3 keys to victory for Islam Makhachev and Dustin Poirier at UFC 302

Here's how each of the main event fighters can win their fights.
Dustin Poirier
Dustin Poirier / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

The highly anticipated UFC 302 main event features two of the very best fighters on the planet. Current UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev will be taking on No. 4 ranked contender Dustin Poirier in hopes of extending his impressive win streak and championship reign.

The UFC 302 headliner marks Poirier's third and likely final attempt at capturing undisputed UFC gold, and a matchup against Makhachev is as difficult a task in MMA today. On the other side, Makhachev is looking for his third consecutive title defence and is currently the No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound fighter under the UFC banner.

In a lightweight championship showdown that promises to entertain, let's take a look at the three keys to victory for both Makhachev and Poirier in the UFC 302 main event.

Islam Makhachev's keys to victory

1. Pressure wrestling is crucial

While Makhachev has evolved into one of the most well-rounded fighters on the UFC roster, it is no secret that his game plan at UFC 302 will heavily involve his world class grappling.

Though the last time Makhachev was in the Octagon, he ended his rematch against Alexander Volkanovski with a first round head kick knockout, he will need to rely more on his wrestling based approach against Poirier.

Poirier is one of the best boxers in UFC history and one of the best strikers in the sport, but his defensive wrestling and grappling defence have shown moments of weakness in some of his previous contests. Matchups against Khabib Nurmagomedov, Charles Oliveira, Michael Chandler, and most recently, Benoit Saint-Denis have all shown deficiencies in this part of Poirier's game.

If Makhachev can utilize a similar strategy as his Nurmagomedov, he will be able to wear on Poirier and look to finish the fight.

2. Distance management

If the heavy underdog Poirier has any chance of winning this fight, he will almost certainly have to win the boxing and most of the striking exchanges. Although difficult, for a fighter as skilled and experienced as Poirier, it is certainly a possibility.

It will be important for Makhachev to stay out of boxing range for too long, as this is where he leaves himself most vulnerable in this matchup. Makhachev should rely more on his kicking game in order to control the distance Poirier will want to maintain. If Makhachev is able to keep Poirier on the outside, it would be hard to imagine a scenario where he loses his lightweight championship

3. Limit Poirier's momentum

Poirier may be the best representation of a fighter who thrives off of momentum. Throughout his entire career, Poirier has shown his ability to quickly finish a fight if he senses his opponent is in trouble.

If Makhachev can begin the fight by overwhelming Poirier with his wrestling, this can be a way of slowing down the challenger before he can even get started. However, if Poirier can defend against a few of the early takedown attempts, his momentum will begin to build, similar to his most recent contest against Saint-Denis.

The problem with Poirier's fight against Nurmagomedov at UFC 242 is that he couldn't get started like he usually does against more striking based opponents. Outside of a flurry at the beginning of the second round, Nurmagomedov was largely able to control Poirier and work towards a third round submission. Makhachev should look to use this overwhelming style, similar to Nurmagomedov, to limit the momentum of Poirier.

Dustin Poirier's keys to victory

1. No submission attempts

If Poirier were to finish Makhachev via submission, it would truly be something out of a movie. Poirier has a few submission victories on his UFC résumé but none against the level of grappler as the current UFC lightweight champion.

Makhachev is one of the most prolific submission artists in the UFC and has yet to meet his match in the grappling department. Many believed that his matchup against former champion Oliveira would be the most difficult fight of his career due to Oliveira's ground game expertise, but it took Makhachev less than 10 minutes to deliver a submission victory of his own.

Poirier made a costly mistake against Nurmagomedov in September 2019 when he attempted a submission against the former champion. Although he was close, Nurmagomedov was able to escape and finish the fight soon after. For Poirier to be successful, he must stay away from making this mistake again.

2. Find the right hook

When facing an opponent with a record as impressive as 25-1, there may not be as many clear paths to victory when devising a game plan. However, the only professional loss of Makhachev's career was a first round knockout defeat via a lead right hook, one of Poirier's best tools.

Poirier has used his right hook against the who's who of UFC lightweight contenders to ultimately earn victory. Fighters including Conor McGregor, Michael Chandler, and most recently Saint-Denis, among many others, are just a few who have been put on notice by Poirier's right hand.

With Poirier's experience against southpaw fighters, finding that lead right hook against Makhachev could be the difference between earning UFC gold or not.

3. Realize the moment

Poirier is likely challenging for the undisputed UFC lightweight championship for the last time in his career. At 35 years of age and with two previous unsuccessful attempts at undisputed lightweight gold (one successful interim championship win), it is unlikely that the UFC legend will have another opportunity such as his at UFC 302.

What is critical for Poirier is that he realizes and recognizes this last chance at reaching the pinnacle of the sport. This isn't to say that he should make overly emotionally and panicked decisions during the fight, rather, to focus solely on the task at hand.

With some discussion surrounding potential future fights or a possible retirement shortly after UFC 302, it is imperative that Poirier remains focused on his Makhachev and stays grounded in his approach.


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