Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier prediction, pick: Will UFC 302 be when ‘The Diamond’ finally shines brightest?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom goes in depth to break down the biggest fights in the UFC. Today, he takes a closer look at the UFC 302 main event between lightweight champion Islam Makhachev and Dustin Poirier.

Islam Makhachev UFC 302 preview

Staple info:

  • Record: 25-1 MMA, 14-1 UFC

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 32 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 70.5″

  • Last fight: Knockout win over Alexander Volkanovski (Oct. 21, 2023)

  • Camp: Eagles MMA (Dubai/Russia)

  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Excellent

Supplemental info:
+ UFC lightweight champion
+ Combat sambo world champion
+ 4x Russian sambo champion
+ Master of sports in combat sambo
+ 5 KO victories
+ 11 submission wins
+ 10 first-round finishes
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Improved overall striking
^ Solid variance in shot selection
+ Hard kicks from the left side
+ Good takedown ability
^ Favors chaining off singles
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Excellent trips, knees and tosses
+ Superb transitional grappler
^ Wrist control, rides, passes
+/- 2-1 against UFC-level southpaws

Dustin Poirier UFC 302 preview

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’9″ Age: 35 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 72″

  • Last fight: Knockout win over Benoit Saint-Denis (March 9, 2024)

  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)

  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+Former interim UFC lightweight champion
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Amateur MMA accolades
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Thug-jitsu disciple
+ 15 KO victories
+ 8 submission wins
+ 13 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
+ Improved overall boxing
^ Cage-cuts, shifts, takes angles
+ Accurate left cross and right hook
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Strong inside the clinch
+ Good transitional grappler
^ Solid submissions and scrambling
+/- 6-2 against UFC-level southpaws

Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier point of interest: Southpaw vs. southpaw

Mar 9, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Benoit Saint Denis (blue gloves) fights Dustin Poirier (red gloves) during UFC 299 at Kayesa Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The main event in New Jersey features a lightweight title fight between two talented southpaws, Islam Makhachev and Dustin Poirier.

As I always state in my analysis, no one hates fighting other southpaws more than southpaws themselves. The reason is that most people who fight from that stance tend to predicate their games against orthodox-stance fighters due to the sheer nature of abundance, making it tricky to predict how pairings of lefties will play out.

These somewhat unique stance pairings not only open up traditional lanes of offense that aren’t usually available to southpaws (like outside leg attacks), but I would also argue that these matchups reveal potential problem areas that may not otherwise be apparent to a fighter given what they’re typically allowed to get away with in open-stance affairs.

Poirier, who has more experience in these sorts of matchups, currently stands at 6-2 opposite UFC-level lefties.

An aggressive fighter out of the chute, the 15-year pro from Louisiana has evolved from the once eager slugger to a more mature fighter who likes to dictate brawls rather than enter them. In fact, Poirier has made significant upgrades to his game since moving shop to American Top Team in South Florida.

Demonstrating an excellent awareness of distance and footwork, the slugging southpaw will shift his stance for setups (often doubling up on strikes from the same side) as he adjusts his angles accordingly with fight-ending shots in mind.

Utilizing this style of shifting to create attack opportunities, Poirier has shown to sit down more on his punches, giving five fighters their first stoppage losses since returning to 155 pounds. The 35-year-old also displays improvements to his prodding, pulling and returning, but will likely need to mind the kicking propensities of his opponent.

Fighting out of a southpaw stance, Makhachev has shown to be much more than a sambo practitioner since stepping onto the UFC scene.

Fellow southpaw Adriano Martins may have been able to audit Makhachev’s early aggression with a perfectly placed check hook at UFC 192, but the Dagestani fighter has been steadily making improvements to his striking since his lone setback.

Now, it is not uncommon to see Makhachev play at a much safer range when looking to set up his shots and strikes. Whether Makhachev is sniping crosses down the centerline or mixing the targets of his kicking attacks, the 32-year-old does a solid job of constantly changing his level and variating his shot selection.

