Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight knockout artists Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier will scrap for a second time with an interim title on the line TONIGHT (April 13, 2019) at UFC 236 from State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
With champion Khabib Nurmagomedov sitting out for the better part of 2019 and Tony Ferguson’s mental health keeping him sidelined, UFC had to do something with the Lightweight division, but no answer would satisfy everyone. Aside from the aforementioned “El Cucuy,” Poirier was clearly the man most deserving of a big opportunity. Holloway’s recent destruction of Brian Ortega saw him with a relatively clear schedule as well, so an opportunity was created. People may be tired of interim titles, and this bout may do little to clear up the mess at the top of the 155-pound division, but it’s a must-watch fight between deserving athletes. Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Jose Aldo (UFC 218, UFC 212), Brian Ortega (UFC 231) Anthony Pettis (UFC 206), Ricardo Lamas (UFC 199), Cub Swanson (UFC on FOX 15), Jeremy Stephens (UFC 194)
Key Losses: Dustin Poirier (UFC 143), Conor McGregor (UFC Fight Night 26), Dennis Bermudez (UFC 160)
Keys to Victory: Since early in his UFC career, Holloway has been a man who drowns opponents with volumes. As he’s grown older and wiser, the 27-year-old combatant has relied more and more on sharp fundamentals, but the core strategy of overwhelming his opponent with constant offense remains.
This is a really interesting fight between two strikers pretty comfortable in any type of kickboxing battle. Both Holloway and Poirier can strike well at range, in the pocket, and even dirty box from close quarters. Until they actually step into the cage, it’s hard to say for sure which man will hold the advantage in what range.
All the same, the best distance for Holloway ahead of time seems to be kickboxing. For all of Poirier’s improvements to his distance management and defense, Holloway still seems the sharper man with his extended combos, pull counters, and long cross. Plus, Holloway simply has more weapons at distance — this may be the fight that sees Holloway bust out some of his prior flash. In addition, the potential speed advantage that comes with being the smaller man is most useful at distance.
Another major key here for Holloway is body work. Assuming no one is put down early, both men are going to land and absorb dozens and dozens of punches. Holloway already makes it a habit to dig low, but really committing to the mid-section will pay off big as fatigue sets in.
Record: 24-5 (1)
Key Wins: Justin Gaethje (UFC on FOX 29), Eddie Alvarez (UFC on FOX 30), Anthony Pettis (UFC Fight Night 120), Joseph Duffy (UFC 195), 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: Over the last few years, Poirier has developed from one of Lightweight’s many would-be contenders to a genuine title threat without sacrificing an ounce of aggression. The man packs power into every punch, but he now does so without exposing himself too much defensively.
In this bout, I’d like to see Poirier force the issue safely. Between the two, Poirier is the man more likely to pursue an ugly, rugged bout. Take a look back at his bloody battle with Joseph Duffy, for example, in which Poirier was getting countered at range and decided to mug his opponent with a single-collar tie and land double legs along the fence.
Poirier always has that approach in his back pocket; Holloway does not.
Given an assumed power edge and more proven offensive grappling game, a strategy of pressure makes sense for “The Diamond.” I wrote the same sentiment almost word-for-word in my write up of Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya, but it applies here as well: the best, most technical kickboxers tend to look most ordinary against an opponent who is smartly pressuring with both hard punches and takedowns.
Bottom Line: The Lightweight division may be a mess, but this is the best fight available.
Poirier deserves a title fight. He’s not the only man at 155 pounds who does, but progress of any kind is good. Poirier’s recent track record of incredibly fun and technical fights has been a thrill to watch, and he’s come into his own and maximized his physical gifts. Whether that will be enough to leave with a golden strap remains to be seen, but Poirier deserves a chance to be called champion and square off with other men who hold that same honor.
Unlike most other super fight situations, Holloway winning a second title does not seem like a disaster. No clear-cut Featherweight contender has been passed over in order for this fight to happen. Depending on how everything times out with Nurmagomedov and Ferguson’s respective returns, Holloway could even return to 145 pounds to defend his Featherweight title before attempting to unify.
Holloway has been building a legacy of greatness for some time now, and capturing a second title would certainly help him leap forward on that path.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 236 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the ESPN+ PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.
For much more on UFC 236 click here.