UFC 302: Poirier Approaches Sunset Against Legacy Carrying Makhachev

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - MAY 31: (L-R) Opponents Islam Makhachev of Russia and Dustin Poirier face off during the UFC 302 ceremonial weigh-in at Prudential Center on May 31, 2024 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Islam Makhachev has legacy defining plans of his own as he looks to spoil the dream of beloved fan-favorite Dustin Poirier at UFC 302.

It is no business of Islam Makhachev’s whether it is the final shot at gold for his opponent or the first of many.  The reigning UFC lightweight champion is in the midst of a virtual sweep of the 155 pound elite in the promotion and it can be argued the only business he will soon have left is north in the welterweight division.  The 25-1 professional is on a thirteen fight win-streak in the Octagon, a benchmark that has only ever been reached by all-time greats and that only two men in UFC history have ever broken.  He is also favored to be the third going into this Saturday.

After notching victories over the dominant former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira and longtime featherweight kingpin Alexander Volkanovski, Islam Makhachev found himself on the short list for a fight with current welterweight champion Leon Edwards earlier this year.  While that bout obviously did not materialize, it’s not difficult to imagine Makhachev getting the opportunity to go for a title in a second weight class soon.  Should he get past Poirier, it should be noted that he already has a victory over the next obvious title challenger in Arman Tsarukyan.  As such, a shot at the 170 pound title might seem like the more appealing option for the promotion as well.

Dustin Poirier knows the turn of events that was necessary to return to this position.  “The Diamond” was on the outside looking in earlier this year, with contenders Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje (who have both vanquished him) ahead of him for a shot at the the title.  At 35 years old, Poirier has admitted that another run up the ladder is not in the cards for him.  But sometimes fortune favors the bold, and Poirier took a risk in fighting the dangerous but lower ranked Benoit Saint-Denis at UFC 299 in March.  It would pay off, as Poirier delivered a vintage knockout and both Oliveira and Gaethje dropped their following bouts in matchups that opened the door for Poirier to step up as the UFC needed a fight for Makhachev in short order.

This brings us to what most expect will be the last shot for Poirier.  He has earned the kind of accolades most could only dream of, along the way becoming a beloved fan-favorite, a successful businessman, and a Hall of Famer for his services to his community in Louisiana.  He’s twice stopped MMA superstar Conor McGregor and held interim gold in the past, but by his own admission the one thing he still wants for his competitive career is the undisputed title.  This will be his third attempt at winning the proverbial big one.  Looking at the title picture, it’s difficult to see a scenario where he would return to a shot at the belt in the near future.

While Poirier has said he might retire even if he were to win, it’s difficult to imagine “The Diamond” walking away from attempting to defend the title and the financial incentive that comes with competing as a UFC champion.  For Makhachev, there are several factors to consider when predicting his future.  While he has swept the board of top contenders at lightweight, the welterweight champion has not.  The UFC could elect to have the welterweight champion after July defend the title against another top contender and thus leave Makhachev to defend the belt against top contender Arman Tsarukyan or Max Holloway should talks for the Hawaiian’s fight with featherweight champion Ilia Topuria fall apart.