MMA Review: #679: UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier

-This was a BIG SHOW with two title fights, and although both were for ‘Interim’ titles and not the real thing (and the main event arguably didn’t even need a title) Gastelum vs. Adesanya and Holloway vs. Poirier sounded so awesome that I didn’t mind.

UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier

Atlanta, Georgia

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Ovince St. Preux vs Nikita Krylov

This was a rematch of their fight in 2014 that saw OSP first use his now-famous Von Flue choke to take Krylov out in the first round. Krylov had improved a TON since then though while OSP had begun to slow down probably due to all the wear and tear, so I was taking Krylov to win.

Round One and Krylov opens with a body kick and forces OSP back with some early strikes. Right hand looks to have OSP wobbled a bit and Krylov really presses forward on him. Takedown from OSP but Krylov uses the fence to get back up. Looks like he might be going for a guillotine, but he gives it up to continue to defend the takedown. Another attempt, this time a front choke, looks a bit deeper, but OSP pops free into the clinch. Nice trip plants Krylov again but he pops right back up. Crowd are booing all the clinching now. Whizzer attempt sees Krylov fail and land on his back in guard. OSP works to pass to mount and then drops some heavy shots, but Krylov slides out the back door and stands, landing some knees from the clinch and a big combo. Krylov definitely looks like the fresher man here. Clinch follows and OSP’s definitely tired as Krylov leans on him. Round ends with Krylov missing a high kick. 10-9 OSP.

Round Two and OSP is about as gassed as it gets judging on his body language. His hands are way low here. Krylov lands a body kick to begin and forces OSP back with some more strikes, then stuns him with a straight right. OSP dives into the clinch and goes for the takedown, but he eats some elbows to the side of the head in the process. Krylov gets a takedown of his own instead and passes to full mount right away, and when OSP takes some punches he gives his back. Both hooks in for Krylov and he controls OSP while landing shots to the head, and then he locks up the rear naked choke for the tapout.

Really impressive showing from Krylov as he weathered the wrestling storm in the first round and just totally shut OSP down when he gassed out. Not sure what the hell happened to OSP’s conditioning as I’ve never seen him gas like that before, but I guess he’s an ageing veteran these days who’s taken a ton of damage, so there is that.

Welterweight Fight: Alan Jouban vs Dwight Grant

This felt like a bit of a weird choice for a main card fight, but then the card overall wasn’t that deep and Jouban usually puts on entertaining fights so I guess that was enough. I picked him to win just because I didn’t trust Grant after he lost to Zak Ottow in his UFC debut last year.

First round begins and it’s Jouban who pushes forward and backs Grant up, grabbing a clinch to hit a takedown. Grant pops back up, and narrowly avoids a head kick as he breaks free .Big swings glance for Grant but Jouban seems okay. They circle out and both men glance on a bunch of strikes as the action slows down a bit. Jouban comes forward but walks right into a NASTY left hand and somehow he takes it without being wobbled. Nice leg kick from Jouban. Left hook connects for Grant. Jouban comes back with a partially blocked head kick. Still a pretty slow pace from these two as Jouban continues to press forward. Both men miss on some shots and the round ends just after. 10-9 Grant I’d say as he landed the better shots despite being on the retreat a lot.

Second round and Jouban again presses forward, but eats a pretty wild combo that has him wobbled and covering up. He recovers quite quickly though and gets back on the front foot. Solid left hand connects for Jouban. Both men seem to be coming up short here outside of those wild Grant combination rushes. Both men land on some low kicks but that’s about it right now. Clinch from Jouban but he breaks off quickly. Crowd begin to boo with 30 seconds to go as the round largely peters out. 10-9 Grant again for that early combo I guess? Tough round to score as not a lot happened.

Third round and the crowd have had enough of this one now. Couple of big punches glance for Grant as Jouban continues to walk him down without really landing anything too heavy. This is one of the worst fights I’ve seen recently. Low blow from Jouban causes time to be called and now everyone’s even more pissed off. 2 minutes to go from the restart and they trade some kicks before settling back into the pattern of Jouban following and Grant looking to counter with not too much action happening. “Boring” chant now coming from the crowd as Grant glances on a left hook. Couple of wild swings from Grant but Jouban gets a takedown and takes his back before landing punches to end the round. Good finish from Jouban so 10-9 for him, and I’d go 29-28 for Grant overall.

