The UFC lightweight division is often viewed as the most talent-filled, exciting weight class in the organization, and the temporary addition of featherweight champion Max Holloway for his bout against Dustin Poirier at UFC 236 this Saturday reaffirmed this sentiment.
Throughout the five-round bout, Poirier and Holloway displayed their deep comprehension of martial arts technique as they both sought to employ their respective strengths in a manner to exploit the weaknesses of their opponent. While both fighters showed profound levels of heart and skill, in the end, it was Dustin Poirier who was able to implement his gameplan with a more consequential effect, resulting in a unanimous decision victory for “The Diamond.”
Pressure made “The Diamond”
Over the course of his career, Dustin Poirier’s game has evolved from mere reckless aggression to a more measured, calculated approach that amplifies his strength and size advantages while minimizing the risks he has to take.
While he certainly remains a lethal striker, where he once ran at opponents to close the distance, he now uses proper footwork and head movement to do so safely. Poirier’s desire to be close to his opponent stems from his recognition of the size and power advantage that he usually possesses. Throughout the bout, Poirier’s power advantage was glaringly apparent as his punches had a demonstrable effect on Holloway, while Holloway’s attacks failed to damage the larger man. Poirier knows that the best way for him to win is to exploit this advantage as often as possible by closing the distance between him and his opponent, and then remaining on the inside so he can throw punches.
One of Poirier’s preferred methods of closing the distance is to utilize a mid combination stance switch, which simultaneously closes the distance and confuses the opponent. Here we see Poirier use such a stance switch, bringing his left foot forward when he throws a left, and then return to a right foot forward stance when he throws a right. This simultaneously brings him closer to Holloway while adding an element of deception.
While Poirier used this tactic to great success, on the times Holloway was able to retreat Poirier would finish his combination with a kick, usually to the legs. Ideally, Poirier wanted to finish his entry within punching range of Holloway, but utilizing kicks allowed him to capitalize on the times were Holloway was privy to his attack.
Switching his stance upon entry allowed Poirier to enter into a close range with Holloway, and his ability to slip the Hawaiian’s punches allowed him to stay there without taking damage. Repeatedly throughout the bout, Holloway would throw flurries in an attempt to ward off Poirier; rather than retreating out of range, Poirier would slip, remain within touching distance, and counter-attack with punches of his own. Here we see the pugilists engaging from a very short distance, exactly where Poirier wants to be. Holloway attempts to throw a big overhand left to drive Poirier back, but rather than retreat by moving backward and out of range, Poirier slips the punch and counters with a stiff left.
Here we see Poirier enter with a stepping jab, and Holloway attempts to scare him back with a right hook. In an attempt to stay close to his opponent, Poirier slips the punch, (rather than retreating) and immediately continues his attack by striking into the clinch and throwing knees.
Another benefit of Poirier electing to utilize slips instead of retreating is that it allows him to effectively enter into takedowns, as he is within an appropriate range to do so. Here we see Holloway attempting to prevent Poirier from resting by pressuring him, but Poirier counters the pressure by entering into a double leg; one that he would go on to finish.
The size and strength advantage of Dustin Poirier is one of his most useful assets, but it does come with the drawback of substantial energy expenditure. Coupled with a difficult cut to 155 pounds, Poirier’s mass requires recovery between attacks, forcing Poirier to ease off the gas to avoid tiring himself out. This is where Max Holloway had the most success, turning up the pace on Poirier as he tried to recuperate.
A “Blessed” pace
Max Holloway is respected by fans and feared by fighters for his god-like cardio and the constant, in-your-face style of fighting that he employs. Repeatedly we have seen him make it through 25-minute bouts of nonstop action as if it required the cardio of a light jog. As his opponent required the ability to take rests, Holloway’s best chance of victory lay in his ability to dictate the pace, hopefully tiring out the larger Poirier and finishing him in the later rounds. Such a strategy posed a real threat to Poirier, but through effective usage of straight punches, he was able to ward off the Featherweight Champion, allowing himself the necessary time to recover.
Here we see Holloway walking down Poirier as he attempts to catch his breath, blasting him with body shots designed to drain his cardio even further. As Holloway comes in, Poirier fires back with a powerful straight left, halting Holloway’s forward movement and forcing him to retreat.
While Poirier used a straight in this scenario, he also achieved the same result by utilizing his jab, which the commentary team aptly described as “a piston” throughout the bout.
Poirier moves up
While one might be inclined to credit Dustin Poirier’s size and strength advantage as the source of his victory over Max Holloway, it is more accurate to say it was Poirier’s understanding of these advantages, and how to remedy their drawbacks, that allowed him to best one of the best pound for pound fighters on the planet. By utilizing a well-polished skill set to close and keep the distance on Holloway, Poirier was able to put himself in a position where the power discrepancy racked up damage at a favorable rate. He also recognized it would be necessary to sporadically rest and recover, and how he was going to use his well-developed jab and cross to keep the ever-pressuring Max Holloway off of him during these periods. As a unification bout between Dustin Poirier and Khabib Nurmagomedov is surely in the works, Poirier’s beautiful display of martial technique should cause those who think Khabib will have an easy time beating Poirier to reevaluate their beliefs.