the arm bar entirely, Poirier transitioned into a triangle choke, rolled Holloway over, and cranked on his arm once more (GIF).

Conclusion

Poirier has successful climbed into the Top 10 twice now. At Featherweight, his rise stalled out shortly thereafter, as the top contenders were a bit too crafty for him. The move to Lightweight was supposed to help, and it has to an extent. That said, Poirier does not want to get stuck outside the top five a second time, so fights like this are very important.

*****

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur champion who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.