After spending 25 minutes in the cage with Dustin Poirier, Max Holloway was having none of that interim business.
Poirier and Holloway put on an amazing fight Saturday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta to climax UFC 236. Poirier won a unanimous decision by scores of 49-46 on all three cards to become the interim lightweight champion and earn a unification bout with champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Holloway, whose 13-fight, five-year winning streak was ended, remains the featherweight champion. And while Poirier was announced as the interim champion, that didn’t sit well with Holloway.
“Hey, don’t take anything away from Dustin,” Holloway said. “He beat a world champion. He is a world champion. He’s the real thing.”
It was a pitched battle from beginning to end, Holloway’s pressure against Poirier’s power. It was the physicality and the power of Poirier that carried the day, particularly in the first round when he was rocking Holloway around the cage.
Poirier faced adversity in the third as Holloway poured it on, but he wasn’t about to quit. Just a few months ago, he was on social media asking for his release from the UFC because he couldn’t get a fight. He landed this fight with Holloway and when he was in trouble, he wasn’t about to give in given all he’d been through.
“There was a time in that third round I got hit with a couple of good shots and I was hurting,” Poirier said. “I looked at Max and he was throwing a lot of volume and he hurt me some more. I felt the fight was slipping away, man, but I dug down. I said, ‘[Expletive] it. If I’m going to go out, you’re going to have to put me all the way out.’”
The win was Poirier’s second over Holloway. They fought in 2012 at UFC 143 in Holloway’s UFC debut, and Poirier submitted him in the first. That fight was hardly memorable, but this battle is one that will be remembered for a long time.
Holloway’s resilience was remarkable. He turned the fight around after a shaky first and was giving Poirier fits. But late in the fourth, he was caught with a knee that opened a huge gash on his forehead.
Blood came squirting out of it and instantly covered his face. It reopened in the fifth and he fought while wiping blood from his eyes.
For Poirier, it was a culmination of a hard battle to the top. Since being knocked out by Michael Johnson in 2016, he’s won five and had a no contest, defeating Jim Miller, Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez and finally Holloway. That’s a murderer’s row of bad-ass opposition if there ever was such a thing.
Poirier took plenty of punishment in that time, and he did again Saturday. He said there were times in his career where he was wondering if he had a future, but said his wife, Jolie, wouldn’t let him give up.
“I’ve overcome adversity so many times,” he said. “Everybody out there, if there are people who are telling you you can’t do it or you’re the underdog and the odds are against you, don’t give up. I’ve been doing this my whole life and I’m the champ. If I can do it, you can do it.
“I just want to dedicate this fight to my wife. We’ve been together 10 years and if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. There were days I went home busted and broken and she believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. This is her belt as much as it is mine.”
After that performance, there will be few doubters any more.
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