The American Top Team-Blackzilians rivalry will soon get its latest chapter, as Dustin Poirier takes on Michael Johnson in the UFC Fight Night 94 main event (current odds) on Saturday at State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas. Their showdown carries with it undeniable implications for the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight division. In the middleweight co-headliner, former Ring of Combat champion Uriah Hall collides with the surging Derek Brunson in an intriguing three-round battle at 185 pounds. The rest of the six fight main card features a welterweight clash pitting Roan Carneiro against Kenny Robertson, a featherweight affair matching Chas Skelly with Maximo Blanco and a pair of lightweight tilts, as Evan Dunham meets former World Series of Fighting Champion Rick Glenn and Chris Wade entertains Islam Makhachev.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Poirier vs. Johnson” matchup, with analysis and picks:
LightweightsDustin Poirier (20-4) vs. Michael Johnson (16-10)
THE MATCHUP: What a fight. The only disappointing thing about this bout is that a loss for Johnson would put “The Menace” on a three-fight losing streak. Then again, the indecisive loss to Beneil Dariush and the close-but-clear defeat to Nate Diaz could be all the motivation Johnson needs to get back on the winning track.
The trouble is that Poirier is more well-rounded than Diaz and far more dangerous than Dariush. Poirier has crushing power in both hands and is more than willing to throw them. Though he was once a fairly straightforward striker with lackluster defense, Poirier has adopted a shifty style of footwork and improved his head movement. He likes to close the distance and take angles in the pocket, staying close enough to hit his opponent as he turns and counters.
Poirier’s most challenging fight since his return to lightweight came in the form of Joseph Duffy, a slick boxer with subtle defense, smooth footwork and sharp combination punching. Johnson’s recent career has been marked by aggressive pressure, but he is at his best sticking and moving, fighting off of the back foot. Poirier, on the other hand, is most effective coming forward, and there is little doubt he will try to push the pace as he has done in his last four fights. Poirier overcame Duffy by taking advantage of his suspect takedown defense and mauling him on the ground. Johnson should not have the same issue. He has defended 81 percent of takedowns in the UFC and has not been put on his back since his battle with Reza Madadi, six fights and more than three years ago.
Johnson also has an edge in durability. He has never been knocked out, surviving the power of such men as Melvin Guillard, Edson Barboza, Joe Lauzon and Tony Ferguson. He does tend to overextend, but his preferred range makes it difficult for most opponents to counter. Johnson relies heavily on his jab and straight left, but his best strikes are circular in nature. With his back foot turned out, Johnson seems naturally well-positioned to rip hooks to the head and body. When Johnson does throw, he almost always does so in combination.
Should Poirier get “The Menace” to the ground, he will likely have the advantage, though we have seen nothing of Johnson’s ground game in several years. Poirier is an excellent ground striker, setting up in his opponent’s guard or half guard and pinning him in place to land heavy strikes. Poirier also has a knack for clinch fighting, which should give him the edge even if he cannot drag Johnson to the ground.
THE ODDS: Poirier (-156), Johnson (+131)
THE PICK: The feeling going into this fight is that Poirier is on an unstoppable roll. He has won four straight since making his lightweight return and knocked out all but Duffy, so a title shot cannot be far away. Johnson, meanwhile, was made to look a little pedestrian in his last fight and went to two very close decisions with Edson Barboza and Beneil Dariush before that. Still, Johnson’s style could be a credible threat to Poirier. Johnson will not fear his power the way past fighters have, and he will not be taken down as easily as Duffy was. Johnson’s stamina is near endless when he fights patiently from the outside, and he can test whether or not Poirier’s past problems with gassing really have disappeared with the change of weight. Despite all of those little advantages, Poirier still has the power, and he has a vicious clinch game, as well. He can trap Johnson in place, and sooner or later, he will tag him with something heavy. Even if he does not manage to put away Johnson, the big shots will allow Poirier to steal rounds. The pick is Poirier by unanimous decision.
Next Fight » Hall vs. Brunson