Dustin Poirier scaled the mountain one rock at a time in a decade-long struggle to reach the top.
The American Top Team export outstruck and overpowered Max Holloway to a unanimous decision, as he laid claim to the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title in the UFC 236 main event on Saturday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Poirier curried favor from all three judges, drawing 49-46 marks on their scorecards. He has now won both head-to-head meetings with Holloway, having submitted the Gracie Technics rep with a triangle armbar back in 2012.
Holloway, the reigning UFC featherweight champion, was met with immediate resistance. Poirier connected with surprising regularity and force, wobbling the Hawaiian more than once in a dominant, tone-setting first round. Holloway answered in spurts but could not match the Lafayette, Louisiana, native shot for shot in terms of firepower. Poirier outpaced his counterpart in the first, second and fifth rounds, withstood a ferocious assault on his body and exacted a serious toll in their standup exchanges.
In the aftermath of UFC 236 “Holloway vs. Poirier 2,” here are five matches that ought to be made.
Dustin Poirier vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov: To say Poirier rose to the occasion would be a gross understatement. “The Diamond” landed virtually all blows of consequence, butchered Holloway’s face -- a fourth-round knee strike resulted in an enormous vertical gash between the Hawaiian’s eyes -- and struck interim lightweight gold in the headliner. Poirier swept the scorecards with 49-46 marks from all three judges. His stock has never been higher. Nurmagomedov successfully defended the undisputed lightweight crown in October, as he submitted Conor McGregor with a neck crank in the fourth round of the UFC 229 main event. He later received a nine-month suspension for his role in a post-fight melee and will not be eligible to fight again until July 6.
Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker: Adesanya showed his quality in the co-main event, where he navigated treacherous waters, outlasted Kelvin Gastelum to a unanimous decision in a clear frontrunner for “Fight of the Year” and captured the interim UFC middleweight championship. Scores were 48-46, 48-46 and 48-46. Gastelum had “The Last Stylebender” teetering on the brink on more than one occasion but could not seal the deal, a testament to Adesanya’s unshakeable resolve. The supremely skilled City Kickboxing star was credited with three knockdowns in the decisive fifth round, where he outlanded Gastelum by a 43-15 margin and appeared to be headed for a finish when the final horn sounded. On a nine-fight winning streak, the oft-injured Whittaker has not competed since he retained the undisputed middleweight championship with a split decision over Yoel Romero at UFC 225 in June.
Khalil Rountree vs. Mauricio Rua: If not for the remarkable main event and co-headliner, Rountree could conceivably have left Atlanta as the talk of UFC 236. “The Ultimate Fighter 23” finalist looked like a new man, as he bludgeoned and abused a flummoxed Eryk Anders for three rounds in their featured pairing at 205 pounds. All three cageside judges struck 30-26 scorecards for Rountree, who chewed up the former University of Alabama linebacker’s lead leg with a series of savage kicks and knocked down Anders four times in the second round. A winner in four of his last five bouts, Rua has not competed since he put away Tyson Pedro with third-round punches at UFC Fight Night 142 on Dec. 1.
Nikita Krylov vs. Glover Teixeira-Ion Cutelaba winner: Those who wrote off Krylov as little more than a dependable action fighter may have done so in error. The former Fight Nights Global champion avenged one of his six career defeats, as he disposed of Ovince St. Preux with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their light heavyweight showcase. “OSP” bowed out 2:30 into Round 2. Krylov, still only 27 years old, has gone 5-1 since he submitted to a Misha Cirkunov guillotine choke at UFC 206 in 2016 and appears to have positioned himself for more significant opportunities at 205 pounds. Teixeira will confront Cutelaba at UFC on ESPN 3 on April 27 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Poliana Botelho vs. Maycee Barber: Botelho planted her flag in the women’s flyweight division, as she laid claim to a unanimous decision over Lauren Mueller on the undercard. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28 for the Nova Uniao export. Botelho carried the first two rounds with crisp standup and a punishing clinch game before being forced to withstand a late surge from her American counterpart. She has rattled off six wins across her past seven appearances. The undefeated Barber survived her toughest test to date and pushed her record to 7-0 at UFC Fight Night 148, where she cut through J.J. Aldrich with second-round knee strikes and punches on March 23.