UFC 236 : After a week without a UFC show in sight, the biggest MMA promotion in the world returns to its packed schedule this weekend with UFC 236 from Atlanta, Georgia. The show – to be broadcast on pay-per-view in the US – marks the first show under the new PPV deal with ESPN, and it also marks the first time the UFC has been in Atlanta since 2016’s UFC 201.
The show is headlined by a pair of interim title fights; Dustin Poirier faces Max Holloway with the interim UFC Lightweight title on the line, while Kelvin Gastelum and Israel Adesanya face off with the interim UFC Middleweight title up for grabs. Overall, it’s a show that looks like a lot of fun on paper.
Fans have been critical of the number of interim title fights that the UFC have put on recently, but to an extent at least, both of the interim title matches on this show are justified. Firstly, the interim Lightweight title fight – current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov obviously claimed the title last April and then defended against Conor McGregor in October, but due to the various circumstances around that fight, a return date for him is yet to be announced.
The UFC clearly wants to move the division along, and so it makes sense to introduce an interim title, if nothing else than to try to force Khabib’s hand when it comes to deciding his next opponent. And it’s quite clear how Poirier got here – ‘The Diamond’ hasn’t lost since 2016 and stopped Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje last year.
For Holloway, it’s a bit trickier to justify. Sure, the other top contender (Tony Ferguson) is out indefinitely right now, and ‘Blessed’ has been on an absolute tear as the champion at 145lbs, but in reality he hasn’t truly cleaned that division out yet and hasn’t earned a shot at the 155lbs title, not over and above the likes of Gaethje, Al Iaquinta and Donald Cerrone.
With that said, it’s a known fact that the Hawaiian struggles to make the 145lbs limit at this point, and assuming – should he win – the UFC doesn’t let him hold up both weight classes ala McGregor, then it’s hard to think of a more exciting fight that the UFC could make right now.
The show is subtitled ‘Holloway vs. Poirier 2’, reminding us that they’ve already fought once previously, but that fight is almost completely irrelevant when looking at this weekend’s match. It took place in February 2012 and was Holloway’s UFC debut.
‘Blessed’ was just 4-0 at that stage, massively inexperienced even compared to Poirier, who was 11-1 with 3 wins in the UFC, and it came as no surprise when Poirier submitted him with a triangle choke in the first round.
Since then both men have changed their games dramatically; Holloway has improved in all areas beyond belief and is now one of the nastiest strikers in MMA, throwing pressure combinations and seemingly able to soak up an insane amount of punishment, while Poirier has become what I’d almost call a “technical brawler”, in that he’s happy to draw opponents into wild trades before surprising them with superior technique in his strikes from there.
Despite submission losses for both men earlier in their careers, both Poirier and Holloway have come along leaps and bounds on the ground, but it seems unlikely that either man will be shooting for a takedown on Saturday, unless they’ve been hurt or stunned.
And as neither is the best offensive wrestler, it’s just hard to see a takedown from either happening. That means this fight should be decided on the feet, and that makes it quite a tricky one to pick.
For Holloway, I’d presume he’d look to impose his usual game on Poirier, just as he’s done to the past 13 victims he’s faced during one of MMA’s most impressive streaks. Not only is the Hawaiian a truly fantastic striker, but what sets him apart from others is his awareness in the cage.
He seems to understand exactly when to turn up the heat on an opponent, even if they don’t necessarily seem hurt, and we saw an amazing example of this against Brian Ortega in December, a fight that saw Holloway call his own finish in the 4th round.
He also predicted Jose Aldo was about to break in their fight in December 2017, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
Last time I broke down a Holloway fight I made mention of the health issues that surrounded him and kept him out of action for most of 2018, but then he made me look pretty silly by showing zero ill effects against Ortega, as he took his fair share of punishment and seemed absolutely fine. I just can’t see his health being an issue against Poirier, not when he hasn’t got to cut to 145lbs.
Poirier is an interesting opponent in that where Holloway has thrived by causing chaos for his opponent in the form of ridiculous volume, pressure and toughness, ‘The Diamond’ has instead thrived by allowing his opponents to cause chaos and then embracing it.
Rather than using his chin and toughness to wade through shots – he’s been knocked out before, remember – Poirier has been perfectly willing to brawl, but has always been the more technical man in those brawls. And when he’s got an opponent hurt, he’s relentless.
For me, this should come down to how Poirier reacts to facing off with a striker who’s probably better technically than he is, and who can come at him with the same pressure than Alvarez and Gaethje did, but with an ability to throw much more varied combinations.
Poirier didn’t wilt against those two men, but then they don’t hammer to the body and attack in the same way that the Hawaiian does.
I’m envisioning a tremendous fight for as long as it lasts in this one, but overall I can’t look past Holloway’s toughness; his chin should be good enough to soak up any punishment that Poirier can put on him, and I’m unsure of that working the opposite way when you consider that Holloway’s never been stopped by strikes before while Poirier has on numerous occasions.
I think Holloway will pour the pressure onto his opponent and while Poirier will be happy to oblige, this time he won’t be able to survive and fire back with the cleaner shots – you don’t get any cleaner striker than Max Holloway in the UFC.
Poirier might last until around the midway point of the fight, but at some stage Holloway will hurt him and he won’t be able to survive the barrage that follows.