Judges call it 29-28 Grant, 30-27 Jouban, and 29-28 for Dwight Grant to take a split decision. Post-fight Jouban is absolutely FURIOUS with the call but it was a super-close fight and really, it came down to whether you value the forward movement of Jouban or the better countering of Grant. In my opinion it was Grant’s fight but it largely stunk anyway so it is what it is.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Khalil Rountree vs Eryk Anders

This was Rountree’s comeback after becoming the first victim of JOHNNY WALKER in the UFC, and he was faced with a much smaller man in the natural 185lber Anders, who’d moved to 205lbs for a fight with Thiago Santos in 2018 and then ended up going back there after losing to Elias Theodorou back at Middleweight. I ended up picking Anders here after worrying about Rountree’s ground game and his chin too.

Round One and the size difference isn’t actually notable, surprisingly enough. Low kick opens things for Rountree. He keeps backing Anders up and lands another couple of low kicks and it looks like Anders is becoming mesmerised. Big combo lands for Rountree and has Anders covering up. Anders’ leg is getting chewed up here by these kicks. More kicks follow for Rountree and Anders is struggling. These are some of the best leg kicks I’ve seen in some time. Anders finally catches on late on but can’t capitalise and he’s barely able to stand on the leg now, wow. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Rountree easily.

Round Two and Anders is openly limping. Rountree opens with the leg kick and uses it to lead into a combo before dropping Anders with a HUGE LEFT HAND. Anders stays down and Rountree lashes out with kicks at the already-beaten leg. Hammer fists land for Rountree and then he lets Anders up. Anders comes forward swinging, but he eats another left and goes crashing back down. Ref could probably call this off as Rountree kicks at his leg, but Anders gets up and shoots. Rountree sprawls to avoid and Anders is in big trouble now. He’s almost purely defensive as Rountree lands a big left hand and a heavy knee to the body. Another clean left land lands for Rountree who looks phenomenal. Big combination sends Anders down AGAIN but the ref still won’t step in. Anders is too tough for his own good. Rountree lets him up again and then hits him with another vicious body kick. Right hand sends Anders down now but somehow he still keeps going, spinning around on his back and teasing some kicks from there. Ref calls him up and he can barely even use his strikes now due to the wrecked leg. Round ends shortly after. 10-7 Rountree for me in one of the most one-sided rounds in UFC history.

Somehow Anders’ corner don’t throw the towel in between rounds which is CRIMINAL. Why let him take more of a beatdown?

Round Three (!) and the doctor checks Anders prior to it but decides to let it carry on. And Rountree keeps on picking him off with heavy combinations and more of those nasty low kicks. Poor Anders just has nothing left. To be fair he’s swinging back but he can’t land cleanly, most likely due to the injured leg. More big shots continue to land for Rountree and he’s looking really chilled out too. Round ends with Anders still on the defensive, absorbing more shots and landing nothing back. 10-9 Rountree and I’d go 30-25 for him.

Official scores are 30-26 for Khalil Rountree. Brutal showing from him as he just chewed Anders up on the feet and really, it was only Anders’ ridiculous toughness that kept him in there, particularly in the second round. Evidently those trips to Thailand paid off for Rountree, big time, as this was the best performance of his UFC career despite him getting some big KO’s in the past. Look forward to seeing him again!

UFC Interim Middleweight Title: Israel Adesanya vs Kelvin Gastelum

Of the two interim title fights this one was definitely more justified, as full champ Robert Whittaker had been booked to defend against Gastelum at UFC 234 in February before having to withdraw with a nasty hernia, and he hadn’t been given a return date at this point. Adesanya had beaten Anderson Silva to become the top contender in the replacement main event of UFC 234, and so it made perfect sense to put him against Gastelum to decide the interim champion. Despite Gastelum being more proven against high-level opposition (Silva’s past his prime now obviously), I was taking Adesanya and his slick striking to win the day.

