After an aggressive run-in this past summer, Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler will finally collide in a high stakes bout in the lightweight division at UFC 281.
— UFC (@ufc) April 14, 2022
Dustin Poirier has been in this position before. “The Diamond” has become a beloved figure in the sport not only for his style but for his resilience to continue climbing the ladder following heartbreaking setbacks. Since his 2021 ended in disappointing fashion against Charles Oliveira last December, the next step for Poirier has been shrouded in mystery. Despite once being a featherweight, the Louisiana native has gone as far as to tease a move to welterweight while also entertaining a number of marquee bouts at lightweight.
Saturday will be roughly a month shy of a fourteen year professional career for Poirier, and at this stage finding an efficient route to the belt is the priority rather than taking on all up-and-comers eager to make a name for themselves. He has as respectable a resume as any contender with victories over the likes of Conor McGregor, Max Holloway, Justin Gaethje, and others. But when surveying both the lightweight and welterweight divisions, it is obvious that a perfect set of circumstances will be necessary to return to the summit in short order and it begins with a victory on Saturday.
— UFC (@ufc) November 6, 2022
Michael Chandler has delivered on his promise that his time in the UFC would be an exciting one for however long it lasts. The former Bellator champion has had four fights in the Octagon, and all of them have been electrifying bouts whether they went his way or not. His most recent bout, despite all of the success he has enjoyed in his career, may be the signature victory of all his years as a professional as he finished former interim champion Tony Ferguson with a front kick that many have listed as the front runner to take home Knockout of the Year honors.
If signing with the UFC was about raising his profile after years in the sport, then Chandler has certainly accomplished that in his two brief years in the company. Now, the question to be answered is whether or not his run can also culminate with UFC gold. Chandler is 36 years-old in the increasingly younger lightweight division. To his benefit, a new champion in Islam Makhachev could help to expedite his route back to a title shot. But a loss, particularly at this stage where fighters like Alexander Volkanovski and Beneil Dariush are already at the front of the line at lightweight, would put Chandler in an unenviable position to have to work his way back up to the top spot.
Chandler’s wrestling and how often he looks to use it is the biggest x-factor in the bout as it is arguably the strongest weapon on either side. On the feet, Poirier’s versatile attack and technical proficiency are expected to keep him ahead of the physicality of Chandler, which means that implementing a wrestling heavy approach will slow down the former interim champion against the fence or neutralize him if he is taken off the feet. By Chandler presenting the threat of the wrestling, it will also open up his striking where he is expected to be able to do more damage with less shots on the feet.
— UFC (@ufc) November 11, 2022
The next step for Saturday’s winner will be determined by how negotiations go in the coming months in the title picture. Currently, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is expected to be the next title challenger while Beneil Dariush rides a strong eight fight win-streak that has him on deck should talks fall apart for Volkanovski. The name recognition behind both Poirier and Chandler could help propel the winner to a title shot as well, but the current landscape suggests another bout may be necessary while the aforementioned contenders take their turn.