It took six years, but the Ultimate Fighting Championship is finally ready to make things up to Calgary after giving them UFC 149.
UFC 149 has gone down in history as one of the promotion's most terrible pay-per-view events, even if the current glut of cards makes it look a bit better with 2018 eyes. Still, it was a terrible lineup that crippled the UFC's plans to make Calgary a regular stop; the local faithful got to see a fun bunch of prelim bouts, but the top of the card ground things to a complete halt. Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan turned into a grinding Kongo win rather than some fun heavyweight action, which gave way to the much-hyped debut of Hector Lombard, which wound up being a staring contest against Tim Boetsch. And then the bill ended in lackluster fashion, with Renan Barao coasting to a one-sided win over Urijah Faber to win an interim bantamweight title. The card was enough of a disaster that Dana White promised the UFC would make it up to Calgary, and finally, the time has arrived.
The main event alone makes this card better on paper than UFC 149, as the headliner between Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier not only resolves some unfinished business from UFC 211, but is also one of the best fights that the Las Vegas-based promotion can put on at the moment. Past that, there's a theme of redemption for two former champions, as Jose Aldo has the first non-title fight of his UFC career against Jeremy Stephens, and former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk looks for her first win in over a year against Tecia Torres. Past that, there's a fun mix of Canadian talent and a shockingly strong slate of Fight Pass prelims, which features some important bouts in one of UFC's more overlooked divisions.
So without further ado, let's get to the picks and analysis for UFC on Fox 30 “Alvarez vs. Poirier 2”
Alvarez (29-5, 1 NC) vs. Dustin
Poirier (23-5, 1 NC)
Odds: Poirier (-155), Alvarez (+135)
After some initial disappointment, Alvarez's UFC run has gone about as well as could be expected, as Alvarez's last few fights have added to a legacy that might make him the greatest lightweight of all time. After making his name in Japan, Alvarez became the face of Bellator MMA, reigning as their inaugural lightweight champion before losing a 2011 epic to Michael Chandler. Alvarez eventually fought out his contract, and after a prolonged legal dispute that essentially wound up with Alvarez having to beat Michael Chandler for his freedom, Alvarez finally made his UFC debut at UFC 178, where he suffered a disappointing loss to Donald Cerrone. But Alvarez recovered in impressive fashion, showing impressive adaptability for a man best known for his blood-and-guts wars.
Alvarez's wrestling allowed him to earn wins over Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis, and despite neither bout being that exciting, the UFC put Alvarez in position to get a shot at lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos. Dos Anjos went into the fight in peak form, and did well in the opening minutes of the bout, but Alvarez was able to break through his defense with a perfect shot, subsequently swarming a stunned dos Anjos for the finish and the lightweight strap. Beyond the prestige of winning a title on the largest platform possible, the dos Anjos win also set Alvarez up for another prize: a fight against Conor McGregor headlining UFC's Madison Square Garden debut. The fight didn't go all that well for the Philadelphian, as McGregor's length and knockout power were a terrible style matchup for Alvarez, but the contest was still a huge payday and a nice culmination to a decade-plus career that saw him spill as much blood as anyone. Since then, Alvarez has finally gotten around to giving us the "Fight of the Year" contenders that have dotted his entire career; a bout against Poirier ended in a no contest just as it was heating up, and Alvarez followed that up with a masterpiece of a performance against Justin Gaethje.
Alvarez was able to stick to a patient gameplan that picked apart Gaethje's defense, and showed off his status as one of the toughest men alive in the process, eating enough leg kicks that even Alvarez admitted he wouldn't have made it to a fourth round. That fight cemented Alvarez as a contender once again, so next comes a rematch with Poirier, where we hopefully get a similar type of magic as Alvarez's last two fights.
Poirier is another fighter who has built his career on action, and while he hasn't reached title contention just yet, he's rounded into a form that might just change that. Poirier was just three years into his career by the time he was headlining UFC events, and his 2012 fight of the year against Chan Sung Jung summed up the story of his career at that point: he had obvious talent and was one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, but found himself either outgunned or without the depth of skill to beat top contenders.
After a putting in a few more years at featherweight, Poirier suffered a loss to McGregor at UFC 178, at which point he decided to move up to lightweight with some spectacular results. Poirier kept his knockout power at 155 and combined with his increased relative speed, he found a ton of early success. But his third lightweight win, over Joe Duffy, was a reminder of Poirier's depth, as he also showed some kickboxing to supplement his sharp boxing. As Poirier continued at lightweight, some warts in his game still remained; a quick knockout loss to Michael Johnson reminded that Poirier can still be dropped if he gets caught, and it's been a running joke throughout his career that he sometimes abandons all strategy in search of a brawl. Poirier still showed that latter tendency as recently as his first fight against Alvarez, but his last two bouts suggest a cooler head may finally be prevailing.
Poirier relied on his grappling to dispatch Anthony Pettis, and in his last bout, also against Gaethje, Poirier used a similar gameplan as Alvarez, staying patient, picking Gaethje apart, and coming out of the fight battered but victorious. Despite seemingly being around forever, Poirier is still firmly improving as a fighter, so it'll be interesting to see what he shows beyond the fireworks this bout is guaranteed to provide.
Obviously, the best window into how this fight will go is to look at their last bout at UFC 211, which showed the pros and cons of Poirier's game. Poirier stayed measured for a little over a round and was winning the fight, but as soon as he stunned Alvarez and smelled blood, he abandoned all technique in favor of aggression. That often serves him well, but Alvarez might be the best fighter in history at fighting back while damaged, so it was unsurprising that Alvarez was able to turn the tide and take control before an illegal knee led to a no contest. Poirier has seemingly learned the lesson from that fight, and that's the main fulcrum of this bout; if Poirier fights calm, he showed enough to suggest he can win a fun decision. But as soon as he gets over-aggressive, it's likelier that Alvarez can finish him before Poirier can score a finish of his own. Despite thinking Poirier is in a good place mentally, I'm still picking Alvarez due to a lot of things on the margins. For all of Poirier's improvements, Alvarez still has the longer résumé of being adaptive, durable and fighting the smarter bout. Whether this is a sprint or an epic, it should be a classic, and while Poirier's in a form that should get him the biggest breakthrough win of his career, he's facing an all-time great; my pick is Alvarez by finish in the championship rounds.
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