UFC 302: Islam Makhachev submits Dustin Poirier in grueling bout to retain lightweight title

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Makhachev hasn’t lost since 2015

  • Author, Paul Battison
  • Role, BBC sports journalist

Islam Makhachev submitted Dustin Poirier to the fifth round of a grueling bout to retain his lightweight title at UFC 302 in New Jersey.

Russian Makhachev’s elite fight proved the difference as the 32-year-old secured a d’arce choke, forcing American Poirier to submit.

The victory at the Prudential Center was Makhachev’s third defense of his title, while Poirier, 35, hinted at retirement after falling short in what would likely be his final attempt to become the undisputed champion.

“I know I can compete with the best, but if I fight again, what am I fighting for?” Poirier said.

“I have a little girl that I love. I don’t know, I think this could be it, honestly.’

When Poirier retires, he will leave the sport as one of the greatest mixed martial artists not to win an undisputed UFC title.

The story during the build-up was whether Poirier could claim the title on his third attempt after defeats to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019 and Charles Oliveira in 2021.

Poirier has one of the most distinguished resumes in MMA history, winning 21 of his 30 UFC fights since his debut in 2011, including an interim title win against Max Holloway in 2019, but he says becoming an undisputed champion is the reason why he got his first pair of gloves as a 17-year-old.

In Makhachev, however, he faced the UFC’s biggest challenge: the pound-for-pound number one won 25 of his 26 professional fights heading into the contest.

Both fighters exuded confidence during their walkouts, with Poirier singing and bouncing towards the octagon and Makhachev flanked by former champion and teammate Nurmagomedov, who could be seen offering advice into the champion’s ear.

Makhachev previously demonstrated his formidable all-round ability, worrying Poirier with a boxing combination before landing a takedown and spending the rest of the round looking for submissions on the ground.

Poirier began to find success in the next few rounds, defending Makhachev’s takedowns and using his boxing, but the Russian continued to land punches of his own.

While both fighters had bloodied faces – Poirier from a clash of heads and Makhachev from an elbow to the forehead – the crowd roared as the fight entered the final rounds.

Makhachev alternated his attacking, clinching and takedown attempts beautifully throughout, but Poirier was brave on defense and got to his feet several times, where the match offered his best chance at victory.

The decisive moment came in the fifth round when Makhachev expertly took Poirer on his ankle before spinning and jumping on top to secure the choke that ended the fight.

After the win, Makhachev was swarmed by his team before embracing Poirier alongside Nurmagomedov in a moving show of respect between the two teams.

“I think Dustin played a great match, his coaches taught him very well. He defended my takedowns very well and made it difficult for me. He is a champion and legend of this sport,” Makhachev said.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Makhachev followed his teammate and mentor Nurmagomedov in defeating Poirier

The Russian then revealed his ambition to move up to welterweight in a bid to become a two-division champion.

“It’s my dream. I want to fight for the second title. I want to feel that energy again, I need a new one,” Makhachev said.

Poirier paid tribute to his family as he reflects on the decision to take off his gloves.

“I’m not 100%, but if this is my last fight, I want to dedicate this fight to the people who made me the man I am and those are the women in my life,” Poirier said.

“To my grandmother, I miss you every day. To my mother, we have had a crazy life, I love you. To my wife: I don’t know if I would be here without you. And to my daughter I love so much you, always chase your dreams, it’s a beautiful thing.”

In the co-main event, American Sean Strickland defeated Brazilian middleweight Paulo Costa via split decision.

Former champion Strickland, 33, applied his usual pressure on Costa during the five-round fight as Costa, 33, stood behind him for most of the bout.

After the fight, Strickland called for a title fight against South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis, whom he suffered a defeat for the title last year.

There is speculation that Du Plessis will make the first defense of his championship against Israel Adesanya later this year.

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