Former interim Lightweight Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Dustin Poirier, will throw down opposite fellow action star, Justin Gaethje, this Saturday (July 29, 2023) at UFC 291 inside Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Poirier has been within an arm’s reach of the Lightweight belt for years now. He hasn’t lost to anyone aside from dominant champions, and he’s turned away waves of elite talent in the process. Though he’s refined his game further over the years, Poirier still tends to win bloody wars of attrition more than anything else.
Now, Poirier is circling the Top Five, trying to earn a third shot at UFC gold. The BMF belt is merely a fun cherry on top! Neither this match up nor Poirier’s legacy need that symbol — there’s no one more proven badass than “The Diamond.”
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Dustin Poirier is an all-time great action fighter. After his 2016 loss to Michael Johnson, Poirier really refined and revamped his boxing, and the rest is history.
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 sharp crosses 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.
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 subsequent 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 on the nose as a stiff jab. This makes him absolutely brutal at flurrying against wounded opponents, which is why that Poirier rally along the fence has claimed so many big names.
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.
Poirier has long been a solid kicker, but the second McGregor bout brought that aspect of his game into the limelight. Repeatedly, Poirier punished his foe’s boxing-oriented and side-on stance with nasty calf kicks, which quickly limited the Irish athlete. However, it’s hardly the first time Poirier has done great work with his legs.
Opposite Dan Hooker, for example, Poirier was quite successful with 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. Against 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 first battle opposite Justin Gaethje, Poirier’s excellent combination punching was really on display. 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 six- and seven-punch combinations with ease against a seriously dangerous foe.
Poirier’s defense has really grown into a strength. Far better than most punchers, Poirier is able to hide behind his shoulder and elbow during exchanges. While ducking behind these shields, Poirier’s eyes remain strong. Holloway once remarked between rounds that Poirier was surprisingly difficult to hit. Time and time again, Poirier is able to respond to flurrying opponents by getting behind his lead elbow/shoulder, seeing their offense, then picking a shot in return — that’s how he checked Michael Chandler’s chin near the end of the first round.
On the negative end, it must be remarked that Poirier’s footwork failed him against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Poirier was backed into the fence too easily, and that’s a fatal flaw opposite the Dagestani wrestler. Opposite Chandler and Alvarez, Poirier also found himself in trouble occasionally due to getting pushed into the cage.
Once upon a time, Poirier was known as a strong young Featherweight who really leaned on his wrestling to overwhelm opponents.
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 takedown.
Poirier’s takedown defense is a mixed bag, possibly due to his hip issues in recent years. His strength in the clinch and good fundamentals from there make him difficult to throw around, but Poirier remains vulnerable to the classic double along the cage. If he is able to get his feet split he’s usually fine, but Poirier is caught with his hips square along the fence by the initial double more than is ideal.
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 eight 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.
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).
In his bout with Pettis, Poirier was unable 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 Dan Hooker’s takedown attempts with the threat of the choke.
Finally, Poirier’s rear naked choke win over Michael Chandler deserves to be mentioned. It was as much a case of fatigue as anything else. Both were tired in the third, but Chandler landed a big slam then rushed to jump the back — bad idea. Poirier slipped out the back door and found himself atop an exhausted foe! He quickly returned to favor, sinking in his hooks and immediately wrapping up the choke to hand Chandler his first career submission loss.
Poirier has one of the best Lightweight resumes in UFC history, and he’s about to relive an all-time great battle in a career full of them. If “The Diamond” can find Gaethje’s off-button once more, he’s back in title contention yet again.
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.