Round One and Adesanya looks far bigger than Kelvin, unsurprisingly. Gastelum presses forward early on though as both men throw out some feints. Adesanya clips him with some long strikes from the outside, but nothing lands too cleanly before a nasty body kick. Left hook glances for Gastelum in reply. Couple of big swings miss for Kelvin. Adesanya tries to keep him at range and lands a right, but Gastelum just comes wading forward and decks him with a left hand! He pops up and seems okay, but definitely got stunned for a second. Left to the body lands for Gastelum as well. Left hand glances again for Gastelum and he’s really firing. Big head kick is blocked by Gastelum. Wild Anderson Silva-style head movement allows Israel to avoid some more of Gastelum’s punches. Adesanya looks surprised that Gastelum’s reaching him with his punches. Couple of long punches land for Israel in the waning seconds. Right hand glances for Gastelum to back him up again though and that’s the round. 10-9 Gastelum.

Round Two and Israel opens with a pair of body kicks. Gastelum is still really pushing the action here but he eats another body kick. Looks like Adesanya might have the timing down a little better. Left to the body lands for Kelvin. Punches land for both men before Adesanya lands a body kick and then glances on one to the head. Hard right jab fires back for Kelvin. Big one-two lands for Gastelum but Israel comes back with a body kick. More pressure and power swings from Gastelum but Adesanya just about avoids them. Stiff jab from Gastelum but Adesanya counters and decks him with a right! He works back up to his feet but takes a hard leg kick and now Israel’s looking more confident. High kick into a heavy right from Israel and then he catches Kelvin cleanly with a right hand counter too. Nasty right hand has Gastelum stumbled. Spinning back elbow really rocks Kelvin and he dives for a takedown, but Adesanya stuffs it and so he wings some haymakers at Adesanya instead. Israel avoids them though only to eat a left in the next exchange. Takedown attempt is blocked by Israel but he eats a left to end the round. 10-9 Adesanya, phenomenal round.

Round Three begins and both men land with kicks. Adesanya seems to be in predator mode now and he’s the one walking Gastelum down and looking to time him coming in. Knee glances for Israel and then he dodges some shots. Body kick lands again for Adesanya and then he lands a partially blocked kick to the head. Big exchange sees both men land pretty clean shots, wow. This is the most Adesanya’s ever been hit in the UFC. Wild swings miss for Gastelum and Adesanya TAGS him with a right hand and follows with a knee to the body. Kelvin did well to take that one. Big right hook glances for Gastelum but he’s throwing haymakers now which leaves him open for the counter. And sure enough Adesanya does land a counter on him and follows with a body kick and low kick. This is a great fight. Big takedown from Gastelum and he plants Israel into guard, but Israel quickly pushes off and springs back up. Round ends with some more glancing shots from Adesanya. 10-9 Adesanya for me.

Round Four and Gastelum comes out firing, but he can’t catch Israel cleanly in the early going. Right hand does set up a clinch, but Israel shrugs it off. Nice knee to the body lands for Adesanya. Gastelum is swinging a lot more in this round but he’s missing loads too. Hard right hand connects for Israel but Gastelum just absorbs it. Adesanya remains largely on the defensive in this round though. Big flurry from Gastelum is just about avoided with some insane head and upper body movement. Kelvin keeps pressuring him though and he does catch him on the end of a bunch of shots. Big trade sees both men land but it’s Gastelum who snaps Adesanya’s head back. Holy shit a HUGE EXCHANGE follows with both guys landing. Adesanya is bleeding now. Just over a minute to go and Gastelum keeps on catching Israel on the end of his punches in this round. Head kick from Gastelum and Adesanya stands motionless for a second before Kelvin realises he’s hurt and moves in for the kill! Big punches land for Gastelum and Adesanya is in trouble here, but Gastelum slows down for a second with a takedown attempt and that allows Adesanya to FIRE BACK with big strikes of his own. This is awesome. Big left from Kelvin. Round ends with a clinch. 10-9 for Gastelum so it’s tied going into the 5th in my mind.

Round Five and the crowd are SO INTO THIS. Gastelum literally comes charging out firing strikes, but Adesanya manages to circle out and away. Left hand sets up another combo for Kelvin and backs Adesanya up. Beautiful combo off a kick from Israel. Front kick lands directly to Kelvin’s chin and Adesanya follows with a combo, but Gastelum fires right back with some big punches. Clean right hand from Adesanya and when Kelvin shoots he locks up a guillotine! It looks tight but Kelvin escapes in the scramble and winds up in the guard, only for Israel to lock up a triangle! Holy fuck. Gastelum manages to escape though and they stand to a MONSTROUS CROWD REACTION. This is one of the all-time great title fights. INCREDIBLE TRADE follows with Adesanya just nailing Kelvin with clean shots. Both guys keep on landing and a HUGE STRAIGHT RIGHT rocks Kelvin but he just keeps on coming. Dude has a ridiculous chin. Fuck, both guys do.