Makhachev’s patented check right hook is still a key player in regards to countering presence that’s worth watching out for in this fight, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him press more of his clinch striking in this matchup.

Favoring single and double collar-tie variations in the clinch, Makhachev does a good job of utilizing well-placed knees to manipulate defenses and create openings. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Makhachev prioritize grappling change-ups given that Makhachev has shown little interest in striking when facing fellow southpaws.

Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier breakdown: Protect your neck

Feb 12, 2023; Perth, WA, AUSTRALIA; Islam Makhachev (red gloves) fights Alexander Volkanovski (blue gloves) during UFC 284 at RAC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports

Given the path of least resistance (at least on paper), no one should be shocked if Makhachev elects to wrestle Poirier early and often.

Akin to his now-coach, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev also scores a large part of his takedowns off of chaining attacks in clinch space.

Whether Makhachev is working from his favored single-leg position or hitting slick trips and tosses from tie-ups, the product from Dagestan displays solid adaptability in the wrestling realm. Nevertheless, Makhachev is not beyond hitting reactive shots in the open – something that Poirier will need to be aware of.

However, Poirier – despite his history with certain wrestlers – isn’t exactly a slouch in the wrestling department.

Under the care of American Top Team, we have seen Poirier steadily improve his wrestling skills over the years. “The Diamond” shows competent level-changing abilities in the open but arguably does his best takedown work when he is able to corral his opponents against the cage.

Defensively, Poirier has quietly sharpened up his sprawls while maintaining an impressive ability to scramble in the heat of battle. Even though Poirier still selects escapes that come with their fair share of exposure, the Thug-jitsu disciple thrives in reversal scenarios.

An excellent transitional grappler, Poirier can make hay from many positions and is not afraid to hold from topside while pouring on the punishment. Still, whether he is baiting submissions to pass or using an underhook to dictate position, Poirier will need to be on his best behavior and avoid sacrificing position with something silly like a guillotine choke opposite Makhachev.

I know it’s the big joke that everyone is leaning into this week, but unneeded scrambles could lead the the dominant positions that a grappler like Makhachev can use to close the show.

Aside from having tremendous hip and grip awareness, Makhachev is one of my favorite fighters to point to in regard to demonstrating the importance of wrist control.

An unsung hero in regard to effective martial arts techniques, Makhachev’s quiet control of hands and wrists helps stymie his opposition’s advances while he furthers his own.

Makhachev also employs stellar legwork that goes beyond his standing clinch work, as it’s not uncommon to see the 14-year pro incorporate crab rides in conjunction with back attacks (as seen in his finish of Thiago Moises).

Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier odds

The oddsmakers and the public are heavily favoring the current champion, listing Makhachev -620 and Poirier +400 via FanDuel.

Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier prediction, pick

Despite these odds feeling borderline disrespectful to a fighter of Poirier’s stature, I can’t say that I’m surprised to see the inflation on the Makhachev end.

Outside of a lot of gamblers feeling like they missed out on a great line in Makhachev’s last impromptu outing, the Dagestani fighter also possesses an insanely passionate fanbase who grow tumescent at the thought of his coach Khabib Nurmagomedov and everything he touches.

Still, I can’t blame anyone for taking a small stab on the Poirier side given the numbers attached to his name.

Aside from the fact that Poirier’s patent check right could replicate the success Adriano Martins had on paper, the Louisiana native also possesses some underrated knees and a left cross worth watching for in this fight.

However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Poirier seems to have back exposure hardwired into his scrambling sensibilities – which I suspect will be what ultimately costs him here.

Round 2 will be particularly potent for either fighter to finish in, but I’ll officially pick Makhachev to win by submission in Round 3.

Prediction: Makhachev inside the distance

Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier start time, where to watch

Makhachev and Poirier are expected to make their walks to the octagon at approximately 12:15 a.m. ET. The fight streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 302.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie