Home Sports UFC 302: Dustin Poirier faces a daunting task in his last best shot at a title belt

UFC 302: Dustin Poirier faces a daunting task in his last best shot at a title belt

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MIAMI, FLORIDA – MARCH 9: (L-R) Dustin Poirier punches Benoit Saint Denis of France in a lightweight bout during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 9, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

When Dustin Poirier watches film of UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev, the task of defeating him at UFC 302 on June 1 doesn’t exactly seem to get any easier.

“Honestly, I don’t see many holes,” Poirier told Yahoo Sports. “If I’m sitting here watching footage with my coaches, we’re observing and analyzing things. He’s got good stand-up, obviously his wrestling is good, very good body blocks… sweeps, trips, things like that. Looks really strong for the weight class, very dominant up top, looks very heavy. It is exactly what it is. “I’m fighting the number one pound-for-pound man.”

You would think that would be discouraging. Makhachev hasn’t lost a fight in almost nine years. That knockout loss in his second UFC fight remains the only blemish on his professional record. He has won 13 in a row since then, capturing the UFC lightweight title in the process. What would you threaten such a person with, especially when you can’t detect any weakness even after extensive film study?

And yet, Poirier does not hesitate to make a prediction for the fight. After Makhachev laid out a vision for the future that ended with him taking Poirier’s back off in a failed guillotine choke attempt and ending the fight quickly, Poirier responded with an even more concise prediction.

“I’m going to knock him unconscious,” Poirier said, “and the referee is going to get me off him.”

But there is more at stake here for Poirier. At 35 years old, and with losses in two previous attempts to claim the undisputed UFC lightweight championship, this could very well be his last best chance to add UFC champion to his resume. While he won an interim version of the 155-pound belt in 2019, that version of the title always comes with some sort of asterisk. It’s just not the same as the real thing, and it’s the real thing that adds an ineffable shine to any great UFC career.

As a 15-year veteran of the sport, Poirier knows this better than anyone. It’s not just winning a UFC title that’s so difficult, but also putting yourself in a position to receive the opportunity. To achieve this, Poirier first had to defeat Benoît Saint Denis, a 28-year-old French special forces soldier who was the favorite to win.

Poirier knew what the UFC matchmakers were thinking with the fight, and it’s not that they were necessarily trying to put him in a position to advance positions.

“Of course, that’s 100 percent what went through my head,” Poirier said. “And I get it, it’s a business. It has more ahead than behind. I have more behind me than I have ahead of me. You have to keep these exciting fighters and the guys you want to push forward, to give this guy a chance to really improve his name.”

What happened instead was that Poirier knocked him out midway through the second round, then walked over to where UFC president Dana White was sitting to ask, as politely as he could, if the UFC really wanted to keep trying to use him as a springboard. .

Dustin Poirier showed that he is no one’s springboard in his last outing at UFC 299. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

That victory put Poirier right where he needed to be at this stage of his career. The only problem was that the next title shot had been promised to the winner of the Arman Tsarukyan-Charles Oliveira fight at UFC 300.

Poirier, as expected, watched that fight with great interest. He had made it clear that he wanted the opportunity to attack Makhachev, but he also knew that his chances of getting it were “slim.”

“Whoever won that fight was guaranteed a title shot,” Poirier said. “They would have to take too much damage or not be ready to come back to another training camp, which I thought they would say yes (to the title shot).”

What worked in his favor was timing and perhaps the UFC’s own impatience. The date for the next fight for the UFC lightweight title was already set. Tsarukyan had just returned to his locker room after defeating Oliveira by split decision when UFC officials showed up asking if he was ready to commit to fighting on June 1 in Newark, New Jersey.

If he turned it down, UFC officials had told Poirier, “you’re the one.” When the phone rang a few minutes later, he had the answer from him. Tsarukyan was outside; Poirier was inside.

“It was a surprise to me,” Poirier said. “But sometimes things happen the way they’re supposed to.”

Now comes the hard part: finding a way to beat Makhachev. Once again, Poirier comes in with the odds stacked against him. This time He is a +375 loser at BetMGM. The champion seems convinced of at least two things. One is that Poirier will attempt the guillotine choke that he has become known for, despite never successfully completing it in a professional fight. The other is that the belt will stay exactly where it is at the end.

As for the guillotine, Poirier’s trainers have been warning him, as “a repeating record,” not to go for that choke this time.

“We’ll see,” Poirier said. “I just have to play and feel how I feel there and see how I feel in those positions. But I’ll probably skip it.”

If this were a movie, maybe that would be the moment when the guillotine finally works for him. He would make him a UFC champion with the move he became known for, and the hero’s entire arc would be complete. He freezes the frame and rolls the credits.

In real life, it will probably be much more difficult. And this combination of chance and chance may never happen again.

“I feel like I can get back up like I’ve done time and time again,” Poirier said. “It’s just, do I have it in me? I want to do that? I’ve been doing it for many years, grinding tooth and nail, fighting my way up this ladder to try to be number one. The goal is to be the undisputed world champion. That’s the only thing I have left to do in this sport. I want to finish the story and be the champion forever. That is my goal.”

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