Dustin Poirier & Justin Gaethje are meeting in a bout with Fight of the Year potential. There, they hope to turn a victory into a title shot in the convoluted lightweight division.
Khabib Nurmagomedov took the lightweight championship in dominant fashion just a few days ago and already the possibilities for his next bout have fans excited for his future. But while the conversation of late revolves around the star power of his next contender, two of the lightweight division’s most exciting contenders are being overlooked. At UFC Glendale, the ever exciting Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje will look force their way into a title shot.
Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier has been knocking on the door of a title shot for most of his UFC career. Each time, however, he has fallen just short of the mark as he encountered some of the best fighters in the current era of mixed martial arts. His stumbles are well documented: The Korean Zombie in a title eliminator in 2012, the Conor McGregor bout in 2014, and the Michael Johnson bout in 2015. But to judge him on his setbacks would be disrespectful to his fantastic 15-4-1 record in the UFC.
The loss to Johnson was a major setback, with a potential fight with Nurmagomedov lost as a result. However, he has bounced back in impressive form. He overcame a tough Jim Miller to get back on the win-column in early 2017. His following outing against Eddie Alvarez appeared to favor him before “The Underground King” delivered illegal knees in the second round that led to a No Contest. Fans expected a rematch, but both men have gone in different directions. In Poirier’s most recent outing, he throttled former champion Anthony Pettis who did not have an answer for the destructive capabilities of “The Diamond.” The victory led to a new and improved contract for Poirier despite still having three fights left on his current deal, a sign of the value the UFC has placed in him.
Justin Gaethje became the UFC’s popular new addition last year when he engaged in two Fight of the Year candidates, with Michael Johnson and Eddie Alvarez. For years, there was question of how Gaethje would fare in the Octagon where on a consistent basis he would face versatile and athletically gifted opposition. His 2017 campaign in the UFC validated the nearly decade long career that included a successful run as the World Series of Fighting champion.
He arrived as advertised and has delivered on his promise to bring excitement when he competes. “The Highlight” overcame a game Michael Johnson in his UFC debut, the back-and-forth battle stealing the show during Fourth of July weekend where there were two fight cards in 48 hours. The fight with Alvarez was regarded as a throwback to legendary battle of years past. Both men’s penchant for stepping into the fire of battle and overcoming opponents with sheer grit had fans salivating at the potential action. At a time when mixed martial artists have become far more skilled and technical, Alvarez vs Gaethje harkened back to the days of Forest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar in the potential for fireworks. Alvarez would prevail in the contest, finally doing enough damage to finish Gaethje in the third round and hand him his first loss. The results have clearly not lowered his stock with the company as a win over Poirier puts him back in talks for a title shot.
Stylistically, the fight has potential to be a back-and-forth battle. Poirier is known for his destructive capabilities on the feet, using a diverse attack of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows to break down opponents. Gaethje is famous for his durability and forward pressure, his relentless attack having brought him a victory eighteen times in nineteen attempts. While Poirier has the ability to win a fire-fight with Gaethje, his most notable losses have come from being stopped with big shots when he’s stayed in the pocket. His best route for success is to change up his attack, making Gaethje weary of the takedown and grappling.
For Gaethje, his strategy should be the same as always: Come forward with punches, kicks, and knees and keep Poirier fighting with his back to the fence. A high output will look to put pressure on Poirier to take risks to remain in the match as “The Diamond” is not known for being a high volume striker. Secondly, he should be prepared to sprawl to avoid the takedowns of Poirier.
The lightweight division is in a precarious position. People are calling for disciplinary action against McGregor, but the reality is he could well be stepping into the cage in 2018. That would mean the winner of this bout puts themselves in a trifecta with Tony Ferguson and Eddie Alvarez to vie for a title shot. With all of the twists that the division is prone to, however, it’s well within the realm of possibility that the winner could be in an unexpected championship bout in their following outing.