It’s safe to say fans were excited with the announcement that Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje would square off in the main event on April 14 at UFC on Fox 29.
Stylistically it is a great match up. In one corner you have the well-rounded, heavy-hitting Poirier. In his 22 wins in MMA, he has recorded 17 finishes; 11 by knockout and six by submission. In the other corner you have Gaethje, who has more of a berserker style. He swings for the bleachers, hoping to overwhelm his opponent with a barrage of strikes. Like Poirier, Gaethje has an impressive finish ratio. In his 18 wins in MMA, 15 have been by knockout with one coming by submission.
Poirier recently told MMAfighting.com how he’ll be approaching the fight:
“Justin is a fighter’s fighter,” Poirier recently told MMA Fighting. “People like to watch him fight. He’s a little bit of a brute. He out-toughs guys and you know that he’s a guy who doesn’t break mentally. You have to break his body. You have to short-circuit him. You have to make his body stop working. He has a never-die attitude and I respect that about him, and I know what he’s bringing to the table. I know how dangerous he is, the power he brings and the grit he brings to the fight.
“I’m not looking to go out there and get damaged and have a bloodbath, but I’m a fighter deep down inside. So no matter how much I try to tame that beast, when the going gets tough, it comes out. I’m glad I have that because it’s gotten me far.
“But this is going to be the bull versus the matador and I’m going to finesse him out there. I’m going to show my full skill set, my speed, my accuracy, everything I’ve been working on for 11 years. I’m going to show, once again, that I’m going to be the best in the world.”
Poirier’s last fight was a victory against Anthony Pettis in November. At the conclusion of the bout he expressed his desire for a rematch with Eddie Alvarez. Their first fight was hugely entertaining, with both fighters putting everything on the line. However, the fight ended under controversial circumstances when Alvarez landed illegal knees to Poirier's head, who was a downed opponent. The bout was ruled a no-contest.
“I’m not really chasing rematches. I’m chasing gold. And whatever fight can get me closer to being a world champion, those are the fights that I want,” Poirier said. “Of course I wanted the Eddie rematch, just because of the way it ended and he was still ranked No. 3 at the time, so I was like I need to get that fight back. He was the only guy without a fight as well in the top five when I was trying to push for the fight, and it just made sense. I knew if I beat him, I would be really close to a world title.
“The UFC offered the Eddie fight five times or something, I was told, and he turned it down every time. So I don’t know, man. I feel like a win over Justin Gaethje is going to do the same thing that would’ve done. I’m going to be right there knocking on the door.”
Alvarez stands as the only man to beat Gaethje in professional mixed martial arts and Poirier is unsure of how “The Highlight” will bounce back from his first ever loss.
“I do know that he’s a tough individual mentally. He’ll push himself, and no matter how much blood or pain he’s in, he’s going to walk forward and try to finish the fight,” Poirier said. “And I admire that about him, like I said. That’s a warrior’s spirit. But this is a thinking man’s game as well. You have to have a fine balance of both. We’ll see.
“Either he’s going to be the best Justin Gaethje he’s ever been, he might start showing some of those Division I All-American skills that he has, showing some other wrinkles in his game; he might be more motivated than he’s ever been to get that loss out of his mind and get back into the win column. Or, he’s going to be second-guessing himself and wondering what he did wrong, if he belongs in there.”
Poirier is a fan of Gaethje’s ultra-aggressive style, where he will happily walk through a wall of punches just to unleash his own attacks. The caliber of fighters in the UFC is a significant step up over what Gaethje has faced in other organizations. The Octagon is where he’ll come up against fighters who can expose his weaknesses. It seems to be working so far for Gaethje inside the Octagon, albeit the loss to Alvarez.
“It’s not (a sustainable style), and I said that when he was with World Series of Fighting,” Poirier said. “I’m good friends with (ATT coach) Mike Brown, who’s also an MMA mastermind. He understands fighting and understands styles and matchup, and I’ve told him that before, that this guy is going to have to switch his fighting style or he’s going to have a short career. He’s going to have a bunch of fun paydays and a bunch of memorable fights, but it’s not going to last. Once it starts going downhill, it’s going to go down fast for him, fighting like that. Of course he’s going to catch guys here and there, win some bonuses, and like I said, have some great fights that people are going to remember. And it seems like that’s what he’s fighting for. He loves that, and that’s awesome.
“But I want to be a world champion, man. And I want that to be a by-product of me fighting at my best. I’m not going out there looking to see who’s willing to lose more blood, because I’ll die out there. I know I would, but I don’t want that. I want to go in there and have smooth fight and show my skill.”
Gaethje has publically questioned Poirier’s mental strength in the lead up to the fight if the bout goes into deep waters. However, Poirier is confident he has what it takes to survive and outlast his opponent.
“I think it’s cute,” he said. “We’ll find out. Bring me there. Let’s go. I’m not Eddie Alvarez, I’m not these guys. I can crack and I have the best technique he’s ever fought in his fighting career. You’ll see, man.
“I’m a complete fighter and I’m not scared, I’m very willing to use every part of the game to get the win by any means necessary. And I’m going to outclass him everywhere. I’m going to make him look like an amateur out there.”