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From the moment it was announced, the main event between Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker on June 27 at UFC on ESPN 12 was one of the most highly-anticipated matchups of 2020. The stakes were about as high as they come for a non-title fight. Poirier was fresh from his unsuccessful bid to unseat lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, while Hooker was on a three-fight win streak that put him in great position for a title shot of his own. Add in the fact that both Poirier and Hooker are among the most renowned action fighters in an all-action division, and their matchup also became an instant frontrunner to provide the “Fight of the Year” as well as a few candidates for “Round of the Year.”
Happily, Poirier vs. Hooker did not disappoint. The 155-pound contenders gave us a sensational scrap in which each of the five individual rounds was no less than excellent. However, for cramming about as much of what we love most about MMA—offense, wild momentum swings and displays of grit, toughness and pure heart—into five minutes, the second round of the “UFC Vegas 4” headliner stands out.
The first big shift in momentum came within the first minute, when Poirier waded in after taking a series of stinging leg kicks of the kind that had helped Hooker win the first round, and nailed the New Zealander with a salvo of punches that clearly had him hurt. Rather than retreat, regroup or shoot for a takedown, however, Hooker planted his feet, bit down on his mouthpiece and returned fire with a series of hooks. Suddenly, it was Poirier who was hurt, and in fact tried for a takedown, but when he was denied, came right back with more punches. Less than halfway into the round, it was hard to believe our eyes.
There’s little point giving a punch-by-punch, kick-by-kick rundown of the remainder of the round here, though it’s certainly fun to relive in text form. Suffice it to say that both men took damage—in particular, much of the trauma that had Hooker looking like a raccoon the next day took place in Round 2—and the pace never truly slackened. It was a storm of sustained offense rarely seen outside of the lightest weight classes, and while the result was another fairly straightforward 10-9 round for Hooker, somewhere in those frustrating first 10 minutes, Poirier was evidently laying the groundwork for a sweep of the final three rounds that would earn him the victory.
Round 2 of Poirier-Hooker was the kind of ecstatic orgy of violence that everyone seemed to know was something special, even at the time. Twitter exploded, with multitudes of fans and media calling it the “Round of the Year” even while the fight was still going on. Fighter-turned-commentator Chael Sonnen, who is given to hyperbole but is neither a dummy nor a newbie, made a case the following week for it to be considered the greatest round ever. That is a question that we can debate for the next 20 years if we like, but for now, it’s safe to call that epic second round Sherdog’s 2020 “Round of the Year.” Special kudos must be accorded to Poirier, who joins Justin Gaethje as the only two fighters with two such awards—fittingly, since they collaborated to produce the best round of 2018.