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UFC on FOX 29 card: Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje full fight preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Norfolk-Poirier vs Pettis Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight warriors Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier will clash TONIGHT (Sat., April 14, 2018) at UFC on FOX 29 inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

An undefeated Justin Gaethje made a successful UFC debut last year with a brutal knockout and amazing performance over Michael Johnson, quickly taking the mic to ask if any lightweight was his equal. It turned out that Eddie Alvarez was indeed up to the task, defeating “Highlight” via knockout at UFC 218. Now we’ll see how Gaethje responds to the first loss of his professional career.

Meanwhile, Poirier has been through the ups-and-downs of UFC caliber opponents for years now, and he’s come out the other side a better fighter than ever. The Louisiana native may finally be putting together his title run, but he has yet another difficult challenge ahead of him tonight.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man.

Justin Gaethje

Record: 18-1

Key Wins: Michael Johnson (TUF 25 Finale), Luis Palomino (WSOF 19, 23), Melvin Guillard (WSOF 15), Brian Foster (WSOF 29)

Key Losses: Eddie Alvarez (UFC 218)

Keys to Victory: Gaethje is an animal; the rare fighter who actually loves to brawl and get hit as much as he proclaims. Make no mistake about it, though, Gaethje may provide his opponents a fairly easy target to hit, but he’s also a crafty striker who does his best to block shots and make his opponents pay.

Gaethje generally has one method of fighting: walk towards his foe, kick the shit out of his leg, and try to take his head off. Poirier will likely try to maintain his range and pick shots, but Gaethje generally denies his opponent that path to victory with raw aggression.

Luckily, that strategy should paid dividends, as Poirier is the less durable fighter and is far from a defensive specialist. It’s historically not all that hard to draw Porieir into a brawl, and once he’s abandoned caution, Poirier’s habit of over-committing to punches could be his downfall opposite Gaethje.

Dustin Poirier

Record: 22-5 (1)

Key Wins: Anthony Pettis (UFC Fight Night 120), Joseph Duffy (UFC 195), Bobby Green (UFC 199), Carlos Diego Ferrira (UFC Fight Night 63)

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: A brutally powerful Southpaw with a quality grappling game as well, Poirier is also one of the most entertaining fighters in his division. Eleven of his victories have come via knockout, and while Poirier has expressed a desire to fight smart in this one, there remains a fair chance he’ll add to that total.

This bout is about two weapons for Poirier: the long cross he pitched opposite Eddie Alvarez and the left body kicks. Both strikes will be pivotal for avoiding the pocket, which is where Gaethje thrives and — for once — is the range Poirier should look to avoid.

Throwing the left is important, but throwing it the right way is more important. If Poirier is using the power shot to sting Gaethje and then circling off, great. If he’s over-committing in an attempt to knock out “The Highlight,” it will leave him in range to be hit.

As for the kick, Alvarez showed the value of body shots opposite Gaethje. Again, landing the kick and getting out of dodge should be the priority over trying to crush his foe with the strike. Over time, staying patient and doing damage is the smarter strategy, and it should help keep Poirier’s jaw away from Gaethje’s clubbing hooks.

Bottom Line: Every Gaethje fight is a must-see affair, and Poirier is absurdly entertaining himself. If you like fighting, you’ll like this fight.

There are also some title implications on the line. Obviously, the big three of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson, and Conor McGregor are still tying things up, but the winner of this match has perhaps the next best chance. Considering injury and insanity are currently occupying two members of that big three, being next in line isn’t such a damning fate.

The “anything can happen” mantra of mixed martial arts (MMA) was never more obvious than last week when Al Iaquinta headlined.

That said, losing puts the defeated fighter in a much worse position. For Poirier, he’s been looking to score a top five win for pretty much his entire career, but it’s so far avoided him. Another failed attempt to step up would hurt. Meanwhile, Gaethje went years without tasting defeat, so a second-straight loss would likely drop him out of contender status.

At UFC on FOX 29, Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier will battle in the main event. Which fighter will remain standing when the dust settles?

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