Islam Makhachev retains UFC lightweight title with 5th round submission of Dustin Poirier at UFC 302

The unstoppable freight train of the UFC continues to roll.

Islam Makhachev survived his biggest challenge in years to defend the lightweight title against Dustin Poirier thanks to a fifth-round D’Arce choke after a brutal, bloody and exhausting fight early Sunday morning at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ

It marked Makhachev’s third defense of the belt, tying the UFC record for lightweight title defenses.

Poirier, one of the best fighters in UFC history, showed the best takedown defense of his career in any fight before suffering an ankle injury midway through the final round. From there, Makhachev twisted his body and clawed his hands around Poirier’s neck.

Poirier tapped out and promptly passed out from the choke. Behind him, Makhachev’s Eagles MMA team piled on the reigning lightweight champion to celebrate their Dagestani teammate’s reign.

“I think Dustin did a great job,” Makhachev said after the fight. “His coaches work very well, they prepared him very well. He defended my takedowns and gave me a really hard time. He is a legend of the sport, thank you Dustin.”

The fight started with Makhachev dominating in the same manner he has for the past fourteen wins, staggering Poirier with a straight and then smothering the challenger on the ground with threatening submission setups. But after spending the entire first round with Poirier on his back, the challenger emerged much sharper in the second, where he completed three takedown attempts and found success with his world-class combinations as he kept the fight standing.

In the opening minute of the third round, Makhachev moved to the clinch to deliver vicious knees before dragging Poirier to the ground and once again taking the challenger’s back. Poirier worked his way out of a dangerous mount position to get the fight back on the feet, where the round ended with the fighter’s forehead dropped after the bell.

Between rounds, Poirier’s eye swelled and he complained of what might have been a broken nose. Post-round replays showed this likely occurred during an accidental clash of heads.

The fourth round was perhaps Poirier’s best, as the challenger landed another takedown and then gave the champion fits as Makhachev tried to drag him down near the fence. After a brief success, Poirier rolled back to his feet and delivered a nasty elbow strike to the champion that sliced ​​Makhachev’s forehead wide open.

The fourth ended with Poirier holding off another takedown as Makhachev’s leaking forehead landed on the challenger’s feet and the canvas. The crowd stood up in appreciation of the big fight and in anticipation of the final round.

There, Makhachev refused to leave the fight to the judges, allowing Poirier to finish with what he called “one of my favorite chokes.”

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“He’s the champion,” Poirier said simply to Joe Rogan in the cage afterward. ‘I thought I was starting to offend him, but he kept coming back.

“I put most (the takedowns) in the middle, but here he did a low single (leg takedown), and that was just the end of it, bro.”

Poirier has spoken openly about his retirement over the past year, but declined to make an official announcement after the loss. However, he did acknowledge that this was the last time he would participate.

“I think this might be it, honestly, Joe,” he said. “If this is my last fight, I want to dedicate this journey to the people who made me the man I am, and those are the women in my life.”

The win gives Makhachev 13 straight wins at lightweight, setting a new UFC record for the division, and the finish gives him nine career wins, tying BJ Penn for eighth in lightweight history.

From here, Makhachev is expected to face Arman Tsarukyan later this year. Tsarukyan earned his title shot with a strong performance against Charles Oliveira in April.

The anticipated fight between Makhachev and Tsarukyan would be a rematch of the pair’s first fight in 2019, before both men were considered serious championship contenders. Makhachev won that first meeting by unanimous decision.

Sean Strickland lands a jab on Paulo Costa. (Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

In the co-main event, former middleweight champion Sean Strickland handled business with ease against former title challenger Paulo Costa, winning via split decision. The split decision was one of many confusing judges’ scorecards that night and was a surprise to the commentary team and much of the audience as Strickland clearly dominated the case.

Strickland, who lost the title to Dricus Du Plessis via split decision in January, prepared for another title shot with his trademark constant pressure and impenetrable stand-up defense.

“It was a boring fight, I’m sorry guys,” Strickland said afterward, later adding, “I thought we were going to have a war and we were going to fight.

“I want to fight for the title. I was a company guy, I fought a guy in seventh place, give it to me now.

Costa is a feared power hitter, but had little success breaking through Strickland’s unconventional defensive guard. The Brazilian was left breathing open-mouthed in the second round and continued to limp after a handful of controlled kicks in the first three rounds.

Costa won his first 13 fights in his career, but has now lost four of his last five fights, dating back to his loss to Israel Adesanya at UFC 253.

Du Plessis is expected to make his first title defense against Adesanya, with Strickland getting his next chance against the winner.

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(Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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