Dustin Poirier visualized a million times over what it would feel like to finally have a UFC title wrapped around his waist.
Now that dream has become reality as Poirier was crowned the interim lightweight champion after a war of attrition against featherweight king Max Holloway in the main event at UFC 236 on Saturday night in Atlanta.
Over his past three fights against three former world champions, Poirier has largely dominated the competition with an offensive output that has been virtually unmatched by anybody else in all of mixed martial arts.
To win the interim title, Poirier showed off that same kind of power but he also had to dig down deep to gut out a five round performance against Holloway, who ate a ton of punishment over 25 minutes but somehow just kept coming forward.
The opening round saw Holloway get out of the gates with a quick combination that immediately backed Poirier up but that only seemed to awaken the beast inside the Lafayette, Louisiana native.
Following that initial exchange, Poirier started landing with power and accuracy in succession with his punches constantly finding a home on Holloway’s chin as the reigning UFC featherweight champion was wobbled several times.
Poirier was constantly hitting Holloway with a barrage of bombs that probably would have put down most other lightweights but somehow the 27-year old Hawaiian found a way to stay on his feet.
As the fight wore on, Poirier slowed down slightly in the second round but he was still mashing Holloway in the face with a constant boxing attack that started to turn his face in the hamburger. As Holloway’s eyes started to swell and his skin started to turn different shades of purple, it was clear that Poirier was really starting to pour on the punishment and it was showing on his opponent.
Despite all of that, Holloway was undeterred and he came out at the start of the third round looking like he was ready go for another half-hour if that’s what was required of him.
Holloway was constantly pressing forward with a volume striking attack that peppered away at Poirier, backing him up against the cage and forcing him to play defense. By the end of the third round, Holloway had turned up the heat on Poirier, who appeared to be fading slightly after absorbing a non-stop barrage of punches.
Apparently, Poirier only needed his one-minute rest session because he came out guns blazing in the championship rounds looking to put Holloway away and secure his first taste of UFC gold.
Poirier’s power was really the game changer in this fight because over the course of all five rounds, he was snapping Holloway’s head back with every punch he threw including several stiff jabs that landed clean. Poirier also managed to blast Holloway with an inside knee that connected to the forehead opening up a gash that had blood absolutely pouring down his face.
As time ticked away on the clock, Poirier continued to crack Holloway with thudding punches that just twisted his head around, showing the kind of strength still possessed by the American Top Team fighter.
Despite the shots he was absorbing, Holloway refused to go away and when the final horn sounded both fighters were covered in blood and bruises after going through 25 minutes of hell together.
The scorecards came back 49-46 all in favor of Poirier, who was then crowned the UFC interim lightweight champion.
“I feel like I’m in a dream right now,” Poirier said following his win. “I just beat one of the pound-for-pound best in the world. To be the best you’ve got to beat the best and damn I feel good. It’s been a long time. This is my 23rd or 24th fight with Zuffa. I’ve got knocked down, I’ve climbed back up. This is my belt, I earned this in blood. Paid in full, this is mine.”
As incredible as the win was for Poirier, his celebration won’t last very long because he still has work to do with a showdown looming against reigning UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov awaiting him later this year.
The fight is expected for September, assuming both fighters are healthy, and Poirier is already champing at the bit for the opportunity to hand Nurmagomedov his first professional loss.
“In the world of our buddy Daniel Cormier, get your s—t together young man, we’ve got a belt to fight for,” Poirier shouted at Nurmagomedov.
Meanwhile, Holloway saw his 13-fight win streak snapped on Saturday night in his first foray moving up to lightweight after a dominant reign at 145 pounds.
He may have lost the battle but Holloway is more than willing to go to war with anybody and his only thought after that fight was making sure Poirier got the credit he deserved for a job well done.
“I’m not going to take nothing away from Dustin. He beat a world champion. He is a world champ. There ain’t no interim s—t. He’s the real thing, he beat a world champion,” Holloway said. “Congrats brother.
“I felt good. I felt on. I thought it was my night. I learned different tonight but It is what it is. You win, you learn and I learned a lot.”