Preview: UFC 269 ‘Oliveira vs. Poirier’

Oliveira vs. Poirier

Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC 269 live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s final pay-per-view of 2021 figures to keep up the promotion’s streak of excellent numbered events. Once again, two title fights take center stage at UFC 269 this Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Charles Oliveira defends his newly won lightweight crown against Dustin Poirier in an excellent headliner between beloved veterans, and Amanda Nunes looks to keep up her Greatest of All-Time status by defending her bantamweight belt against Julianna Pena in the co-feature. The rest of the main card is high on action and offers some divisional intrigue. Geoff Neal and Santiago Ponzinibbio figure to have a banger at welterweight, but the true stakes come in the first two pairings. Cody Garbrandt makes his long-awaited move down to flyweight against Kai Kara France, while Sean O'Malley gets his toughest test in quite a while against Raulian Paiva. Once again, the UFC has brought the platonic ideal of a pay-per-view card.

Now to the UFC 269 “Oliveira vs. Poirier” preview:

UFC Lightweight Championship

C | Charles Oliveira (31-8, 19-8 UFC) vs. #1 LW | Dustin Poirier (28-6, 20-5 UFC)

ODDS: Poirier (-162), Oliveira (+142)

For the first time in a while, the UFC’s lightweight title picture feels relatively normal. Since 2016, the 155-pound strap has been tied up with either the whims of Conor McGregor or Khabib Nurmagomedov, but with the latter’s retiring, one of the promotion’s deepest divisions finally gets a chance to progress as it should. The strangest thing about the whole deal is that Oliveira wound up being the one to fill the post-Nurmagomedov void, years after it seemed like he missed his championship window. “Do Bronx” was a clear example of how the UFC’s aggressive matchmaking could sometimes go wrong. Oliveira burst onto the scene as a 20-year-old submission whiz, but the promotion rushed him into a series of tough matchups that seemed to do little but shatter his confidence when all was said and done. A run of four straight wins across 2014-15 suggested the Brazilian had finally turned a corner, but then Oliveira called off his main event against Max Holloway due to a still-unexplained injury, which seemed to fully cement his reputation as a fighter not to be trusted when the chips are down. From there, Oliveira had some weight issues that forced a move up to lightweight, where it was more of the same until a 2019 win over David Teymur suggested that he may have started realizing his potential. A series of eye pokes from Teymur would have thrown Oliveira off his game earlier in his career, but he instead staged a comeback that resulted in one of his many record-setting submission victories. Oliveira’s 2020 campaign saw him run his winning streak to eight with victories over Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson, which in turn led to Oliveira being slotted against Michael Chandler for the vacant lightweight strap in May. The bout only lasted 19 seconds into the second frame, but it was an absolute tour-de-force, with both men scoring near-finishes and each having moments of control until Oliveira charged out to start the second round and scored a knockout to take the belt. It was an inspirational result for someone who at times seemed both like a sure champion and a sure bet to not reach his potential, but seven months later, it is time to defend that crown against someone else who took the long road to the top.

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Poirier’s story is somewhat similar. “The Diamond” never put quite the mental fragility on display that Oliveira did during the peak of his troubles, but Poirier hit a clear ceiling at featherweight with an over-aggressive approach, moving up to 155 pounds after a 2014 knockout loss to McGregor. The move up in weight immediately paid dividends. Freed of the weight cut and with better cardio, Poirier went from action fighter to absolute terror, announcing himself with quick knockout victories over Diego Ferreira and Yancy Medeiros. Poirier charged up to title contention from there—until a surprising main event loss to Michael Johnson in September of 2016, which seems to be the catalyst for him starting to round into championship form. Poirier won his next fight against Jim Miller but made light of the fact that he ignored his coaches’ advice at points. He seemed to consciously be trying to rein himself in and become a more composed bringer of violence, only to sell out on offense whenever Miller started having some success on the feet. That pattern continued for Poirier’s next few fights until a 2018 main event against Justin Gaethje that saw him finally turn his intended corner. On paper, this was the exact type of fight in which Poirier would eventually get aggressive and get himself knocked out, but the Louisiana native successfully picked his spots and prevented Gaethje from ever finding momentum, eventually scoring a fourth-round knockout. It was more of the same against Eddie Alvarez, and after turning back Holloway in an interim title fight, Poirier seemed fully ready to challenge Nurmagomedov for the lightweight crown. What resulted was a Nurmagomedov win that continued to establish the then-champion as an all-time great, and Poirier seemed aimless from there, even after rebounding with a win over Dan Hooker in one of the better fights of 2020. However, McGregor stepped into the picture to give Poirier a launchpad to more stardom, as he handily won a rematch and reportedly turned down a vacant title fight to finish the job, beating the Irishman in a trilogy fight that was going his way even before “Mystic Mac” broke his ankle. Like Oliveira, a win here would represent a culmination of years of hard work for a worthy ambassador of the sport.

This is almost guaranteed to be an entertaining fight. Beyond the technical skill on display, each man’s previous reputation as a glass cannon should provide an extra level of tension and excitement to the affair. Oliveira’s best chance is likely early, as Poirier is prone to slower starts even in this current form. Hooker did well to tag Poirier early before “The Diamond” got himself back in the fight. If this goes any length of time, this seems like Poirier’s fight to lose. While Oliveira’s pressure is more persistent at this point, it is straightforward enough in a way that Poirier should be able to outmaneuver more than a lot of his recent opponents. The Brazilian has faced a steady diet of straight-ahead fighters who have been willing to exchange, save for what appears to be a clearly past-his-prime version of Ferguson. It is impressive that Oliveira has won those wars of attrition, particularly given where he once was in his career, but Poirier does seem to be at the point where he can play matador and slowly build a lead over multiple rounds. As always against Oliveira, grappling is a concern for Poirier. However, opponents have been able to survive on the mat with Oliveira in the past, and Poirier’s underrated ground game likely clears that bar unless “Do Bronx” can tag him and follow him to the mat. This should be a barnburner that is just a plain old nice fight to see happen, but Poirier should be able to take over in a war of attrition and take this come the championship rounds. The pick is Poirier via fourth-round stoppage.

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