Islam Makhachev Chokes Out Dustin Poirier in Dramatic UFC 302 Headliner

UFC
June 2, 2024
If a champion is defined by the quality of his rivalries, Islam Makhachev is building one hell of a résumé.

In the main event of UFC 302 on Saturday in Newark, New Jersey, Makhachev (26-1) encountered stern resistance from a valiant and dangerous Dustin Poirier (30-9, 1 NC) before securing the dramatic finish.

The two lightweight greats began with some spirited exchanges on the feet but the champ, as expected, employed his wrestling quickly. Makhachev changed levels within the first minute of the fight and deposited “The Diamond” on the canvas at the base of the fence. From there, he went to work with his crushingly heavy top game. Poirier was not quite done, taking advantage of a kimura attempt by the champ to escape to his knees, but Makhachev spun behind him, secured a body triangle and went to work for a choke. Poirier survived to the end of the round, avoiding any submission attempts or significant damage, but a pattern had been laid down.

Poirier denied Makhachev’s first two takedown attempts of the second round, squirming away and keeping his feet in both cases. The awareness of Makhachev’s wrestling, however, hampered Poirier’s work on the feet, and allowed the champ to get the better of the exchanges on the feet. When Poirier fought off a third takedown attempt, reversing the champ against the cage, the crowd came alive, perhaps sensing a glimmer of hope for the underdog. Those hopes were fanned when Poirier scored with a couple of solid punching combinations, and while Makhachev finally secured his first takedown of Round 2, only seconds remained on the clock.

Round 3 saw a quick return to form for Makhachev, who drove Poirier to the fence, hauled him down in classic Dagestani style and took back mount with nearly four minutes left in the period. Makhachev moved to mount, whereupon the challenger slipped out the back door and returned to his feet, to the Newark crowd’s raucous approval. Makhachev more than held his own for the balance of the round, outlanding Poirier, and damaging his left eye while avoiding the Louisianan’s vaunted power. Poirier landed a couple of crisp, heavy punches in the closing seconds, the two exchanged a respectful word at the horn, and the fight still felt far from over.

Poirier opened up the championship rounds by snapping the champ’s head back with a strong jab, and he snuffed out Makhachev’s first takedown attempt of Round 4, eliciting a roar from this crowd, followed by chants of the challenger’s name. Makhachev answered with hard punch combinations of his own, then shoved him to the fence, where he went for a methodical takedown attempt. He succeeded on a second effort and went right back to sinking a hook, draping all of his weight on Poirier. He looked close to securing another back mount when Poirier exploded with an inside switch, common in wrestling but rarely seen in MMA, and escaped to his feet. Poirier scored with a punch flurry, spurring Makhachev into attempting another clinch against the fence, and Poirier wrapped up a front headlock to ride out the round—perhaps one of the few that Makhachev had ever lost in the Octagon.

Going into the final round, Poirier, carrying some positive momentum but almost certainly hopelessly behind on the scorecards, turned up the jets. The challenger stuck out his heavy jab, tagged Makhachev with his left cross, and shucked off the champ’s first takedown attempt with what can only be described as contempt. Makhachev returned fire on the feet, and when he launched his next takedown attempt, he managed to haul Poirier down. After a brief scramble, Makhachev locked up a brabo choke that forced the challenger to tap at 2:42 of Round 5.

Order Now! UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

The win, Makhachev’s third successful title defense, bolstered his place on the list of the greatest lightweights of all time, and had him openly discussing a shot at the welterweight belt. Poirier, a former interim lightweight champion, is now 0-3 in undisputed title fights, and threw out the idea of retirement. Whatever Poirier decides, his position as one of the best lightweights of his era—and most beloved fighters of any era—remains secure.

In the co-main event, Sean Strickland (29-6) made his case for a shot at the middleweight title he once owned, frustrating Paulo Costa (14-4) across five rounds.

Former title challenger Costa made his presence felt immediately, landing several brutal kicks to Strickland’s lead leg that induced the former champ to begin switching stances within the first 30 seconds. Strickland, however, continued to march forward, throwing his trademark one-two and a surprisingly heavy dose of front kicks to the midsection. By the end of five minutes, the momentum belonged to Strickland, who had spent the last four of them backing Costa up, stinging him with single strikes and generally frustrating him. Strickland kept up the pressure, forcing Costa onto his back foot and limiting his offense to single strikes.

The leg kicks continued to score for “Borrachinha,” but not much else worked for him in Round 2, and when Strickland knocked him down in the closing seconds, even if he was more off-balance than dazed, it only reinforced the optics. Strickland started to turn things up in the middle rounds, opening up his punching combinations and sitting down on his strikes, and was rewarded when he corralled Costa against the fence and rocked him with a flurry of punches. A moment later, Strickland checked a low kick and Costa came away favoring his leg.

