It took 22 fights for Dustin Poirier to earn a shot at UFC gold.
He didn’t waste the opportunity.
“The Diamond” took the fight to Max Holloway (20-4) from the opening moments of their main event bout at UFC 236 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta and survived some scary moments to take a five-round unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) and become the new UFC interim lightweight champion.
A standout who rose up through the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting promotion as a 22-year-old, Poirier (25-5, 1 NC) reflected on the journey to his enormous win in his post-fight interview.
“Man, this feels amazing,” Poirier said. “I feel like I’m in a dream right now. I just beat one of the pound-for-pound best in the world. To be the best you’ve got to beat the best and damn I feel good. It’s been a long time, this is my 23rd or 24th fight with Zuffa, I’ve got knocked down, I’ve climbed back up.
“This is my belt, I earned this in blood, I paid in full. This is mine.”
The victory puts Poirier in prime position to fight undisputed champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in the future and he took a page out of fellow UFC champion and proud Louisianan Daniel Cormier to make his intentions known.
“In the words of our buddy Daniel Cormier: Get your shit together, young man, we’ve got a belt to fight for!” Poirier said.
Though the two were competing for an interim belt, Holloway, the UFC’s reigning featherweight champion who was moving up in weight to pursue a second championship, refused to downplay the importance of the moment or diminish Poirier’s accomplishment.
“I’m not gonna take nothing away from Dustin,” Holloway said. “He beat a world champ, he is a world champ, there ain’t no interim, he’s the real thing, he beat a world champion.”
The first round was all Poirier and it’s hard to imagine many other fighters besides Holloway who could withstand the initial beating that Poirier put on him. After being rocked by a counter early, Poirier regained his footing and began to tee off on the featherweight champion. Every 1-2 combination and straight right seemed to land, and Poirier made sure to stay relaxed and not gas himself out, content with taking what could likely have been a 10-8 round. Somehow, Holloway was not knocked down during all this.
Holloway settled down in round two and moved into the familiar role of aggressor, pawing at Poirier with his jab and scoring with precise body shots. The patient Poirier did not waver one iota, firing back at Holloway with punches to the head. With about a minute remaining, Poirier’s punches seemed to stun Holloway again, though “Blessed” was still smiling and beckoning Poirier to bring it on.
Round three was more of the same, with Holloway still working to find a rhythm and absorbing punches while hunting for openings. He ended that frame with a flurry, prompting Poirier to shoot in for a takedown. Holloway defended well and used the position against the cage to drive elbows into the side of Poirier’s head. That didn’t deter Poirier from shooting in again to start round four, that time successfully completing the takedown.
Unfortunately for Poirier, Holloway soon recovered and he went back to fighting at a ridiculously high pace. Poirier slowed his pace slightly, but Poirier refused to give him a break. The featherweight champion tested Poirier’s defenses with constant volume striking. Poirier answered by landing a knee up the middle that cracked Holloway’s head and left him bleeding.
In the fifth and final round, neither Holloway nor Poirier refused to give an inch, trading strikes even as their gas tanks ran past empty. A prolonged clinch against the fence drew boos from the spoiled crowd, though it gave both fighters a second to breathe. Of course, they ended with another flurry.
This was Holloway’s first loss in over five years and he saw a 13-fight win streak snapped. Post-fight, he was non-committal about whether he expected to compete at lightweight again or return to featherweight to defend his title.
Poirier has now won five straight (excluding one no contest) and nine of his last 10. He now holds two wins over Holloway, having submitted him in their first meeting at UFC 143 back in February 2012.