Eddie Alvarez vs. Dustin Poirier 2 headlines UFC on FOX 30 this July 28, 2018 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
One Sentence Summary
Phil: Violence Part 2: The Re-Violencening
David: Crimson Tide 2: Starring Mental Washington, and Gene Hacked-Man
Record: Eddie Alvarez 29-5-1 NC | Dustin Poirier 23-5-1 NC
Odds: Eddie Alvarez +150 | Dustin Poirier -160
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: Alvarez came into the MMA world as part of the “new breed.” Like wrestling’s version of Blade, he had all of their singlet strengths, and none of their weaknesses. His early run in DREAM was the stuff of…dreams — except for Bas’ commentary; blasphemy or not, I always found his commentary full of too many platitudes to be “legendary.” Anyway, great wars with Kawajiri, Dida, and Hansen revealed a rising star until he ran into a psychopath. Since then he’s been a staple no matter where he fought. Now the American Knuckle Star turns his focus toward UFC officials, who sort of screwed everything up in their first fight.
Phil: Eddie Alvarez had a tough career where he fought a wide selection of killers in Japan. He had a tough career where he fought a wide selection of killers in Bellator. The UFC has not bucked this trend. Cerrone, Melendez, Pettis, RDA, McGregor, Poirier, Gaethje, and now Poirier again. That is not the kind of schedule most people face in their 15th year in the sport. Or, you know, sometimes it is, but then it’s generally wall-to-wall depressing beatings. Instead, The Underground King still seems to be close to his peak. The Melendez and Pettis fights were disappointingly tactical, but pretty much everything since then has been glorious violence, win or lose. Even then, he’s given us so much entertainment over the years that he’s earned the right to lay and pray his way through every single fight he has from now on. Most people don’t give us one fight of the year candidate over the course of their careers, Alvarez has given us a bare minimum of three (Gaethje, Chandler II, Kawajiri).
David: Some fighters spend so much time in the UFC, you naturally underrate them. We’ve seen them lose, so it’s easy to focus on their flaws. Poirier has been a mainstay in the UFC for all the right reasons. He’s an action junkie, but not a brainless one, so it’s always a pleasure to have him fight on a card. Having said that, this feels like a great fight to pass the time rather than a great fight to clarify the division. Both guys beat up on Justin Gaethje, so this is just the natural place to take the spectacle of violence next.
Phil: Dustin Poirier is someone else that has almost never given us a boring fight. He was a prospect back in the first heady years of the UFC 80-100 boom, back when the novelty of MMA had yet to wear off and was starting to sniff at mainstream acceptance. So while his fellow prospect Erik Koch had a book written about him, Poirier was the subject of a documentary called (I believe) Fightland. Hard to imagine that kind of thing happening nowadays about a regional Louisiana lightweight. It’s no Smashing Machine, but it’s definitely worth a look. This was also a time before people realized just how many talented fighters would be filtering into the lighter weight divisions. His contemporaries like Koch faltered, and Poirier himself got set back on multiple occasions. He burst into tears in his mother’s arms after losing to the Korean Zombie, and was embarrassed by McGregor, but somehow stayed the course and just quietly got better and better. Now he’s on the cusp of title contention, while becoming the kind of person who auctions off his fight gear for charity. It’s hard not to look back at his climb and not be a little moved.
What’s at stake?
David: Kind of a lot. It just depends on how it goes down. If they’re fighting with only their torsos left standing — a dramatic, but totally possible scenario — they’ll definitely be in line. If it’s just a good fight, and nothing more, they’ll need tuneups waiting for whatever the hell is the law and McGregor are doing.
Phil: Alvarez says he’ll only accept a shot at Nurmagomedov with a win, which is… hmm. I don’t think that happens. I think Nurmagomedov will probably be fighting a certain someone else, who recently got let off for his dolly-related misdemeanours with a slap on the wrist. The winner probably fights Tony Ferguson, while the loser fights Kevin Lee.
Where do they want it?
David: I feel like Alvarez’ wrestling was a direct result of his striking skills. He sort of popularized the wrestler learning grappling not to look for submissions but to position for punches ala Cain Velasquez. As such, his striking has become a fluid monster. He dips, weaves, gradates, feints, stutters, steps, pivots, and it all sounds like the most advanced striking in MMA (well; basic boxing if we’re being honest) until Alvarez inevitably reaches that boiling point where he’s either hurt, or eager to do the hurting — giving his opponent extra opportunities — and all hell breaks loose. At his best, Alvarez can bait punches out of his opponent, weaving his punches through traffic like a Ducati. Doing so allows him branch out with more entries, either through punches, or takedowns. His issue is that he’s not really a dual threat. He’s a very good grappler, and a solid technical wrestler, but he doesn’t explode with his takedowns, or bridge those entry gaps. In addition, he tends to get hit with the first punch in a sequence a lot. His defense is good despite his reputation, but his stature/posture leaves him vulnerable way more often than most fighters. I think part of the issue is that he’s a counter fighter in a brawler’s body. He’s got the skills for it, but not the patience.
