After a brief, one-week hiatus, the UFC MMA machine rolls on tonight with a jam-packed pay-per-view card. For the first time in its modern-day existence, the UFC is partnering with a single provider to offer its pay-per-view fight events to fans; that provider is ESPN+. ESPN and the UFC could not have picked a better pay-per-view to unveil its new partnership, as this fight card is one of the most, if not the most anticipated cards of the year so far.
Lightweight Interim Championship – up to 155lbs
Max Holloway 20-3-0-0 (145lb Champion) vs Dustin Poirier (#3) 24-5-0-1NC
Max Holloway is coming off a brilliant showing where he completely dominated the #1 contender in the featherweight division, Brian Ortega, for 4 grueling rounds, and made him quit on his stool between rounds. The fight was one-sided and showed why Holloway is special. His pressure, angles, endurance and experience seemed to have all gelled and created this 145-pound monster of a fighter. With that win, Holloway all but cleaned out the 145lb division of challengers. Now he’s looking to move up a weight class and win an interim championship at the 155lb lightweight division.
Standing in between Holloway and double champ status (not Champ Champ) is a man who has defeated him before. Seven years ago, Dustin Poirier welcomed a 20-year-old Max Holloway to the UFC with a first-round submission loss. Poirier, 23 at the time, was an uber prospect, and Holloway was another rung on his way to fulfilling his potential. Fast forward seven years, and Holloway is the one who has reached the zenith of the sport while Poirier has had a roller-coaster of a career.
These two fighters are both on unbelievable streaks. Holloway hasn’t lost since August of 2013, and Poirier is undefeated in his last 5 fights, dating back to September of 2016. Both fighters have beaten two former UFC champions (Holloway defeated Jose Aldo & Anthony Pettis, Poirier defeated Eddie Alvarez & Anthony Pettis), and both have lost to Conor McGregor. There are more similarities between their careers and fighting skills than differences.
Holloway fights behind stiff jabs, movement and pressure. He uses his long limbs to create space and angles that his opponents cannot overcome. Fighting Holloway is like being in a sinking boat: you try to cover each leak with a limb or towel, but there are too many; eventually the sea rushes in, and it’s game over.
Poirier fights with a measured striker/brawler skillset. He uses the jab and switches stances often, much like Holloway, but he is more comfortable coming forward and creating chaos to open up opportunities. Poirier has the power advantage, although we have not seen Holloway at 155lb, where the reduced amount of weight needed for him to cut might pay dividends in the power department.
Win or lose, this fight will have a huge impact on each fighter’s legacy. If Holloway wins, he becomes an all-time great with huge money fights against Khabib Nurmagomedov or a rematch with Connor McGregor. If Poirier wins, the same fights loom in his future; he also gets to step into interim champion status, having beaten a who’s who among current and former UFC champions.
These two fighters are fan favorites, and I hate that one of them has to lose. I see Poirier using a similar strategy to the one he implemented against Justin Gaethje, pressuring the pressure fighter to create openings for his power.
I have Poirier by decision in one of my most uncertain picks in recent memory.
Interim Middleweight Championship – up to 185lb
Kelvin Gastelum #4 15-3-0-1NC vs Israel Adesanya #5 16-0-0-0
This fight also features two well-liked and highly-skilled fighters looking to take the next step into championship caliber. Robert Whitaker is the actual champion and was scheduled to fight Kelvin Gastelum in February, but had to pull out due to emergency surgery on a previously undiagnosed hernia. This fight will not necessarily create a claim to being the best 185-pounder in the world, but it will all but guarantee the winner a fight against the champion when he returns.
Gastelum works behind a pesky jab and a long, straight left hand. He fights out of the southpaw stance and lulls his opponents to sleep with his odd angles and excellent footwork. He carries power in both hands and is very fast for the middleweight division. Gastelum has used his above average striking skills and durability to earn knockouts in four of his seven middleweight bouts (with one KO overturned due to a positive test). Gastelum is also an above-average wrestler and is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, but he uses these skills to keep the fight standing.
Israel Adesanya continued his meteoric rise by outpointing a 44-year-old Anderson Silva in February. He is undefeated in his five UFC fights and is fighting for a version of the 185lb championship 14 months after joining the promotion. This type of rise hasn’t been seen since the aforementioned Anderson Silva fought Rich Franklin four months after his promotional debut.
Adesanya uses his kickboxing background and freakish speed to create awkward striking angles. He is great at using his long frame to keep his opponents at a distance that he is comfortable with. When at his optimum range, he picks his opponents apart and induces them into making fight-ending mistakes. He is a savant within the striking aspect of mixed martial arts, but we have not seen him tested or taken to the ground to see what his ground game has to offer.
Gastelum has fought tougher competition in the UFC and even a fighter with a similar skillset in Uriah Hall. I see Gastelum reverting back to his wrestling and testing Adesanya on the ground.
I have Gastelum by TKO in the third round.
Watch them. That’s it. There are so many great fights on this undercard. I’ll be looking at Khalil Roundtree, Dwight Grant, Nikita Krylov, Max Griffin, Boston Salmon and Curtis Millender vs Belal Muhammad. Too many to isolate just a few; just enjoy the show!
What: UFC 236: Holloway vs Poirier 2
Where to watch: Early prelims – ESPN+; Preliminary card – ESPN/ESPN Deportes; Main card – ESPN+ pay-per-view
When: Saturday, April 13, 2019
Time: Early prelims – 5:15 p.m. CDT; Preliminary card – 7:00 p.m. CDT; Main card – 9:00 p.m. CDT