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UFC 257 Poirier v McGregor: Weigh-Ins Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 257’s Dustin Poirier

Veteran knockout artist, Dustin Poirier, will rematch former double champ, Conor McGregor, this Saturday (Jan. 23, 2021) at UFC 257 on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.

It’s been a bit more than six years since McGregor pretty effortlessly walked through Poirier on his rise to the Featherweight crown. For Poirier, this was his fourth loss in high-profile Featherweight fights, four defeats that could have instead lead to title opportunities. He shifted to Lightweight immediately after the defeat. Lightweight helped alleviate some of Poirier’s woes, seemingly bolstering both his durability and punching power. However, it was the improvement to his boxing and footwork that allowed Poirier to fully make the transition from scrappy Top 10’er to genuine title threat. Poirier’s streak from 2017-2019 that saw him capture the interim belt is a genuinely amazing accomplishment, a reward for his decade of dedication.

But, will any of it matter in this rematch? Can Poirier’s improvement keep him safe from McGregor’s heavy punches?

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

Striking

Poirier is one of the heaviest punchers at 155 pounds. Add that fact in with his strong boxing, excellent conditioning, and general mental toughness, and it’s not hard to see why Poirier tends to thrive in blood-and-guts battles.

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 leftie 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.

The ability to fire his cross crisply without changing stance and shift with the punch when it’s a wise choice is the biggest notable change to Poirier’s footwork. Back in his Featherweight and early Lightweight days, Poirier brought his left foot into Orthodox almost every time he committed to the left, which left him more predictable and out of position often.

UFC 195: Poirier v Duffy Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

When it’s intentional, however, Poirier does well leading with the left hand (GIF). In Poirier’s bout with Joe Duffy, for example, he was forced to use his shifts into the Orthodox stance in another way. The Irishman was touching him up a bit, so 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. In addition, the aforementioned left hand roll into Orthodox and jabs helped him back Duffy into the fence.

One of Poirier’s more unique traits is that he throws absolute bricks from either stance with either hand. From Southpaw, Poirier can do big damage with his cross and check right hook. When he shifts Orthodox, his overhand right is absolutely crushing, and his left hand (his dominant hand) is more likely to stick opponents in the nose as a stiff jab.

Despite the emphasis on leading with the left, Poirier actually jabs very well for a Southpaw. Against Eddie Alvarez in particular, Poirier did a great job of hand-fighting into the jab, snapping Alvarez’s head back with great consistency.

It’s become a bit less of a focus, but Poirier is a solid kicker as well. Against Duffy’s long frame and jab, Poirier made great use of low kicks. Attacking both inside and outside of his opponent’s leg, Poirier slowed him down and was able to land quality follow up punches. In other bouts, like his recent victory over Dan Hooker, Poirier has been more reliant on the standard left roundhouse to the body. Since his left hand is such a threat, the left kick is a great weapon that often slips through his opponent’s defenses and lands clean. Opposite Max Holloway, Poirier did well to set up his right low kick by showing the major threat that is his overhand left (GIF).

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 down his opponent and pushing him into the fence with a punt to the chest (GIF).

In his recent bouts with Alvarez and Gaethje, Poirier did not look to force the issue — in part because his opponents were quite happy to trade. Instead, Poirier was more measured and rangy, looking to time his long punches and kicks from the edge of his kickboxing distance. The left cross-left kick combo worked well against Alvarez at distance, whereas Poirier was forced by Gaethje’s aggression to counter more often. His dedication to range and counter punching ultimately decided the fight, as Poirier repeatedly landed a counter cross while Gaethje attacked his lead leg.

UFC Fight Night Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Eventually, one such cross put Gaethje on wobbly legs and ended the fight.

Also on display opposite Gaethje were Poirier’s excellent combinations. Over and over, Poirier would force his opponent to shell up by showing the jab, often many times. When Gaethje raised his guard, Poirier would loop hooks to the mid-section or knife an uppercut through the center. When all was said and done, Poirier was putting together 6- and 7-punch combos with ease against a seriously dangerous foe.

On the negative end, it must be remarked that Poirier’s footwork failed him against Nurmagomedov. Poirier was backed into the fence too easily, and that’s a fatal flaw opposite the Dagestani wrestler.

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.

UFC Fight Night: Poirier v Pettis Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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 takedown.

Defensively, Poirier has historically been 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 opponents to posture up. Once he’s able to work back into the clinch, he’s usually safe from takedowns.

Poirier put forth a solid defensive effort against Nurmagomedov. His attempts to sit out, hip heist, and hit the switch were all quite high-level. Nurmagomedov was just a step ahead, per usual.

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 way back in 2012. Currently, Poirier holds a black belt and has finished seven of his opponents via submission.

On the mat, 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.

The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale Photo by Jim Kemper/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

There are two main positions from which the d’arce can commonly be hit and Poirier has successfully used both of them, though it’s been many years now. Years ago, 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).

UFC 143: Diaz v Condit Photo by Nick Laham/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In his bout with Pettis, Poirier was not able to finish the fight via a usual submission, but he nonetheless showed off his excellent 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.

Poirier 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.

Finally, it’s become something of a running joke, but Poirier does love to jump on the arm-in guillotine. He squeezes properly, wrapping up full guard and leaning up and into the choke. The problem is, however, elite professional fighters are insanely difficult to finish via arm-in guillotine, which is generally less dangerous than other variations.

Still, Poirier threatened Nurmagomedov with the move, and he definitely fended off a few of Hooker’s takedown attempts with the threat of the choke.

Conclusion

Poirier is one of the best attrition fighters in the history of the sport. Against technically skilled and expert veterans like Alvarez, Gaethje and Holloway — men more than proven in bloody battles — Poirier showed his mix of craft and heart. If he can force the same type of fight opposite McGregor, he’s primed to earn revenge ... but that’s a big “if.”


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 257 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 257: “McGregor vs. Poirier 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter 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.

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