mma / Columns

The Path to Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway II

April 9, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Dustin Poirier UFC Fight Night 120

The year was 2012. Dustin Poirier was a 23-year-old with twelve pro fights under his belt. Already with three UFC bouts under his belt—all victories—his most notable win had come against a never-was in Josh Grispi at UFC 125, the night Grispi was initially supposed to fight Jose Aldo for the featherweight title.

One month after Max Holloway’s twentieth birthday, the UFC called him with an offer to step in for Ricardo Lamas against Poirier the following month. Holloway had only four fights under his belt, all in his native Honolulu, Hawaii. The fast-rising Poirier was going to be a significant step up.

Poirier and Holloway met in the featured preliminary bout at UFC 143, a prime spot to make an impression. Holloway came out aggressive, freely throwing his hands and legs. After about 90 seconds, Poirier decided to take the fight to the ground. Once there, his experience overwhelmed Holloway. Poirier quickly mounted him and secured an armbar. Holloway rolled to escape, but found himself trapped in a triangle choke. Poirier then mounted Holloway again with the triangle still applied, and at the same time locked in another armbar. Holloway tapped in short order to end his UFC debut.

Rarely do two fighters meet so early in their careers, only for their paths to intersect again with a title on the line (Randy Couture vs. Vitor Belfort immediately comes to mind, but not much else). And yet, here we are, days away from Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway II with the UFC’s interim lightweight title on the line. The circumstances that looped us back around to Poirier vs. Holloway are quite unique.

Poirier’s first UFC loss didn’t trail far behind Holloway’s. He parlayed the win over Holloway into a television main event fight against featherweight contender Chan Sung Jung—The Korean Zombie. Poirier fell in one of the best fights of the year; the win earned Jung a shot at the featherweight title, while Porier was left to rebuild.

Over the next two years, Poirier went 4-1 to return to title contention. Then he ran into an ascending Conor McGregor. Their heated matchup was the most anticipated fight at UFC 178. McGregor put Poirier down in less than two minutes, pushing Poirier back down the ladder. In hindsight, the loss may have been a positive for Poirier. With a victory, he probably would have stayed at featherweight due to his proximity to a title shot. But that featherweight cut was taxing; Poirier’s best performances have been at lightweight, and he was never going to reach his full potential until he went back up to 155. That’s just what he did after the McGregor fight.

Poirier rattled off four consecutive wins after returning to lightweight. He stumbled against Michael Johnson—the southpaw’s speed turned Poirier’s lights off, but the setback was only temporary. He forged on through an injured leg to beat Jim Miller. In his next fight, he was performing well against former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez until Alvarez struck him with an illegal knee (the fight ended in a no contest).

In his last three fights, Poirier has proven he’s an elite level lightweight. First came a dominant and bloody win over Anthony Pettis. Then there was a war with Justin Gaethje in the best fight of 2018. Finally, Poirier got his revenge over Alvarez with a second-round stoppage.

Among the top lightweight division mix—Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor, and Tony Ferguson—Poirier has found himself to be the odd man out. But with those three inactive, the title shot has finally fallen to Poirier.

Max Holloway rose through the featherweight ranks by fighting everyone in sight. After falling to Poirier, he won three in a row before the judges took a decision win away from him against Dennis Bermudez. After that, Holloway lost another decision—this one to Conor McGregor. He has not lost again since.

Holloway fought four times each in 2014 and 2015, activity that signified his tremendous comfort fighting in a cage and displayed his incredible progression. He finished six of his eights opponents over that stretch, and none of the results were in doubt. In 2016, he took the next step up: topping division mainstay Ricardo Lamas, and then stopping Anthony Pettis to take the interim featherweight title.

Next were two fights with Jose Aldo, which made Holloway a modern-day legend. He beat the great featherweight champion as nobody else has, and he did it twice. Then he took who some believed to be his most dangerous threat—top contender Brian Ortega—and soundly outclassed him.

A year ago, Holloway received another late replacement call from the UFC. Tony Ferguson had torn up his knee, and so the UFC asked the featherweight champion to step in to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title. Holloway accepted the opportunity, but was forced out of the fight just prior to weigh-ins. He finds himself back in the lightweight title picture due to the absence of Nurmagomedov, McGregor, and Ferguson.

This meeting between Holloway and Poirier promises to be much more than their first meeting seven years ago. Poirier is much more practiced and dangerous on the feet. Holloway is significantly harder to take down. The winner will certainly be a deserving challenger for the unbeaten Nurmagomedov.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.