Adesanya’s getting the better of these trades though and that could be the difference. Low kick from Kelvin but he eats a HUGE COMBO on the counter. How the hell is Gastelum even standing? Well, he’s not now as a MASSIVE COMBO puts him down, but he somehow gets up and drives for a takedown. Adesanya blocks it and lands some elbows, then stuns Gastelum with more punches. Looks like his nose is busted up. Another vicious combo sends him down, but Israel just can’t finish him off before the round ends. HUGE TRADE sees Gastelum dropped again, but the time runs out there. 10-8 Adesanya, giving him a 48-46 on my card.

Official decision is 48-46 all round for Israel Adesanya. Well, he basically pulled it out in that fifth round as they were completely tied for the previous ones, but somehow Israel fucking DUG DEEP and just destroyed Kelvin in that final stanza to the point where he got a 10-8 off all the judges. Incredible stuff. One of the best title fights in MMA history – let alone UFC history – and if anyone doubted Adesanya coming in then it’s impossible now as he showed ridiculous conditioning, striking skills, ground skills and toughness here. I cannot WAIT for Adesanya vs. Whittaker now, holy shit.

UFC Interim Lightweight Title: Max Holloway vs Dustin Poirier

Well, this was a massive fight but it was also a bit of an odd Interim title fight given the proper #1 contender – Tony Ferguson – wasn’t involved due to some pretty worrying mental health issues. Instead we got Poirier – basically the #2 contender after his big wins over Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez – against Featherweight champ Holloway, who was looking to become yet another two-division champion in the UFC. Despite Poirier winning their initial fight back in 2012, both men had obviously developed a lot, and I was leaning towards Holloway for the victory, as I felt like he could turn up the heat on Poirier more than anyone else had done, taking him out down the stretch.

First round begins and the crowd seem firmly behind Holloway, treating him like a major superstar. Nice left hand into a low kick connects for Poirier. Shots glance for both men and it looks like Poirier is being slightly more aggressive. Big left hand lands for Dustin and Holloway has to retreat, but as he comes in winging more shots, Holloway counters with a right that drops him to a knee! Flurry follows for Holloway but Poirier manages to circle out to safety. Exchange continues and a BIG RIGHT HOOK wobbles Holloway badly and he’s all over the place! Big flurry follows up for Poirier but he can’t quite find the killshot and Holloway fires right back as the crowd go wild. Another big right has Holloway hurt again and he’s bleeding from the mouth. Knees and shots from the clinch land for Poirier and I’ve got no idea how Holloway’s still standing. More clean shots land for Poirier and holy shit Max’s chin is insane. Hard left hand from Holloway slows Poirier down a bit but he’s still on the offensive here. Big combo is shrugged off by Poirier who then nails Max with another huge combination that hurts him. Looks like Max is struggling with the power of the bigger man. Another one-two wobbles Holloway but the dude just keeps on firing back. Holloway’s right eye is badly marked up. Round ends with another exchange. 10-9 Poirier in an absolutely incredible round.

Second round and this time it’s Holloway pressing forward and landing the early shots, forcing Poirier onto the back foot. He’s going to the body quite well too. Combination answers back for Poirier. Nice right hand lands for Poirier but Holloway comes back with a left to the gut. Holloway is putting some nice combinations together now. Exchange continues with Poirier landing a slashing elbow from close measure. Holloway is really turning up the volume though. Big left slows him down for a second but his chin keeps him in it and he continues to pressure Poirier. Takedown attempt is blocked by Holloway. Poirier is doing a good job of defending these combinations but he’s not throwing as much back now. Big left hand from Dustin hurts him though and a combo drops him for a second, but Holloway pops back up and tells him to bring it on. Both men land some big shots in an exchange and Holloway gets hurt again with a right hook. He recovers quickly though and they trade to the buzzer. Probably 10-9 Poirier for the late power shots, but it could’ve gone either way. And as the buzzer sounds we get the INTENSE STAREDOWN ala Lawler vs. MacDonald. AWESOME.

