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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC on FOX 29’s Dustin Poirier

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Hard-hitting contender, Dustin Poirier, will square off with brawling extraordinaire, Justin Gaethje, this Saturday (April 14, 2018) at UFC on FOX 29 inside Gila Rivera Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

Nearly three years after the fact, it cannot be questioned that Poirier’s move to 155 pounds was the right one. Not once has “The Diamond” looked the weaker man; in fact, he’s the more dominant physical fighter far more often than not. In that three years, Poirier has stopped four foes, won six times, and only tasted defeat once. The Louisiana native is a bonafide contender. He’s knocking on the door to the title mix — an extremely difficult task at Lightweight — and has his biggest opportunity yet opposite the former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) kingpin.

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

Striking

At 145 pounds, Poirier was a bruising Southpaw who got into brawls and put the hurt on foes with regularity, but he wasn’t a true knockout artist. Since moving to Lightweight, Poirier has focused a lot on fighting smarter — while still occasionally brawling — but his punches have a far greater impact.

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. A big change for Poirier since moving up to 155 pounds is an increased focus on shifting into Orthodox after firing the left hand. Shifting allows him to cover distance and set up power shots from new angles, and it’s the perfect topic for this week’s technique highlight.

In Poirier’s recent bout with Eddie Alvarez, his more refined kickboxing — namely the ability to stay over his back leg when punching and not over-extend — produced some of his best work 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.

Against a fighter who likes to work from the outside in Anthony Pettis, Poirier returned to his slugging roots. He still did a better, if imperfect, job of not falling off-balance with his punches, but Poirier still hunkered down and walked forward with heavy shots. One smart read that Poirier did make was to anticipate the counters of Pettis and respond immediately. “Showtime” likes to counter with single shots — namely the jab or cross — which Poirier would roll, block, or simply absorb. Either way, Pettis doesn’t like to keep firing after the single shot, which means that Poirier was then able to follow up with effective power combinations.

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. In addition, 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. This worked well opposite Pettis too, as Poirier was able to get in on his hips fairly often with the double leg.

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.

There are two main positions from which the d’arce can commonly be hit and Poirier has successfully used both of them. Back in 2012, Poirier finished off Jonathon Brookins after sprawling on his opponent’s double leg. With Brookins’ arms extended and reaching for his legs, Poirier had plenty of space to slip his outside arm around Brookin’s head and neck.

Once the hold was locked in, Poirier sat his hips out and circled toward Brookins (GIF). This put even more pressure on the choke, which works the same way as a triangle choke, cutting off both sides of the carotid artery.

Just a few fights earlier, Poirier locked in the d’arce choke from top position in half guard. The d’arce is an excellent counter to the underhook, and using the underhook to stand up from half guard is one of the most common techniques in the sport. Opposite Pablo Garza, Poirier quickly locked in the d’arce from half guard. This time, he didn’t bother sitting out, choosing to flatten out, lay his weight on Garza, and squeeze (GIF).

Furthermore, 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).

In his bout with Pettis, Poirier was not able to finish the fight via submission, but he nonetheless showed off his solid top game. He braved Pettis’ genuinely dangerous guard and dropped big punches, and he used Pettis’ offense against him to gain dominant positions. Whenever “Showtime” opened up his guard to attack, Poirier would immediately look to throw the legs by. Once aided by sweat and blood, Poirier was able to more consistently pass and secure the back mount, which eventually finished the former champion.

He nearly got triangled in the process of all this top position work, but he was able to escape multiple times thanks to good posture, the aforementioned slipperiness in play, and the round clock running out at one point.

Conclusion

Dustin Poirier is clearly a very good Lightweight with a fun style and big power. The questions still being asked about Poirier are fairly simple: Is he a great Lightweight, one who can contend? The 29-year-old should be in his prime, but that remains to be seen. On Saturday night, Poirier has a chance to show his smarts and improvement, as well as finally answer those questions in the affirmative.

*****

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is a professional fighter and former 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.