Considering the train wreck that was UFC 223, it is understandable if you have a bad taste left in your mouth. When you remember all that it could have been, it is hard not to be bitter. However, there is a savory palate cleanser on deck for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
All-action finishers Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje are not here for defensively responsible point-fighting; no, they are here to bang and see who falls first in the UFC on Fox 29 main event this Saturday in Glendale, Arizona. Since this fight was announced, everyone has been salivating over the thought of this potential slugfest. The winner takes a significant step toward title contention in the lightweight division.
The co-headliner features welterweight fan favorite Carlos Condit against late replacement Alex Oliveira. In other main card action, the charismatic and flashy Israel Adesanya makes his sophomore UFC appearance opposite Marvin Vettori and Michelle Waterson throws hands with Cortney Casey-Sanchez. There are also two divisionally relevant middleweight bouts, another between flyweights and, as always, other well-matched action fights on the prelims.
Let us get to the odds and analysis for UFC on Fox 29:
LightweightsDustin Poirier (22-5) vs. Justin Gaethje (18-1)
ODDS: Poirier (-145), Gaethje (+125)
ANALYSIS: Another Gaethje fight, another surefire bloodbath sent from the violence gods. This time he draws Poirier, another fighter allergic to boring fights.
The book seems written on Gaethje at this point. Like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Gaethje follows the same blueprint every fight; and like Nurmagomedov, his primary weapon is pressure, both physical and psychological. However, unlike “The Eagle,” Gaethje fights in a way in which he puts himself -- happily, almost gleefully -- in severe danger. His pace is simply staggering. He landed 104 significant strikes on Michael Johnson in under 10 minutes. He landed 122 on Eddie Alvarez in 14 minutes. The Trevor Wittman protege takes Matt Brown’s autobiographical tagline “technical brawler” and turns it up to 11. He walks relentlessly forward and loads up on power punches like overhands, hooks and uppercuts. His leg kicks are his most impressive weapon, to my mind. Gaethje bludgeons the lead leg of every opponent he faces, and he does so in close quarters and off clinch breaks, where his foes are used to protecting their heads. This brutal tactic was a significant factor in his UFC debut win over the speedy Johnson; eventually, “The Menace” just could not get out of the way of the bombs coming his way.
Gaethje’s defense supplements his pressure, as he rarely takes a backward step. Instead, he shells up with a double-forearms guard or ducks his head. His willingness to eat a shot to stay in his opponent’s face is what makes him so exciting, but it also makes him vulnerable. Gaethje has been hurt plenty of times before and not always by the best competition. His ability to recover, though, is remarkable and speaks to his outstanding cardio. Alvarez became the first to defeat -- and finish -- Gaethje by consistently and diligently going to the body. The body work sapped the Coloradan’s cardio, and when the giant shot inevitably came in the form of an Alvarez knee, Gaethje’s ability to recover was also gone.
Poirier is just as much of a finisher as his adversary. The southpaw bomber boasts a diverse standup arsenal, quality wrestling and aggressive submissions paired with thunderous ground-and-pound. Since Gaethje’s wrestling is also strong, expect a standup war. “The Diamond” is another all-action pressure fighter. He can use his reach to good effect, sticking out a thudding 1-2 to go along with quick head and body kicks. These are particularly dangerous for opposite-stance orthodox fighters. However, what Poirier really wants to do is get into the pocket and deliver power punches. He is equally comfortable in a phonebooth, dirty boxing, kneeing and elbowing his opponents to bits.
The Louisiana native’s issue has sometimes been that he does not stay calm enough and that he wades into situations that are closer to 50/50 than they ought to be. Poirier can get so wrapped up in landing offense that he does not mind getting into a firefight. His own fight with Alvarez encapsulates this. The American Top Team standout did a good job early of touching Alvarez with his jab and long cross. After hurting and laying it on Alvarez, he got rocked himself and taken down, leading to the illegal knee that resulted in a no-contest. Poirier’s stamina and durability also have been problem spots in the past, but his move back to lightweight three years ago has aided him in those areas.
This is a close fight, but I agree with Poirier being a slight favorite. His susceptibility to leg kicks is a major concern; Jim Miller battered him badly with the technique but attacked low on the calf -- a direction Gaethje does not head as much. Still, Gaethje’s style is unsustainable and predictable. Poirier knows exactly what his opponent is going to do, and he knows he can be hurt, that his body is open and, now, that he can be put away. I am not yet willing to say Gaethje’s chin is cracked, but if he does not adjust his style, that is as inevitable as suffering his first knockout loss. Poirier follows Alvarez’s blueprint, hammers home body kicks to wear down Gaethje and gets him out of there in the third or fourth round.
Next Fight » Condit vs. Oliveira