Dustin Poirier earns unanimous decision vs. Dan Hooker in Fight of the Year candidate

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5 min read
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 27: (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Dan Hooker of New Zealand in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 27: (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Dan Hooker of New Zealand in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

LAS VEGAS — Whatever Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker made for their lightweight bout Saturday at UFC Apex, it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t nearly enough.

The lightweight contenders put on a bout for the ages inside the small cage on the UFC campus, exceeding, is possible, the main event from a week earlier in the same cage between Josh Emmett and Shane Burgos.

Poirier, the former interim lightweight champion, pulled out a tense unanimous decision by scores of 48-47 twice and 48-46. It has to be a Fight of the Year candidate that keeps Poirier’s hopes for yet another title run alive. Yahoo Sports also had it 48-47 for Poirier.

It was the classic MMA fight that featured a little bit — no, make that a lot of — everything. There was punches, knees, knees, elbows, all manner of submission attempts and plenty of blood.

It was remarkable that they were able to go as hard in the final round as they were considering the output they gave throughout the bout.

Poirier showed the mettle that made him a champion by roaring back down the stretch to win the final three rounds. Afterward, both fighters got a trip to the hospital.

“It was a tough one, man,” Poirier said. “Dan came to fight. He’s a tough guy. He’s on the rise and really thought he was going to get past me. He talked a lot of trash, like he was going to move forward and fight the champ, but I’m the champ. This is what I love to do. I put all the work in. I trust in my team, skill and work ethic. I came here, pulled another one out and had a few more rounds in me.”

Poirier, in his first fight following surgery after a defeat to champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, had to walk through a blizzard of punishment in order to pull this out. Both of their faces were covered in welts and blood.

Hooker appeared the wearier of the two as the final round started and though he fought courageously and bravely in the fifth, the fact that Poirier had a bit more left in the tank led him to take the fifth round and, with it, the fight.

Hooker, who came into the bout off a grueling and career-defining victory over Paul Felder, came out hard from the beginning. He landed several thudding kicks, including two that were low.

That led UFC analyst Michael Bisping to comment on it. Poirier heard it and said to Hooker, “Listen to Bisping.”

It was a moment of levity in a high-class battle between two of the elite fighters in the world. They showed everything it takes to be a world-class fighters, including the poise to keep their wits and stick to the game plan during a crazy wild slugfest.

“I could have been a little bit sharper,” Poirier said. “I didn’t move out of the way of a few shots. It’s not that I disrespected Dan’s power, but I stayed in the pocket too long. I should have been sharper. At the end, I started getting in my range and countering off his lazy shots. I landed some good ones and made his head snap back. I was stealing the rounds with shots like that, but I can do better.”

It’s hard to imagine either of them being much better. Both were totally spent by the time it was over and had little energy to do anything but drag themselves out of the cage.

Poirier is going to land another significant fight in the division, but just like it was after the Nurmagomedov fight, it’s going to be a while. This time, it’s not going to be because of surgery; it’s going to be because he’s going to need a rest after such a brutal battle.

Hooker will need time off, as well, but he’ll deserve a significant fight in his return, as well.

Poirier laughed off a reporter’s suggestion he fight Tony Ferguson next, but he plans to make another run at the top. But as marked up as he was, he said he was not hurt much and was in control other than when he was hit with a knee.

“The only time I was hurt in the fight was when Dan got me against the fence and slid a knee in there,” Poirier said. “Even when I was standing with good posture, he lifts them up higher than my head. It was impressive how high and quick he got his hips up without telegraphing. He hit me square with a knee and I flashed out for a second. When I came to, he was throwing hooks at me. I saw the ref and didn’t know how much time was left. We regrouped and came back stronger. That’s fighting. A fight isn’t a fight until there’s something to overcome. We fought tonight.”

They showed how it’s done, that’s for sure.

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