As Rounds 3 and 4 ground on, Strickland’s inexorable forward progress and steady diet of jabs and crosses continued to take their toll. Still, Costa did some of his best work in Round 4, returning to his heavy leg kicks and beginning to work the body of Strickland. Costa did his utmost to maintain that momentum in the final round, continuing to assault Strickland’s legs and body, while Strickland stuck to the same bread-and-butter approach that had carried him to that point. It looked to be another numbingly consistent Strickland round until the final moments, when Strickland unleashed a torrent of head kicks and punches that rocked Costa and nearly knocked him down against the fence. No finish was coming, but Strickland left no question who had won the round. No question, that is, except perhaps in the mind of judge Dave Tirelli, who turned in a baffling 49-46 card for Costa. Fortunately for all involved, the other two judges saw it 49-46 and 50-45 in favor of Strickland, who prevailed by split decision. Strickland’s win in his first appearance since surrendering his belt to Dricus Du Plessis left his record in the UFC at 16-6, while Costa fell to 6-4 in the Octagon.

Kevin Holland (26-11, 1 NC) made quick work of Michal Oleksiejczuk (19-8, 1 NC), but “quick” definitely did not equate to “easy.” The middleweights got to work immediately, trading punches as they bounced in and out of range. Oleksiejczuk caught Holland with a huge left hand, dropping him to the canvas. “Hussar” pounced for the finish, swinging away with hammerfists, as Holland, having already regained his wits, calmly looked to isolate an arm. Oleksiejczuk, either oblivious to what was going on or underestimating his peril, did not reach to the armbar attempt until Holland was already arching his hips for the finish. A tense sequence ensued, as Holland adjusted his grip and the angle of Oleksiejczuk’s right arm, as the Pole gamely tried to gut it out. After a long moment, with Oleksiejczuk’s elbow having possibly come out of its socket, referee HerbDean stepped in for the stoppage at 1:34 of Round 1. Oleksiejczuk protested, useless arm and all, but it goes down as a technical submission win for Holland, who went to 13-7 with one no contest in the UFC, while Oleksiejczuk’s record stands at 6-5 with one no contest.

Niko Price (16-7, 2 NC) outlasted Alex Morono (24-10, 1 NC) in their welterweight main card attraction, underscoring the result of their first meeting in 2017, which Price won, but had the result overturned due to a positive post-fight drug screening. In a back-and-forth first round, both men scored with powerful punches. The difference came on the ground, where Morono took a variety of dominant positions, including an exotic-looking omoplata-to-crucifix attempt. Price came out strong in Round 2, however, backing up a suddenly tired-looking Morono and rocking him with big punches on several different occasions. On the second such occasion, Price took the opportunity to hustle Morono to the ground, where he was briefly forced to fight off armbar attempts and was kept on the defensive. Morono swept to top position, returned to his feet, and took Price’s back, but Price reversed him again and remained in control until the horn. Price kept up the pressure in the final round, marching down the exhausted Morono and backing him up with punches. By the second half of the round, Price was visibly tired as well, but continued marching forward and throwing punches until the horn. The judges saw it, as most observers likely did, 29-28 for the Floridian, who moved to 9-7 with two no contests in the UFC, while Morono fell to 13-7 with one no contest.

In the main card opener, Randy Brown (19-5) turned aside Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (24-8-1) after three intense rounds. “Rude Boy” started strong, stinging dos Santos with long jabs and kicks and proving elusive for his foe’s counters in the first round. The momentum that already seemed to be going very much in Brown’s favor became even more so when dos Santos suffered an inadvertent eye poke for which referee Gaspar Oliver gave him no time to recover, waving the fighters back into action immediately. Brown took advantage, pouring it on and catching the oncoming dos Santos with a crushing knee late in the round. Round 2 saw dos Santos come out much stronger, catching Brown with a big right hand early, then scoring a takedown and taking Brown’s back. Brown survived and regained his feet, but dos Santos was persistent, getting back mount again, securing a body triangle and applying a rear-naked choke. The fight looked close to a finish as Brown’s eyes bulged, but he remained calm, fought off the hands and his foe was forced to abandon the choke. Dos Santos retained the dominant position, however, and kept Brown completely on the defensive for most of the rest of the round. With 40 seconds left to go, Brown exploded up and out, took dos Santos’ back and tried for a choke of his own. Time expired before he could finish things, but Brown possibly saved himself from a 10-8 score, to say nothing of the shift in momentum. In the final round, Brown began to take over. Whether buoyed by his success late in Round 2 or because dos Santos was growing fatigued, Brown landed with confidence, fighting off dos Santos’ early takedown attempts and blasting him with another intercepting knee, this time opening a severe cut on the Brazilian’s head. Dos Santos had his moments in Round 3, including a glancing spinning head kick early in the round and a takedown late, but not enough to sway the judges, who saw the fight in Brown’s favor by unanimous 29-28 scores. The win propelled the lanky Jamaican to 13-5 in the UFC and had him creeping up on the welterweight Top 10; dos Santos fell to 10-4-1.

Reference: https://www.sherdog.com/news/news/Islam-Makhachev-Chokes-Out-Dustin-Poirier-in-Dramatic-UFC-302-Headliner-193872

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