Third round and Holloway’s right eye is a mess. He again puts the volume on Poirier early on, but takes another hard counter right. Beautiful body shot lands for Holloway. Crowd are now chanting for Poirier. Big flurry from Holloway is countered by the right hand again and Poirier throws in a body kick for good measure. Hard combination again has Holloway stunned. He might have the best chin in MMA right now. Clean right hand gets through at the end of a combo for Holloway though and he’s got Poirier retreating. Exchange continues and Max is bleeding from his left eye now too. More punches land for both men and how they’re taking so many clean shots I don’t know. This is insane. Holloway’s got the volume but Poirier’s doing more damage when he lands. One minute to go and Holloway has Poirier outright covering up, just winging shots at him before landing a jump knee to the body. Takedown attempt from Poirier follows but Holloway defends well. Big elbows land to the head for Holloway and the round ends in the clinch. 10-9 Holloway as he didn’t get badly hurt and clearly outlanded Poirier.

Fourth round and Holloway gets back to work from the off, pressuring Poirier with combos. Takedown from Poirier and he gets Max down this time, but the Hawaiian gets back to his feet pretty much right away. Poirier tries to get him down again, but Holloway blocks it with a guillotine attempt and then exits with a knee to the body. Big combination follows for Holloway. Poirier is cut over his right eye now too. Clean punches get through for Holloway and Poirier might be in trouble here. He tries to cover up but Max is just pushing the pace so much with his volume. Poirier manages to fire back as the crowd sound dead split now. Nice combination to the body from Holloway and he’s got Poirier taking some deep breaths. Big right hand stuns Dustin for a moment but he fires back again. This is a phenomenal fight. Both men keep on punching and a big knee from Poirier busts Holloway open pretty badly. Dustin looks to follow it up as Holloway’s bleeding all over the place, but Holloway actually starts to shout abuse at him before POURING IT ON WITH A COMBO! Takedown attempt from Poirier but Holloway blocks with a guillotine again, and with seconds to go he attempts to lock up a D’Arce. 10-9 Holloway, incredible round.

Fifth round and this could go either way somehow! Holloway has a HUGE GASH going from his forehead down past his left eye like he’s been slashed with a machete. He still looks slightly fresher, though. And both guys are so fucking insane that they’re grinning prior to coming out of their corners! Big jab opens the round for Holloway. Exchange sees both men land as the crowd are now chanting for Holloway again. Counter left wobbles the Hawaiian but he just shakes it off. More volume again backs Poirier up, but he still seems to be landing the heavier blows on the counter. This is a hard round to score. Clean right hand gets through for Holloway as he continues to pressure forward. Stiff right hand lands directly to Holloway’s left eye and causes him to wince. Clinch from Holloway but Poirier looks for the takedown, only for Holloway to defend it well. Less than a minute to go now and Poirier keeps trying the takedown, before giving it up to just EXCHANGE WILDLY to the buzzer. 10-9 Poirier for me for a 48-47 win, but that final round could go either way. PRIDE scoring would definitely give it to Poirier, though.

Judges go 49-46 all round for Dustin Poirier, the right decision in my eyes but it was super-close. This was another one of the all-time great UFC title fights and shit, on any other card it’s easily the Fight of the Night but I’d say Adesanya/Gastelum was better by like a hair. Story of the fight was basically that Holloway had more volume, but unlike at 145lbs where he’s always been able to walk through strikes due to his chin, here he clearly got hurt by the heavier counters of the bigger man in Poirier. For me that means Holloway is better off staying at 145lbs and it does look like that’s the idea. Poirier on the other hand looked phenomenal from start to finish and while he’s not better than Khabib right now (that’s another show…) he’s clearly either the second or third-best Lightweight on the planet right now and he’s worth watching every single time. Unbelievable stuff.

-Show ends with some highlights of the two title fights, and then we close out.

Final Thoughts….

Throw in any other fight outside of that Jouban/Grant stinker and this would probably have been the best UFC show of all time. Even with it it’s probably up there with the best on the basis that the two title fights were simply unbelievable, two of the best title fights in the history of the sport. Add in a couple of good fights in OSP/Krylov and Rountree/Anders and you’ve got one of the best shows in recent memory. Highest recommendation.

Best Fight: Adesanya vs. Gastelum
Worst Fight: Jouban vs. Grant

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: