After they went through 25 minutes of hell together, it almost felt unjust that one of them had to leave the cage saddled with a loss.
Dustin Poirier on Saturday called upon every ounce of his resolve, steadied himself in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight pecking order and picked up a unanimous decision over City Kickboxing star Dan Hooker in the UFC on ESPN 12 headliner at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. All three judges sided with Poirier—48-47, 48-47 and 48-46—in a remarkable fight in which the competitive spirit of both men was hot to the touch.
Hooker built an early lead through stellar work in the first and second rounds. He answered Poirier’s aggression with some of his own, attacked the American Top Team standout’s base with leg kicks and fought exceptionally well at close range. Hooker strung together a devastating punching combination in the waning moments of Round 2, then punctuated his efforts with a well-timed knee that gave his opponent real pause. Poirier, however, refused to go away. He found another gear in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, where he outlanded Hooker by significant margins on the feet and countered takedowns from the Kiwi with sustained bursts of offense off his back and an active submission game.
In the aftermath of UFC on ESPN 12 “Poirier vs. Hooker,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Dustin Poirier vs. Tony Ferguson: While Poirier can never erase his submission loss to current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, he remains one of the UFC’s primetime players at 155 pounds. The 31-year-old Lafayette, Louisiana, native has won five of his last six fights against a murderer’s row of lightweights, those five victories coming against Hooker, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje and Anthony Pettis. Options abound for Poirier, and they include a long-talked-about rematch with Conor McGregor—a man who defeated him by technical knockout some six years ago. However, with McGregor’s future in a state of perpetual uncertainty, how about a date with the boogeyman? Ferguson saw his record-setting 12-fight winning streak grind to a halt in a fifth-round stoppage loss to the aforementioned Gaethje at UFC 249 on May 9.
Mike Perry vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos-Muslim Salikhov winner: “Platinum Mike” leaned on clubbing power punches, airtight takedown defense and surprisingly effective grappling, as he walked away with a unanimous decision over Mickey Gall in the three-round welterweight co-main event. Perry swept the scorecards with 29-28 marks across the board. The Flint, Michigan, native’s pressure and persistence overwhelmed Gall. Perry knocked down the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a thudding right hand in the second round but did his best work in the third, where he pieced together combinations, scrambled into top position, climbed to full mount and unleashed his ground-and-pound before freeing himself from an attempted triangle choke. Zaleski dos Santos will lock horns with Salikhov at UFC 251 on July 11.
Brendan Allen vs. Ian Heinisch: Roufusport’s Allen put his seventh consecutive victory in the books, moved to 3-0 in the UFC and continued his steady divisional climb, as he captured a unanimous decision from Kyle Daukaus in a featured middleweight affair. All three cageside judges scored it for the former Legacy Fighting Alliance champion: 29-28, 29-27 and 30-27. Allen sliced open Daukaus with an elbow strike from top position in the first round, dropped him with a left hook at the end of the second and withstood a harrowing ground exchange in the third. At just 24 years of age, he looks like a potential star in the making at 185 pounds. Heinisch was originally scheduled to face Allen at the event before one of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19.
Takashi Sato vs. Daniel Rodriguez: Sato recorded his eighth win in 10 appearances, as he cut down Octagon newcomer Jason Witt with punches in the first round of their welterweight showcase. Witt, a late substitution for Ramiz Brahimaj, succumbed to blows 48 seconds into Round 1. It was not a promotional debut he will remember fondly. Sato decked him with a clean two-punch combo, trailed him to the canvas, mopped up what was left with a steady burst of punches and rebounded from his September submission defeat to Belal Muhammad. Rodriguez extended his winning streak to 12 fights at UFC on ESPN 9, where he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Gabriel Green on May 30.
Julian Erosa vs. Giga Chikadze: He entered the cage as a short-notice replacement and a prohibitive underdog, but Erosa was neither distracted nor dissuaded by the circumstances. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 22 semifinalist stepped in for the injured Kyle Nelson with less than a week to prepare and upset the previously undefeated Sean Woodson, as he submitted the Glory MMA prospect with a brabo choke in the third round of their 150-pound catchweight feature. Woodson bowed out 2:44 into Round 3. He controlled much of the first round and floored Erosa with a left hook early in the third, but the relentless pressure his opponent brought to bear exacted a significant toll. Erosa executed a takedown with a little more than half a round to go, locked down the choke and forced the tap. Chikadze improved to 10-2 at UFC on ESPN 8, where he took a unanimous decision from Irwin Rivera on May 16.