One of the best lightweight matchups on paper for 2018 will unfold later tonight (Sat., April 14, 2018) at UFC on FOX 29 from inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, as UFC veteran Dustin Poirier takes on maniac brawler Justin Gaethje in the main event.
If Poirier’s clash with Gaethje goes down as advertised then it may very well be a Fight of the Year candidate. Both fighters are fully equipped to take a beating and eventually find a finish, so pairing the two is matchmaking at its finest.
With individual title hopes at stake, both “Diamond” and “Highlight” will push beyond human capacity to find victory this weekend in Glendale. In order to understand their best chances to leave UFC on FOX 29 a winner we take a closer look at the keys to victory for both lightweights.
1. Conserve and protect…
Gaethje is basically a human battering ram. He has no issue walking inside on an opponent, keeping his chin high in the air, unloading ferocious leg kicks, and inviting his adversary into a war of attrition, longevity, and sheer will.
While Poirier has been involved in a few brawls throughout his UFC career, including a ridiculous throwdown with Eddie Alvarez back at UFC 211, “Diamond” isn’t going to do himself any favors if he plays into the thick-headed game plan of Gaethje. He may end up victorious, but his face could literally be unrecognizable.
Instead of unloading straight out of the gate and giving “Highlight” what he thrives on, Poirier must pace himself and pick his shots. The best course of action for the former featherweight is to conserve energy, move around the pocket so Gaethje can’t find a home for his punishing leg kicks, and drag this main event affair into the fourth and fifth rounds.
2. Remain tactical…
Even though Poirier isn’t the greatest striker you’re ever going to come across, his skills on the feet are certainly above average. “Diamond” has really worked on his combinations and footwork over the past few years and it has showed against game strikers like Alvarez, Bobby Green, and Yancy Medeiros.
In order to milk his standup for everything it has against a wild puncher like Gaethje, Poirier must remain crisp and sharp in the pocket. Gaethje is a wizard at dragging opponents into a brawl, which often leads to sloppy counter strikes, winging hooks, and plodding movement. Poirier can’t fall into that sort of trap or else he will leave himself susceptible to a knockout. Instead, “Diamond” needs to tighten up his punches, extend himself when it’s least dangerous, and lean on his uppercuts inside.
1. Leg kicks early…
It’s no secret that Gaethje is a master of leg kicks. The former WSOF champion owns three career finishes by way of leg kicks and absolutely battered the limbs of Johnson and Alvarez in his two UFC appearances.
While “Highlight” is capable of launching devastating kicks to the head and body, he still does most of his damage to the leg. Not much should change later this evening when Gaethje steps forward into the range of Poirier. Poirier is going to be sticking his jab out like a cat pawing a mouse, but “Highlight” should willingly walk through those shots to put shin to leg.
Assuming Gaethje is able to land his patented leg kicks early and often, Poirier’s hobbled frame will be unable to last long in this fight. Gaethje can then dictate the atmosphere and pace of the action before he finds a window for a finish.
2. Welcome the pain…
Despite losing in devastating fashion opposite “Underground King” just over four months ago, don’t expect Gaethje to avoid damage this weekend in Glendale. If anything, “Highlight” now understands his bodily threshold and should be more than willing to exchange with Poirier until he’s no longer capable of absorbing shots.
While fighting this way puts Gaethje in danger against any lightweight he faces, including Poirier, few opponents can match the toughness of the Arizona native inside of the Octagon. Poirier may think he can, but he’s going to find out the hard way that Gaethje is basically a walking zombie that simply doesn’t go away. When the fight comes down to the two lightweights going tit-for-tat, Gaethje is more likely to exit victorious.
Prediction: Gaethje via third-round TKO
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 29 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX at 6 p.m. ET, before the FOX main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.