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UFC 236: Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier Toe-to-Toe Preview – A complete breakdown

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Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier headlines UFC 236 this April 13, 2019 at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

One sentence summary

David: Dustin Checks In

Phil: Good violence and dumb belts

Stats

Record: Max Holloway 20-3 Dustin Poirier 24-5-1 NC

Odds: Max Holloway -190 Dustin Poirier +175

History / Introduction to both fighters

David: I don’t know where Holloway fits into the personality archetype of MMA profiles, but I do know that he’s one of the best fighters we’ve had the luxury of seeing. He was also in the extremely underrated Den of Thieves as a drunk kid who hung around Ice Cube’s son’s entourage. He’s not exactly a star, but he deserves stardom. He’s the most exciting fighter alive right now. And still just 27.

Phil: Max Holloway is in some way the ideal of what you’d want from a champion-level MMA fighter. He’s funny without being an asshole, active without being self-destructive, and confident without being arrogant. The question, then, is how much that feeds into the UFC’s business model: how much are they willing to get behind him? From the looks of this fight, the answer might be ‘quite a bit’. I suspect that they’re willing to get him in there in the Khabib / Conor mix because he’s just plain willing to take fights.

David: Poirier could have been just another good action fighter: a fighter who didn’t have to beg for “50 G’s” at the end of a postfight speech. Instead he resigned himself to being the best incarnation of himself he could be. Now here he is: one of the division’s most lethal fighters by a yardstick.

Phil: Dustin Poirier was someone who was annointed for greatness before he even made it to the UFC. Then, when he did, his path towards the top turned out to be a lot more rocky than he might have predicted. Heart breaking losses to Jung, Swanson, and finally McGregor defined his career at featherweight as a good-not-great contender. Even after revitalizing himself at lightweight, the Johnson loss seemed to indicate that the same old flaws were there. But Poirier just kept plugging away. Getting more comfortable in exchanges. Believing in his defence. And now he’s here, and while interim belts might not mean a lot, it’s impossible not to respect the sheer grit it took to get to this point.

What’s at stake?

David: Basically reputations at this point. Not much else. This is a huge fight, but both men will be doing this for a long time after this.

Phil: The interim belt guarantees a shot against Khabib! And if you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you. What really matters is that Max might be the P4P best fighter in the sport, and Dustin is the undisputed violenceweight champ. It’s a great fight, and frankly they both deserve better.

Where do they want it?

David: As always, Holloway will look to establish range with movement, probe with the jab, and slowly morph into a punch and kick equivalent of Mac’s chaingun. Max is all about turning slight shifts into optimal positioning: a jab turns into a hook to the body, a straight right, etc. For most fighters that would be good enough, depending on punching power, speed, or accuracy. But Holloway throws everything in sequence. The jab gets doubled up, the body work remains consistent, and he’s as adept leaning in with combinations as he is leaning back to fake a sustained attack. Holloway doesn’t have the best feet, but it’s a byproduct of not needing it. He pivots, and swivels in small movements to create sustained offense. His defense is not great, but it’s just functional enough to compliment the kind of offense Holloway seeks.

Phil: Holloway is quite possibly the best offensive striker in MMA right now. He enters on a range of angles, and peppers his opponents with deft, stinging shots before retreating and processing the information gained. The more information he gets, the shorter the gaps between his offensive bursts until eventually the opponent is gasping under an unending wave of offense. When he’s on defense, Holloway can be tagged: he relies on his eyes and subtle slips and backing up while refusing to give up a pressuring distance, and so can be gotten to with feints and forward moving flurries, respectively. However, his chin has thus proven completely uncrackable. In the clinch Holloway reflects former champ Jose Aldo in that he’s a little passive, but his ability to keep angles and attack hands has made him an exceptionally difficult fighter to tie up with.

David: Poirier started out as an action fighter. His offense was pretty one-note, and his defense was notoriously awful. Eventually he found himself not only refining his offense – his punch entries in particular – but defining his defense as well. He began to stop himself from being too propulsive, able to bait out counters, and starting to really defend better with the effective/but evolving shoulder-roll. When he got roasted by Michael Johnson, I didn’t think he’d rebound. But he basically revinvented himself. His bouts with Alvarez, Gaethje, and Pettis may have been entertaining, but he was dominant. His open stance, hook-happy style has been a boon for his strategy, and opponents haven’t been able to crack the code just yet.

Phil: Dustin Poirier has gone through a couple of evolutions since his early days- from a well-rounded collection of violent tricks, to a crushing power punched, to a smart and disciplined combination of his best traits. His best improvements have been in his defense and calm under fire: gone is the panicked double forearm guard or wild brawling which were his trademarks. Instead he keeps his eyes on his opponent, actively blocks and covers his retreat with jabs and hooks. His offense has improved as well, as he’s learned the benefits of gradating his offense with throwaway shots and feints. He always has been a great clinch fighter and wrestler, and remains so. Knees, elbows, and his beloved D’Arce are the core of his offense there, and it remains one of the areas where he has a clear advantage over Holloway.

Insight from past fights

David: I don’t take too much from their first fight. You saw a lot of things that defined their early weaknesses: Poirier’s lack of defense, Holloway’s lack of takedown defense, etc. I don’t expect Poirier to get hit by some of Holloway’s less complex punches, just as I don’t expect Holloway to be unable to scramble back up, or put flat on his back with so little manipulation. I still believe that Holloway is the favorite. While Dustin has ways to win, his path to the ground is much harder than Holloway’s path to landing punches.

Phil: Their first fight was a long time ago, and Holloway in particular was ridiculously raw, but it’s notable how troubled Poirier was looking by Holloway’s aggression before he took him down. However, there’s also an argument that Poirier is the best wrestler to fight Holloway in recent memory, with Ricardo Lamas being his best competition. I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see Holloway sell out to escape in a ground situation and get caught in a snap down-D’Arce series.

X-Factors

David: Usually, you can pinpoint where a fighter stands to gain from moving up or down weight. Maybe they’re fast, which makes them better at a higher weight. Maybe they’re strong, which makes them better at a lower weight, etc. Styles factor into this too, but I do worry that Holloway isn’t strong enough in any one category – at least in terms of raw physicality – to make the jump. Max is fast, but I wouldn’t call him significantly faster than other lightweights, and he definitely won’t have the strength advantage. Which leaves him…

Phil: How does Holloway wear the weight? For a lot of fighters it improves their durability, but Holloway is already one of the toughest guys we’ve ever seen. Is there a strength disparity, and does his cardio hold up as much as it used to if Poirier makes it dirty up close?

Prognostication

David: I suspect this will be a tale of two fights. Early on it’s all Dustin: can he create punch entries that allow him to land hooks and threaten for takedowns? As long as Holloway survives the early rounds, his workrate and offensive options will prove to be too much for Poirier. Basically, this is the perfect fight. Too bad it will have an imperfect ending. Max Holloway by Decision.

Phil: This has (whisper it) the potential to be one of the best fights of all time. Holloway is incredible, but his defense hasn’t been tested by the mix of power, volume and three-dimensional approaches that Poirier can bring. Conversely, though, Poirier has not shown the cast iron confidence, durability and gradually ramp up pace which Holloway has displayed. I wish both of these guys could win. Max Holloway by TKO, round 4


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