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Makhachev submits Poirier in gruelling title fight

Islam Makhachev celebrates beating Dustin Poirier at UFC 302
Makhachev has not lost since 2015 [Getty Images]

Islam Makhachev submitted Dustin Poirier in the fifth round of a gruelling contest to retain his lightweight title at UFC 302 in New Jersey.

Russian Makhachev's elite grappling proved the difference as the 32-year-old secured a d'arce choke, forcing American Poirier to submit.

The victory at the Prudential Centre was Makhachev's third defence of his belt while Poirier, 35, hinted at retirement after coming up short in what is likely to be his final attempt at becoming undisputed champion.

"I know I can compete with the best, but if I do fight again what am I fighting for?" said Poirier.

"I've got a little girl that I love. I don’t know, I think this could be it, honestly."

If Poirier does retire, he will exit the sport as one of the greatest mixed martial artists to not win an undisputed UFC title.

The narrative during the build-up had been whether Poirier could claim the belt at his third attempt after defeats by Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019 and Charles Oliveira in 2021.

Poirier has one of the most distinguished resumes in MMA history, winning 21 of his 30 UFC fights since his debut in 2011, including an interim title victory against Max Holloway in 2019, but has said becoming undisputed champion is the reason he first put on a pair of gloves as a 17-year-old.

In Makhachev he was facing arguably the UFC’s biggest challenge, however, with the pound-for-pound number one winning 25 of his 26 professional fights heading into the contest.

Both fighters oozed confidence during their walkouts, with Poirier singing and bouncing towards the octagon and Makhachev flanked by former champion and team-mate Nurmagomedov, who could be seen offering advice in the champion’s ear.

Makhachev showcased his formidable all-round ability early, worrying Poirier with a boxing combination before landing a takedown and spending the rest of the round searching for submissions on the ground.

Poirier started to find success in the next few rounds, defending takedowns from Makhachev and utilising his boxing but the Russian continued to land with punches of his own.

With both fighters sporting bloodied faces - Poirier from a clash of heads and Makhachev from an elbow to his forehead - the crowd roared as the bout entered the final rounds.

Makhachev mixed up his striking, clinching and takedown attempts beautifully throughout, but Poirier was valiant in defence, getting back to his feet on multiple occasions, where the contest offered his best chance of victory.

The decisive moment came in the fifth round as Makhachev expertly ankle picked Poirer before spinning and pouncing on top to secure the fight-ending choke.

Following victory, Makhachev was swarmed in celebration by his team, before embracing Poirier alongside Nurmagomedov in a poignant show of respect between the two teams.

"I think Dustin had a great game, his coaches taught him very well. He defends my takedowns very well and gave me hard time. He is a champ and legend of this sport," said Makhachev.

Islam Makhachev and Dustin Poirier embrace after their fight at UFC 302
Makhachev followed his team-mate and mentor Nurmagomedov in defeating Poirier [Getty Images]

The Russian then revealed his ambition to move up to welterweight in an attempt to become a two-division champion.

"It's my dream. I want to fight for the second belt. I want to feel that energy again, I need a new one,” said Makhachev.

Poirier paid tribute to his family as he contemplates the decision to put down his gloves.

“I’m not 100% but if this is my last fight, I want to dedicate this fight to the people who made me the man I am and that’s the women in my life," said Poirier.

"To my grandmother, I miss you every day. To my mother, we’ve had a crazy life, I love you. To my wife, I don’t know if I’d be standing here without you. And to my daughter, I love you so much, always chase your dreams, it’s a beautiful thing.”

In the co-main event, American Sean Strickland beat Brazilian middleweight Paulo Costa by split decision.

Former champion Strickland, 33, put his customary pressure on Costa throughout the five-round fight with Costa, 33, backing up throughout the majority of the contest.

Following the bout, Strickland called for a title fight against South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis, who he suffered defeat by for the belt last year.

Du Plessis is speculated to be making the first defence of his championship against Israel Adesanya later in the year.