Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight bruisers Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier clashed last night (April 14, 2018) at UFC on FOX 29 from inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
From a divisional perspective, this was an important bout. Gaethje just recently tasted defeat for the first time but remained a top contender. Meanwhile, Poirier is on the best string of performances of his career, looking more dangerous than ever. Each man was a member of the title mix, looking to finally secure a shot at the strap.
More importantly than all of that to me and most fans is that is was a surefire scrap. Both fighters are known to be extremely exciting, and neither man was a fan of taking a backwards step.
Shocking no one, Gaethje opened up with aggression and low kicks, whereas Poirier answered with his cross. Within the first minute of the fight, Gaethje had already landed five or six low kicks.
Poirier continued to move and look for uppercuts, but Gaethje was staying very close to him. Both men were landing at a high pace, with Poirier attacking in big combinations and doing plenty of damage to his foe’s face. He also scored with a few heavy body shots, which was wise.
Poirier landed more shots in the first round, but he absorbed too many low kicks and seemed tired following the high activity of the opening five minutes.
Gaethje’s pressure combinations and jab saw him land well to open the second. Poirier did not back down, and the two continued to land brutal shots at a ridiculous pace. Despite the leg damage, Poirier continued to move and use angles well, which allowed him to land at a more accurate rate. However, nothing deterred the forward pressure of Gaethje, who continued to stalk, throw bombs, and land low kicks.
It was an extremely close round, but Gaethje finished with a big flurry and Rolling Thunder.
Poirier’s strategy of jabs, body shots, and reactive takedowns continued into the third. It worked well, but Gaethje was relentless, and a cross from the former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champ sent his foe stumbling into the fence. Poirier hung tough, but Gaethje was precisely where he wanted to be, jamming Poirier into the fence with a collar-tie and going on the offensive. Poirier survived and returned to the center, fighting gamely, but his lead leg was beginning to give up on him.
Unfortunately, an eye poke from Gaethje cost himself a point, essentially bringing the round to even.
Poirier immediately started the fourth round with a massive cross counter to the low kick. It sent Gaethje stumbling, and Poirier followed up with violent combinations. Gaethje refused to clinch or wrestle, standing his ground and trading back. He was too far gone, however, and Poirier continued to pile on offense until referee Herb Dean was forced to intervene for the TKO stoppage.
Poirier was drawn into a brawl, but he still kept his smarts. He never abandoned the game plan even when the momentum began to shift to Gaethje’s corner. Poirier continued to fire heavy shots from good angles and eventually he connected on a clean blow that finally stopped Gaethje in his tracks.
Poirier did a lot well in this bout, but the most important thing was his frequent habit of circling away from Gaethje’s right hand. By taking the outside angle, Gaethje’s lunging right hand repeatedly came up short, whereas Poirier’s left cross was lined up to do big damage.
It was a war of attrition, and Poirier’s damage to the skull eventually overcame Gaethje’s damage to the lead leg.
Following this win, Poirier is the No. 1 contender outside of Lightweight’s big three. The only match up that makes sense right now is a rematch with Eddie Alvarez, an excellent bout worthy of a five-round main event.
For the second time, Gaethje came up just short at the heels of a back-and-forth war. This time, the momentum seemed firmly on his side after the third, as Poirier was really struggling to walk. Interestingly, the eye poke did give Poirier some time to recover, and he came out in the fourth firing heat.
Of course, there’s no one to blame for that turn of events other than Gaethje himself.
I am a firm believer that Gaethje’s style is viable at high-levels, but he does need to make some adjustments to his boxing. Pressuring and forcing engagements is fine even if it does come with risks, but there’s no need for Gaethje to commit so heavily to his own punches. If he tightened up his boxing — the only straight shot he threw, the jab, landed wonderfully the whole time — Gaethje would see himself countered cleanly less. Plus, he’d have more energy to push the pace and crush the leg.
By Andrew Richardson