Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier: A new era at 155lbs
I had no idea how much I was looking forward to this fight until I actually saw the official announcement, until it was made crystal clear that this was, in fact, the fight we were getting later this year.
Because even though it seemed like a forgone conclusion that Dustin Poirier would be the one to take on Charles Oliveira - I dunno, I think there’s something special about seeing the faces on a poster, seeing the official report landing - whether through Ariel, Brett, or any of the other leading reporters.
When you see that shot of the two fighters with the split down the middle and the caption with the word ‘official’, ‘signed’, or ‘confirmed’ beneath it, for me, as a writer, that’s when my wheels start turning.
And with an eye on Oliveira vs. Poirier for the lightweight title - this is truly a matchup that could have been a relevant fight at featherweight in 2011.
That’s how long we’ve spent watching these guys compete.
Dustin at that point I believe was still in the WEC and Oliveira was just breaking into the UFC’s lightweight division - but that was a very different time in the sport - and these two guys occupied an unrecognisable position within it to the one they hold now.
And I’ve spoken about this in the past, as it relates to Charles Oliveira - but as I sat and thought about this fight ahead of time - I realised that all of the things that have made Charles Oliveira’s resurgence great can also be said of Dustin Poirier.
What I found interesting about watching Oliveira exceed my expectations time and time again was the fact that it made me reconsider the habit I - and most fans have - of putting these fighters in boxes, labelling them for traits they consistently showed at one point in time - while continuously acting surprised every time they don’t fall into that billing.
Because Charles Oliveira was once a crazy unrefined fighter, one who was just as likely to get finished as he was to quickly snatch a limb.
And his reputation as a reckless fighter was something he carried with him into the David Teymur fight, the Jared Gordon fight, the Kevin Lee fight - before his dominant win over Tony Ferguson kind of forced us to sit up and take notice of his evolution.
And for Dustin Poirier - he was always a game fighter, a shade shy of a blood and guts brawler, but not the guy he is today.
But for me, I think my appreciation for this new Dustin Poirier came when he went to war with Max Holloway - when he brought us a victory of such a high calibre that there was just no way we could sit by and describe this guy under the same set of restrictions.
Look, growth from fighters is expected, but both Oliveira and Poirier have been around for so long - it’s just crazy to see them both square off at this level, at this point in their career, with all the marbles on the table.
Because the Khabib era of the lightweight division was truly a joy to behold - as we watched The Eagle ascend to some of the highest heights ever reached by a mixed martial artist.
But that time is over, and this division needs stability - it needs a champion who is not shadowed by a contender who may well have a better claim to the throne.
And for my money, they could not have gotten a better matchup than Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier to settle this and drag the division into something of a new age.
Because as much as I’ve been making a lot of noise about the merits of both 135lb and 145lbs within the ‘best division in the UFC conversation’ - I do think that there’s a good argument to be made for lightweight having the most depth to it.
And I just find myself enthralled by this story, by how these two guys managed to be the ones to fight for the top spot - out of the Gaethjes, the McGregor, the Fergusons, the Chandlers - all these huge names that seemed destined to play a role.
But no, it’s a pair of fighters who debuted in the UFC years before any of them.
And I love it.
As far as an early prediction.
You know I always pick against Charles Oliveira - and I just don’t know if I can break that trend here.
Poirier has holes in his game, don’t get me wrong - but he’s also a force of nature at 155lbs - boasting a stellar boxing game and a chin that refuses to be cracked.
I don’t think Do Bronx has the takedown game to bring this fight to the mat, and though I’d favour him in the scrambles, I think there’s a good chance that Poirier just runs him over once he starts to feel the momentum shifting in his favour.
Because while an Oliveira win would be one helluva tale to tell, my prediction from a stylistic and I suppose a narrative perspective is that we’re going to see Dustin Poirier finally getting his world title.
I just think after those McGregor wins, with those victories over Dan Hooker and Max Holloway that are ageing like a fine wine - excusing his flat showing against Khabib is making more sense because as the old saying goes, everyone loses to Khabib.
And I just think that Dustin gets the job done - maybe with a third round TKO.
Oliveira is as dangerous as they come, and I expect this fight to be a high level affair, but outside of a sub, I can’t see Poirier losing.
Either way, this is a throwback fight that feels oddly modern. Yea, these guys have been around for a decade, but they don’t feel like ageing fighters - we’re getting two prime lightweight greats, two fighters who moved up from featherweight to carve out soon-to-be-legendary levels of success - Poirier through his stellar resumé and Oliveira through his ridiculous submission numbers and overall finishing ability.
This is both the closing of one chapter at 155lbs and the opening of another.
But who do you think is going to lead this lightweight division into its new era?
Will it be the tried and tested champion, Charles Oliveira - a man who stands among the most lethal finishers to have ever laced up gloves?
Or will it be The Diamond Dustin Poirier - as he makes good on a career’s worth of promise and a decade long top-flight struggle to finally lift UFC gold?