The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 236 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
The ESPN+ pay-per-view era has arrived, and it kicks off with one of the better action cards of the year. The Ultimate Fighting Championship apparently had much more grandiose plans for UFC 236, to the point that it waited as long as possible before announcing anything about fights or a venue, but in a way, it turned out well simply because there seemingly was not much thought involved. It is the matchmaking equivalent of waking up without having done your homework: The UFC just threw together whatever fights sounded fun, ignoring whether or not these interim titles make sense or whether or not there is any star power beyond the top two fights. While this is not much of a pay-per-view card in terms of depth or relevance, this should be one of the more entertaining shows of 2019 in terms of spending a few hours watching fights.
Now to the preview for UFC 236, set for Saturday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta:
UFC Interim Lightweight ChampionshipMax Holloway (20-3) vs. Dustin Poirier (24-5)
ODDS: Holloway (-225), Poirier (+185)
At least Poirier is finally getting his lightweight title shot -- kind of. Poirier cut down to 145 pounds when he moved from World Extreme Cagefighting to the UFC, and while his days at featherweight were filled with all-out brawls and “Fight of the Night” contenders, it has been a pleasure to see him work out the kinks and become an actual elite fighter back at lightweight. When Poirier returned to 155 pounds in 2015, some of the benefits were immediately obvious, as his durability was suddenly much better and he was much more capable of overwhelming his opponents with volume when moving in for the kill. However, despite his success, it soon became a trope that Poirier would go into a fight saying that he was going to be calmer and much more patient, only to spark off a brawl at some point inside the cage. That nearly cost him in his first fight against Eddie Alvarez, which was heading against Poirier before Alvarez landed an illegal knee that turned the fight into a no-contest. The ensuing two years have offered something a redemption tour, and 2018 was Poirier’s breakout year: He stuck to a game plan against the violent puzzle box that is Justin Gaethje and then took a smart approach in a one-sided win in his rematch with Alvarez. Poirier is one of many deserving contenders hurt by Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov constantly gumming up the lightweight title picture, so rather than getting a well-earned shot at the belt, Poirier now faces featherweight champ Holloway in an interim title fight for some reason. At the same time, it is hard to complain about a fight that will be this great inside the cage, particularly when Holloway will be motivated to look for redemption.
Holloway’s UFC tenure started innocuously enough. As a ridiculously raw prospect just barely out of his teens, the Hawaiian stepped in on short notice and got absolutely dominated by a much more experienced Poirier. After a rough first two years full of prospect losses -- even if those losses were coming to fighters like Poirier and McGregor -- Holloway started 2014 with a win over Will Chope and has not looked back since, going undefeated over 13 fights and five years. It is as amazing a run as there is in the sport, as Holloway went from something like an Anthony Pettis starter kit to one of the most diverse and violent boxers in the game, feeling out opponent after opponent and marching through hell to put on the pressure. Holloway finally took his throne as featherweight king in 2017 with a pair of one-sided wins over Jose Aldo, which were demonstrations of Holloway at his best. Aldo’s career has been made via disincentivizing his opponents into a slow pace, and Holloway simply did not care about what Aldo threw his way, ramping up the volume until he overwhelmed the all-time great. While 2018 was shaping up to be a lost year for Holloway -- he suffered through injuries and a health scare that still has not been fully disclosed -- but in December, he was back reminding everyone why he is one of the best fighters alive. He actually entered UFC 231 as a betting underdog to Brian Ortega and came out with a brutal win. With Holloway having cleaned out a ton of the division in his ascent on the featherweight ladder, the time is as good as any for the “Blessed” era to make its way to 155 pounds. This is quite a matchup in which to get a fresh start.
With the caveat that this still figures to be an absolute war and that Poirier figures to have his moments, this fight should mostly take place on the feet, and there is probably not a fighter in his weight range who can beat Holloway there. This latest version of Poirier does a great job of setting a range and picking apart his opponents, but unlike Gaethje and Alvarez, Holloway does not figure to let himself get hit. From there, it figures to be Holloway who gets a better read on the fight and manages to win rounds through volume. Add in that Holloway is the more diverse striker and probably has better cardio and an ability to fight through exhaustion -- particularly at 155 pounds -- and this is the featherweight champion’s fight to lose. If both men throw their game plans out the window and decide to go to war, Holloway probably has the advantage there, too, if only due to his history of having an indestructible chin. Much like Poirier had one of the best fights of the year despite almost always being in control against Gaethje, it feels like the inverse is going to happen to him here against Holloway. The pick is Holloway via fourth-round stoppage.
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