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After observing a moment of silence for Dustin Poirier’s legs and the lost brain cells of both men, there’s nothing but celebration for the gusher of MMA greatness that occurred in the main event of UFC on Fox 29.
This is the kind of main event you dream of if you’re a fan or a UFC matchmaker. Poirier and Justin Gaethje are tough as nails and talented as they come. And they waged a war. No other way to put it.
The bout began with Gaethje’s familiar attack: some of the most brutal leg kicks in the UFC today. Poirier didn’t check the kicks directly but answered each with a signature of his own: a biting counter left hook. It went on that way for some time, punctuated only when they came into the proverbial phone booth, where Poirier worked the head and body with sharp combinations and Gaethje returned fire with straights, uppercuts and the occasional elbow.
It wasn’t long before Poirier was in clear pain from the leg kicks, his punching power diminishing as a result of losing thrust in his legs. As time went on, Poirier was out-landing and bloodying Gaethje, but Gaethje’s legendary toughness was kicking in. He simply ate punch after punch as he continued his own leg-kick-heavy offense. It looked like Gaethje was slowly pulling away, that the accumulated leg damage would inevitably hit some tipping point. Gaethje did poke the eyes of Poirier more than once, eventually forcing referee Herb Dean to take a point. Would it be a factor?
The violence went on for three-and-a-half outstanding rounds. Until Poirier reached down and unleashed the strike of the match, a crushing left hook. Gaethje, wild man that he is, backed up and beckoned Poirier forward. Poirier obliged, smelling blood. He unleashed the kitchen sink on Gaethje’s head. Gaethje would simply not go down. He appeared out on his feet. Finally, he fell to his hands and knees, an exhausted runner who had just crossed a bitter finish line. Dean stepped in (perhaps a few strikes too late) and waved off the fight.
It was a fight and a win for the ages. Poirier is not a good fighter. He is a great fighter. Gaethje is a warrior, a winner and more than a worthy foil for Poirier on Saturday. He has now dropped two in a row, but there is no question he’ll be back to make more memories. Perhaps he can take solace in winning, alongside Poirier, the $ 50,000 Fight of the Night bonus.
“Justin is a warrior and wouldn’t have stopped unless Herb [Dean] stepped in like he did,” Poirier said in a statement after the fight. “I’ve been through two weight classes, this is my 20th fight in the UFC. I know what it’s like to battle through adversity, get knocked down, get knocked out and stand back up. I would never ask for something unless I knew I earned it. So, Dana [White], [matchmaker] Sean [Shelby]. … [champion] Khabib [Nurmagomedov], let’s go!”
Yes, there is an easily doable rematch with Eddie Alvarez that could occur. But Poirier is now 23-5 (1) as a pro. He hasn’t lost in three of his last four (including a no-contest with Alvarez) and is 6-1 (1) since returning to lightweight. If he hasn’t earned a title shot with this win, you have to wonder what the UFC has against him. Hopefully, it recognizes it has greatness in Poirier and can take steps to reward that and itself.