The Bottom Line: Unusual Suspect

By Todd Martin Apr 9, 2019
The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 236 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Deserve is a funny word in MMA. It’s hard to say any fighter deserves or doesn’t deserve anything when opportunities are handed out based on what is perceived to be best for the bottom line. Recognizing that reality, fans lobby for the fights they want to see much more often than for what they perceive to be just matchmaking. Fighters with more recent losses may be prioritized over fighters with more recent wins, but there’s almost always some understandable reason why. The fighter with less momentum has done more in the past, has more exciting fights or has attracted a larger fan base.

When long-tenured fighters have never made it consistently into top pay-per-view fights, it is thus usually pretty easy to explain why. Either they simply aren’t that good or there’s something about their fights that doesn’t tend to attract fan interest. Headlining an Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view for the first time at UFC 236 on Saturday in Atlanta -- this after fighting in the promotion for over eight years -- is a bit of a unique case in that regard.

Poirier’s talent as a fighter has always been evident. He is tied for the 12th-most wins in UFC history, and of the 19 fighters with 12 or more UFC wins, he has the fourth-best winning percentage behind only Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones and Max Holloway, who happens to be his opponent at UFC 236. He has been a perennial contender in two different weight classes, with wins over the likes of Holloway, Justin Gaethje, Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez.

Given that track record, an outside observer might assume Poirier hasn’t been a consistent main eventer because he isn’t that entertaining. Big-time fans of course know that isn’t the case. Poirier is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Of his 30 fights, only seven have gone to a decision, and he is tied for the eighth-most UFC bonus awards. He received “Fight of the Year” awards from multiple outlets in both 2012 (Chan Sung Jung) and 2018 (Gaethje). Win or lose, Poirier fights tend to be dramatic. He isn’t a dull personality, either, as he has shown a willingness to get into it with opponents and isn’t a shy public figure.

Given those factors, it’s not all that clear why Poirier hasn’t gotten bigger fights over the course of his career. He has been in plenty of television main events, and he has been on the main cards of pay-per-views but never in a title fight or PPV main event. Regardless of why it has taken this long, it’s a welcome development to see Poirier get that spotlight. It’s not simply that he “deserves” it based on past performance but also that he’s likely to produce the sort of exciting, high-level fights that we want moving forward.

Poirier has perhaps had some bad luck in the past when it comes to matchmaking, but he is in a great position right now. He gets to fight for an interim title against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. Psychologically, he has the advantage of having beaten Holloway before. Plus, he has been fighting at 155 pounds for years, while Holloway is only now figuring out how to optimally prepare for that weight class. In spite of those positive factors, he gets to play the role of underdog, with Holloway expected to win by the bettors and general public.

If Poirier defeats Holloway, things are lined up remarkably well from there. There are big potential fights to be had with Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor in a lightweight division that is now not only one of the sport’s most talented but also one of its marquee classes. Nurmagomedov or McGregor could offer Poirier the biggest pay day of his career by a wide margin, and McGregor would also give Poirier an opportunity to avenge a previous loss. Moreover, all three potential opponents are facing outside-the-cage distractions while Poirier is squarely focused on his career. There’s a good chance he would be catching any of them at a good time.

For years, Poirier’s status was surprisingly lower than one would expect given his ability and style. Now, his luck appears to be turning around. This fortuitous turn has come to not just a deserving recipient but one likely to capitalize on it. Even if Poirier doesn’t continue to win at an 80-percent clip, he is likely to deliver the sorts of fights that make fans want to see him in a top position moving forward. Poirier’s career demonstrates how losses can hurt you much more on the way up than once you’ve reached the top. After years of putting in work, it’s Poirier’s time to shine, and there’s little reason to expect he won’t.

Todd Martin has written about mixed martial arts since 2002 for a variety of outlets, including CBSSports.com, SI.com, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, MMApayout.com, Fight Magazine and Fighting Spirit Magazine. He has appeared on a number of radio stations, including ESPN affiliates in New York and Washington, D.C., and HDNet’s “Inside MMA” television show. In addition to his work at Sherdog.com, he does a weekly podcast with Wade Keller at PWTorch.com and blogs regularly at LaTimes.com. Todd received his BA from Vassar College in 2003 and JD from UCLA School of Law in 2007 and is a licensed attorney. He has covered UFC, Pride, Bellator, Affliction, IFL, WFA, Strikeforce, WEC and K-1 live events. He believes deeply in the power of MMA to heal the world and bring happiness to all of its people.

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