Dustin Poirier has overcome the odds before, on Saturday, he must do the same again.
The narrative for Dustin Poirier ahead of his unification title bout with Khabib Nuramgomedov at UFC 242 this weekend, is the storm he has had to batten down for and the immense list of challenges he has had to overcome. In Abu Dhabi, Poirier must do the unthinkable, beat Nurmagomedov, becoming the first man to do so in the process. It’s a matchup of striking versus an unbelievable grappling talent who has so far manhandled all twenty-seven opponents. At UFC 236 in April, we witnessed arguably the best version of Dustin Poirier to date, in his ten-year career. In a five-round unanimous decision triumph over former foe Max Holloway, Poirier displayed phenomenally polished boxing and combination work, as well as a more leveled footwork as he used his natural size and power at 155 pounds to score a second win over Holloway. We can really gauge Poirier’s overall level up and improvement when dissecting the Holloway rematch earlier this year.
Heavy hands and slick boxing would mean nothing if ‘The Diamond’ didn’t possess an unmatched killer instinct. His ability to stun and then swarm his opponent ahead of a timely finish reminds me of a prime Vitor Belfort, albeit not as violent. Evident during his wins over the game Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez, Poirier picks his shots expertly. Dropping just one loss in three years, Poirier has dispatched four of the best at lightweight since then. Jim Miller was expertly picked apart, before former champion Anthony Pettis was bloodied and battered. ‘Showtime’ eventually tapped to a body triangle in the third round after taking some brutal punishment at the hands of ‘The Diamond’.
Soon after, his biggest Octagon wins to date followed. Former world champions Justin Gaehtje and Eddie Alvarez were next on Poirier’s hitlist. Displaying a remarkable chin and resilience as always, former WSOF gold holder Gaethje finally crumbled in the fourth round after yet another pinpoint precision barrage from Dustin. When surging contenders Alvarez and Poirier first met at UFC 211, an illegal knee from now ONE Championship lightweight Alvarez called a halt to a so far fight of the night contender, the following summer, the pair settled the matter. Poirier again displaying his killer intent and impeccable composure stung Eddie before finishing against the fence, earning his status as a title contender.
Pitted with Dagestan’s Khabib Nurmagomedov, is in itself, an entirely different kind of task to overcome. twenty-seven have tried, twenty-seven have failed. It’s become not a question of can Khabib get you down, but what Khabib will do to you when he inevitably gets you down. It’s inevitable. Khabib Nurmagomedov will score a takedown on Dustin Poirier this weekend, but it’s what he does with the underrated grappler when he scores. When looking at the rematch with Eddie Alvarez, Poirier twice jumps to a standing guillotine when Alvarez shoots near the fence, which just happens to be Khabib’s favorite form of securing the takedown.
On the other hand, Poirier tends to come ‘square’ during a blitz attack or barrage of hooks, and when exiting an exchange, almost detrimental if Khabib elects to shoot from the center. We’ve seen Khabib shoot from the center with dangerous strikers before, landing his first takedown against Conor McGregor via a low dive to the right leg of McGregor in their UFC 229 clash. Poirier’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt may play a factor in this fight, with seven separate submission victories on his record, Poirier can threaten with offensive grappling, although rarely has in the latter years of his Octagon stint.
In my opinion, Dustin Poirier poses the biggest threat to Khabib’s title reign so far, an even greater threat than Conor McGregor. Sure, both Poirier and McGregor are supremely talented boxers, but Poirier’s far superior engine and sheer heart see him take the baton as the most dangerous striker to meet Khabib. Edson Barboza arguably possesses more tools to knock an opponent unconscious, but to use those tools, his kicks, he needs time and space, something a pressuring wrestler won’t afford. Poirier’s path to a unification bout has been traversed expertly, he’s reached base camp, can he topple the immovable object at the summit?