Phil: Alvarez is an anti-brawler. A smart fighter, he came up fighting a bizarre selection of clearly defined threats in the Japan scene, from the kickboxing of Joachim Hansen, through to the grappling of Shinya Aoki. The power of Kawajiri, and… whatever it is that Kikuno does. What Alvarez built in response was a deep, broad game which nonetheless had a number of caveats: it only worked effectively within a certain range, and he only had a limited number of tricks for closing in once the opponent decided to stay on the outside. Once they’re inside range, he’s an effective clinch, shot and defensive wrestler, with a predilection for hockey punches in the clinch. He’s a tremendously effective combination boxer, one of the best body punchers in the sport, and he’s one of the few fighters that’s actually able to escape from pressure once trapped on the cage- he feints, he changes direction, and he actually strikes as he moves. Like his sometimes-training partner Frankie Edgar, his insane toughness and calm under fire have contributed to him being a smart, adaptive fighter. Even against tough matchups like Melendez and Pettis, he’s figured out ways to squeak out victories.
David: I don’t know if I’m repeating myself, but where Alvarez is a counter striker in a brawler’s body, Poirier is a brawler in a counter striker’s body. Poirier moves forward with violent precision that he has difficulty having to rein in. He’s like a distance hating version of Jose Aldo. Where Aldo is content to perform with a defined proximity, Poirier will just seek and destroy with just enough savvy to avoid the Gaethje thunderdome. That’s how Poirier caught Alvarez the first time; he was moving backward, and reset with swift precision to chamber a brutal straight left. When he’s in control, Poirier’s attack casts a wide net of ballstics; and it gets better when he’s in the clinch. He has the same problem Alvarez has though; that brawler’s instinct means he has blindspots when it comes to defending entries.
Phil: Dustin Poirier used to be the kind of fighter that Eddie Alvarez devours. Throughout his featherweight career, and most of his lightweight run, he full-bore pressure fighter who came in behind a cannon of a left hand and a vicious clinch and wrestling game, one which bears a lot of similarities to Alvarez’, albeit with a little more of a focus on the snap-down and d’arce choke. The love for single collar hockey punches is shared by both men. However, Poirier’s historic issues were that the second he was denied his forward pressure, things started to go wrong. He’d throw up a double forearm guard and freeze behind it, Joe Lauzon style, until the opponent gave up hitting him. Sometimes they wouldn’t. You could see him getting into his own head as he’d whiff shots and then take a deep, worried breath. The most impressive thing about Poirier is that he seems to have gone a good way to patching up this major psychological flaw. You can still see him getting a little worried in his fights… but you can also see him calming himself down.
More than that, he’s become a far more developed technical fighter, who has at least two gears he can fight in. No longer is he just the pressure fighter, but is someone who can actually box at range: he mixes in lighter shots with his power, is far harder to hit than he used to be, and can use that forearm guard to block and then return with a counter rather than as a panicked shell.
Insight from past fights
David: It’s hard to ignore the first fight. Both fighters were hurt, but Alvarez got hurt during the storm. Poirier is the one who created it. That’s the difference to me. I don’t see Alvarez closing the distance and scoring big with his own punch entries because he’s never been that type of fighter. He has tools to score at midrange (his leg kicks are good, especially when he throws upstairs), but it’s not how he initiates. Look at any good Alvarez brawl: the chaos started when Alvares got dropped by a Kawajiri left hook; the chaos started against Dida when Dida stuck him with an overhand right; against Dustin, the straight left; against Hansen, it started with all the punches. And so forth. I can’t trust Alvarez to succeed on this kind of “as long as it’s a brawl, I’ve got a shot” foundation.
Phil: The main thing about their first fight for me is that Poirier was winning really, really easily, and that Alvarez was within inches of going out. I think Alvarez’ returning surge has perhaps been somewhat overplayed, as at no point did he hurt Poirier as badly. The Gaethje fight was also encouraging from Poirier’s perspective: he got into trouble, against someone who famously takes over fights, but stayed calm and carried on breaking the brawler down.
Alvarez is a great gameplanner, but it seems like Poirier’s new style is exceptionally tough for him. Essentially, all Poirier has to do is improve his performance a tiny bit and he knocks Alvarez out. It feels like Alvarez has to come out with something far more dramatic, and I’m not even sure what that could be. How does he close distance aside from with his (rather risky) darting right hand? It’s not really a question we’ve ever seen him answer.
David: Nothing significant except the thousands of punches each man has taken in their lengthy careers.
Phil: Just whether Alvarez’ career will finally start to catch up with him. He looked great against Gaethje, one of the finest all-around performances of his career, but once more we’re talking about a man who started his career in the Year of Our Lord 2003.
David: Alvarez needs more than a gameplan. He needs the instincts to figure out an urgent/savvy midrange attack that doesn’t leave itself so vulnerable to quick punch entries. It’s real simple for me. Like any good battle plan, know your exits. Poirier has more ways to enter, and more ways to exit. Alvarez is getting smoked. Or becoming smoked meat as this human html code might say. Dustin Poirier by KO, round 1.
Phil: This is a very tough puzzle for Alvarez to solve. Body shots? Takedowns? Trying to draw Poirier into counters? All these seem tricky when faced with the problem that has plagued Alvarez ever since Kikuno: how to close in on a rangy, dangerous striker who doesn’t necessarily want to be closed in on. I worry that this time Poirier lands a big shot early, and that enough time has passed that the tiny sliver which kept Alvarez out of the void last time is no longer there. Dustin Poirier by TKO, round 1.