Tuesday, June 25, 2024
spot_img

UFC 302 fight card — Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier: Five biggest storylines to watch in New Jersey

For the third — and, what he calls, final time — Dustin Poirier will contend for the UFC’s 155-pound title on Saturday as the former interim champion faces pound-for-pound king Islam Makhachev in the main event of UFC 302. 

The pay-per-view card emanates from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, as the 35-year-old Poirier looks to cement his Hall-of-Fame legacy with an elusive title victory. Top-rated middleweights Paulo Costa and former champion Sean Strickland will also face off in a five-round bout set for the co-main event. 

As we draw closer to this weekend’s festivities, let’s take a closer look at the biggest storylines. 

1. Poirier looking to go out in a blaze of glory

At 35, few in UFC history have accomplished as much as Poirier has without ever holding one of the promotion’s undisputed titles. All of that can change should Poirier, who is nearly a 5-to-1 underdog, pull the upset against Makhachev. Twice in the past five years, Poirier was forced to tap out in UFC lightweight title bouts and few expected he would ever re-enter the title picture again after he was finished via head kick by Justin Gaethje in their symbolic BMF title bout last July. But Poirier’s never-say-die attitude was fully rewarded when he scored a head-kick knockout of his own in March against red-hot title prospect Benoit Saint Denis. Now, Poirier has a shot to add Makhachev’s name to a list of top-end names he has defeated, alongside Conor McGregor (twice), Max Holloway (twice), Michael Chandler, Dan Hooker, Eddie Alvarez, Gaethje and Anthony Pettis. And the fact that Poirier has strongly teased that retirement — whether he wins or loses against Makhachev — will be in his future after UFC 302, only adds to the storybook nature of the fight. Poirier has already achieved universal acclaim as one of the greatest action fighters and cerebral warriors to ever step foot into the Octagon. But he can only double down on his true legacy by walking away on top should he find that a third shot at UFC gold was the charm. 

2. Makhachev is quietly building a killer resume of his own

Despite being the reigning P4P king and the spiritual successor to former coach Khabib Nurmagomedov’s dominant run atop the UFC’s lightweight division, Makhachev doesn’t get anywhere near the level of fanfare that his true ability as a well-rounded star should demand. But should the heavy favorite get past Poirier on Saturday in ways that oddsmakers believe he will, Makhachev will add yet another standout name to a UFC resume that also includes win over Alexander Volkanovski (twice), Charles Oliveira, Bobby Green, Dan Hooker, Drew Dober and Arman Tsarukyan. There wasn’t a time all that long ago when the lack of marquee wins was the only remaining thing critics could hold over Makhachev’s head, beyond the 2015 knockout loss to Adriano Martins that has now all-but been forgotten. The reason is because Makhachev, who is riding an incredible 13-fight win streak, has only become more dominant every time he has stepped up in competition. There are no holes in Makhachev’s game and he brings the perfect combination of championship stamina, steel focus and a keen eye for knowing when the finish is near. He’s also a horrible style matchup for Poirier in just about every way. 

3. Sean Strickland looks to keep pace in busy middleweight title picture

Say what you will about Strickland and his tendency to create drama each time he is handed a microphone. But the 33-year-old former champion remains one of the toughest outs in the 185-pound division due to the incredible defense and head movement of his boxing game, which allows him to stay within punching range while pouring on endless pressure. Strickland only yielded the title he seized via major upset from Israel Adesanya last September when a disputed, split-decision win was ruled in favor of Dricus du Plessis in January. Strickland returns as a strong betting favorite in his co-main event clash, set for five rounds, against a Costa who is much more dangerous than his current run of three defeats in his last four fights might indicate. But with du Plessis rumored to be defending his title against Adesanya next, shortly after a scheduled June clash between Robert Whittaker and Khamzat Chimaev in Saudi Arabia, Strickland could use a showcase performance like this to demand a big-money rematch against whomever comes out as champion this summer. 

4. Kevin Holland teetering toward journeyman status, once again

A resounding TKO win in his return to welterweight against Alex Oliveira in 2022 suggested a much-needed change had arrived for the always opportunistic Holland. But a rollercoaster mix of wins and losses over his next seven fights has seen Holland find himself once again in need of a big win to shake off a two-fight losing skid. It wouldn’t be the full Kevin Holland experience if the chatty slugger didn’t follow up a pair of breakthrough wins with just as many defeats, without much of a break between fights. Holland will also never find consistency, however, should he continue to handle his UFC career as if he was a video game fighter who isn’t subject to the realities of what happens when you regularly accept dangerous fights on short notice and they don’t go your way. After twice stepping up and losing against elite contenders Jack Della Maddalena and Michael “Venom” Page, Holland returns as a clear favorite to get past exciting brawler Michal Oleksiejczuk. Provided he leans into his grappling game as a means to compliment the one-punch power he brings to the striking game, Holland can prepare himself for another run at contention. That’s unless he decides to take the bait of standing and trading with Oleksiejczuk throughout, which could open the door for the fight to be more difficult than it needs to be. Either way, Holland can greatly benefit from not just a win but a measured and efficient performance.  

5. Jailton Almeida looks to hit reset on his heavyweight title hopes

Six straight wins to open his UFC run had Almeida, a 32-year-old native of Brazil, looking like the type of Kryptonite most heavyweights don’t want to see in their bracket due to his gas tank and chain wrestling. Almeida, however, leaned way too hard into both once he finally got to the top of the mountain as a boring, five-round decision win over Derrick Lewis last November led directly to a second-round knockout loss against Curtis Blaydes in their No. 1 contender fight in March. The two fights showcased just how one-dimensional Almeida’s game still is. He remains young enough, however, in a division where age matters very little, to still make a run in such a shallow division. Almeida can right the ship when he welcomes Alexander Romanov, whose size and wrestling skill should be enough to force Almeida into having to showcase his complete game. 

Related articles

Share article

Latest articles

Newsletter

Subscribe to stay updated.