UFC Glendale: Dustin Poirier demands title shot after stopping Justin Gaethje cold
The pair of all-action lightweights put on a leading contender for fight of the year on Saturday
If Dustin Poirier was looking for an exclamation point to solidify his title hopes, Saturday's dramatic knockout of Justin Gaethje will be hard to ignore. In a clear frontrunner for fight of the year, Poirier (23-5, 1 NC) fought through a damaged leg and two eye pokes to stop the all-action Gaethje (18-2) via fourth-round TKO in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Glendale, Arizona.
With the victory, the 29-year-old Poirier becomes an interesting candidate to face new champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in an already overcrowded UFC lightweight division.
"This is my 20th fight in UFC. I've been close to the mountain top, I've been knocked down and I've climbed back over and over again in two different weight classes," Poirier said. "I would never stand here and ask for something I didn't earn. [UFC president] Dana [White], [matchmaker] Sean [Shelby], Khabib -- let's f---ing go! It's time!"
Poirier improved to 7-1 with one no contest since his 2014 TKO loss to former two-division champion Conor McGregor. He was forced to walk through hell in order to get there in a fight that was contested on Gaethje's terms when it comes to pace and distance.
Gaethje, a modern-day barbarian who is almost impervious to pain, seemed unfazed by a cut above his left eye in Round 1 and continued to chip away at Poirier's right leg with a steady stream of damaging kicks. Gaethje also appeared to have Poirier fading after Round 2 by absorbing every combination his opponent could throw without taking a step backward.
The insane action continued into Round 3 when a counter right hand staggered Poirier against the fence. But the momentum appeared to change late in the round when Gaethje, who was warned one round earlier, was deducted a point by referee Herb Dean for poking Poirier in the eye.
Poirier appeared willing to fight on despite the effect it had on his vision and argued with the cageside doctor and referee to continue. The decision turned out to be a smart one as Poirier quickly rocked Gaethje to open Round 4 with a stiff counter left hand.
As Gaethje stumbled around the cage, Poirier swarmed in to tag him with combinations before finishing him along the cage wall. Dean jumped in at 33 seconds after Gaethje collapsed to the ground.
"This guy would've died in here if Herb Dean didn't stop it," Poirier said. "This guy has absolutely no quit, and I respect that 100 percent."
Gaethje, 29, who has firmly established a reputation in three UFC fights for providing entertainment, also suffered his second straight defeat via violent knockout. The former World Series of Fighting champion was stopped by Eddie Alvarez last December.
The performances of both fighters earned the instant praise on social media from Nurmagomedov, who captured the title last Saturday by defeating Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 after an idle McGregor was finally stripped of his title.
What remains unsure, however, is whether Poirier will get his wish for an instant title shot. Top contender Tony Ferguson, whose heartbreaking knee injury six days before UFC 223 pulled him from the fight, appears next for Nurmagomedov unless the champion can secure super fights against McGregor or Georges St-Pierre.
Either way, Poirier perfectly showcased not only his toughness but his evolution as a fighter both physically and mentally. The former featherweight contender feels reborn in his return to 155 pounds and has added plenty of poise and polish to his exciting style.
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