UFC Calgary: The Most Critical Battle for Alvarez and Poirier

Eddie Alvarez, UFC Calgary ceremonial weigh-ins
Eddie Alvarez Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

The main event at UFC Calgary is a critical battle for the lightweight division, as Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier make the push towards a title shot.

Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier have arrived at UFC Calgary in spite of the turmoil in the lightweight division.  The story in 2018 was supposed to be the trifecta of Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson, and Khabib Nurmagomedov finally sorting out the title picture.  But Alvarez and Poirier will battle in what is expected to be a Fight of the Year candidate.  Most importantly, however, is that the winner will boast that they are the fighter who deserves a shot at the title on merit in 2018 rather than star power. Even Khabib Nurmagomedov agrees.

The peaks and valleys for Eddie Alvarez in the last few years have all played out in high profile moments.  His dramatic victories over Rafael dos Anjos and Justin Gaethje contrast with his devastating loss to Conor McGregor and No Contest against Dustin Poirier in their first meeting.  Much of the attention is on Poirier going into the rematch, and the story line of exacting revenge over the circumstances surrounding the pair’s last fight.  That said, Alvarez is the one with the most to gain with a victory.  Since losing the title, he has spent a year and a half being shuffled back into the throng of contenders as Ferguson and Nurmagomedov have been the talk of the lightweight division.  With a McGregor return still uncertain, a chance to upset Nurmagomedov and finish the year as UFC lightweight champion would go down as one of the most unexpected turns of fortune.

As of late, there is criticism that Alvarez has avoided a rematch with the dangerous Poirier.  Alvarez elected to move on, booking a coaching spot on The Ultimate Fighter and winning the Fight of the Year candidate against Justin Gaethje.  Then came the injury to Ferguson at UFC 223 and the opportunity to fight Nurmagomedov for the title in April.  In his own words, Alvarez abandoned preparation as the fight grew closer despite his intuition that one of the two would not make it to the event.  Now on the last fight of his UFC contract, the bout with Poirier comes at a critical time.  Alvarez is 34 years old and has been a professional since 2003.  If he were to lose, he would still have plenty of fight in him.  But, would he have the time to earn his way back to a title shot while he is still at the peak of his powers?

Dustin Poirier exorcised several career demons this past April in his classic bout with Justin Gaethje.  Poirier was back in a familiar position, against a tough opponent and with an opportunity to take a huge step towards the title.  Every time out, in similar circumstances, he was stopped in brutal fashion, his opponents instead capturing career-changing victories.  It appeared as if familiar ghosts would materialize again, as Gaethje began to rally back as they entered the later rounds.  However, Poirier would find his mark and score the fourth round knockout.

Against Alvarez, Poirier has all the ingredients to finally earn his shot at gold.  Both the similarities and differences make the bout intriguing.  Alvarez made his name outside the UFC, becoming the most iconic champion in the history of Bellator and earning a reputation as one of the most exciting fighters of a generation.  Poirier made his UFC debut at 21, and has been a perennial top ten contender in the promotion for the better part of the decade.  The fight is understandably being marked as a possible Fight of the Year candidate.

The key to victory for Alvarez will be a high volume, forward pressure attack in the face of Poirier.  “The Diamond” is taller and explosive so Alvarez should look to use forward pressure to wear down his gas tank.  Alvarez should look to vary his attack with shots to body and the head to as doing so will pay dividends in taking away the power of Poirier.  Although rarely seen, Alvarez would be well served in using his wrestling in the clinch which would work to wear down Poirier even more.

Dustin Poirier should look to get in and out with strikes and keep Alvarez against the fence as well.  He displayed incredible accuracy with his punches in his last bout and should look to pepper Alvarez against the cage and avoid getting into the clinch.  The key will be to pick his spots and not remain stationary as it will open him up to a counter attack.  The x-factor could also be Poirier’s jiu-jitsu and the threat of submissions should he get on top of Alvarez on the mat.

The winner will await news of Conor McGregor, and whether he will return to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title.  With McGregor’s legal issues cleared up, that fight seems likely. Should that come to pass, the winner of Alvarez-Poirier 2 at UFC Calgary will likely have the opportunity to face a returning Tony Ferguson later this year.  However, the best course of action may be to stay prepared in case something should happen to Nurmagomedov or McGregor.  Most importantly, a title shot is imminent.  The winner will need only to wait.