Just one week after UFC 223 crowned a new king of the lightweight division in the form of Khabib Nurmagomedov, two more of the sport’s top fighters at 155lbs will fight in the main event of UFC on FOX 29, which takes place Saturday, April 14 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. That’s when top-ranked contenders Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje lock horns in what should be a barnburner of a main event, one that many observers of the sport are already pegging as a potential “Fight of the Year” candidate. In a lightweight division that is looking for someone to step up as the next title challenger for Nurmagomedov’s belt, both Poirier and Gaethje have a huge opportunity on their hands to jump into title contention with a big win at UFC Glendale.
Let’s talk about both fighters, starting with Poirier first. The 29-year-old native of Lafayette, Louisiana has been in the UFC since 2011 but has never been able to climb up the ladder to title contention in either the featherweight or lightweight divisions — until now, that is. Poirier is 6-1, 1 NC since moving up to 155lbs in 2015, with four of those wins coming via knockout. In his last outing, Poirier put on arguably the best performance of his UFC career to date with a third-round TKO win over former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. He’s also defeated the likes of Bobby Green, Joseph Duffy, Yancy Medeiros, Carlos Diego Ferreira and Jim Miller, with a controversial No Contest to Eddie Alvarez. While Poirier was somewhat inconsistent as a featherweight, he’s looked much better as a lightweight as his durability has improved. And he’s still remained one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster, with two “Fight of the Night” awards in his last three fights. The last time Poirier got this close to a title shot he was knocked out by Michael Johnson but that fight was in 2016. Now it’s 2018, and Poirier is poised to take the next step in his career.
Now let’s talk about Gaethje. The 29-year-old resident of Safford, Arizona turned heads in the UFC after making his debut last summer. After coming to the UFC as the former WSOF lightweight champion on a 17-fight win streak, Gaethje absolutely lived up to the hype as he put on an absolute classic against Johnson in his UFC debut, as the two strikers exchanged literally hundreds of significant strikes before Gaethje eventually was able to knock Johnson out in the second round. Gaethje won accolades for the fight, which numerous critics voted “Fight of the Year” in 2017, and it earned him a massive fight against Eddie Alvarez at UFC 218. Unfortunately for Gaethje his lack of striking defense caught up to him in that fight, as he accumulated far too much damage against Alvarez and was brutally knocked out in the third round with a knee. However, it was another amazing fight put on by Gaethje, one that many considered “Fight of the Year” as well. So in two UFC fights Gaethje arguably was first and second in the “Fight of the Year” rankings. Even though he’s coming off of a loss to Alvarez, Gaethje can easily bounce back into title contention as MMA fans have short memories and a great outing against Poirier would put him right back nearing a title shot.
Poirier vs. Gaethje is one of the best matchups the UFC could have booked in the lightweight division. Stylistically, this is just a tremendous fight as both men have no problem standing and banging for the fans’ delight. And as far as its relevance to the lightweight division goes, this fight is super important as the next title contender for Nurmagomedov is still up for grabs after last weekend’s shenanigans at UFC 223. All fight fans can hope for now is for both fighters to make it safely into the cage, because there’s no doubt this is going to be an amazing fight when it happens.