MMA Review: #638: UFC on Fox: Poirier vs. Gaethje

-On paper at least this looked like a guaranteed classic action card, with four fights featuring fighters who literally never fail to deliver (well, Marvin Vettori was a bit unproven I guess) and basically a likely FOTYC in the main event between Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje. Even the loss of Matt Brown didn’t cause that much harm given his replacement was Alex Oliveira.

UFC on Fox: Poirier vs. Gaethje

Glendale, Arizona

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Dominick Cruz and Daniel Cormier.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Michelle Waterson vs Cortney Casey

After two straight losses – albeit to top fighters in current champ Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres – Waterson had her back to the wall somewhat coming into this one, not that she was in danger of being released or anything because she’s one of the most marketable fighters on the roster, but she definitely needed a win to stay in title contention. Opponent Casey looked like a tough out for her too given her huge size for the Strawweight division, but she’d always fallen against top opponents in the past (Felice Herrig, Claudia Gadelha) so I was taking Waterson in a tight one to call.

Round One begins and both of these women seem super-popular with the crowd. As you’d expect it looks like Casey has a big size advantage. Both women throw some kicks from the outside with Waterson going with more volume, really moving around a lot on the outside. Clinch from Casey leads to some decent shots, but Waterson breaks with a knee and circles out. Big left hook lands for Casey in an exchange and Waterson looks stunned. She recovers quickly but Casey forces her into the fence and they jockey for position. Waterson manages to break, but she gets tagged by a big right hand and she’s definitely in trouble. Clinch follows again but Waterson surprisingly manages to muscle free with an elbow. Another right lands for Casey and then she follows with a takedown, but Waterson immediately scrambles to her feet and then she hits a surprising takedown to guard. Armbar attempt is avoided by Waterson but a second attempt by Casey looks deeper. Waterson remains calm and manages to defend, escaping into the full guard. Couple of solid punches get through for Waterson from the top and the round ends there. 10-9 Casey for the bigger shots on the feet I’d say.

Round Two and Waterson lands with a couple of low kicks before Casey tags her with a flurry that leads back into the clinch. They jockey for position and work some strikes inside with Waterson landing a couple of elbows before they break. Left hook glances for Waterson. Casey keeps on wading in with punches though, keeping her on the retreat. Nice single leg from Waterson slows Casey down and puts her into full guard. Waterson again avoids a possible armbar to land some solid shots from the top, but Casey slaps on a triangle and it looks decent. She switches to an armbar and that looks dangerous too, but Waterson pulls free and remains on top. Waterson manages to pass the guard without doing much damage, but another armbar attempt from Casey again looks deep. Tremendous job by Waterson allows her to spin free, and they stand back up with seconds to go. Side kick to the leg lands for Waterson and then she drops Casey with a side kick to the body. Round ends there. 10-9 Waterson but it was a very close round.

Round Three and Waterson opens with a nice head kick that lands pretty cleanly. Waterson adds in a few more kicks and stays on the outside, and it looks like Casey might be a bit tired. Heavy right hand does land for Casey and that leads to the clinch, but Waterson forces her into the fence and they exchange from there before breaking off following a Waterson elbow. Couple more kicks from Waterson land from the outside and then she clinches and gets a beautiful trip down into Casey’s guard. Armbar attempt again from Casey follows, but Waterson stays calm and manages to escape, only for Casey to go for a leglock. Waterson avoids that too and drops some good punches in the process, and from there she’s in full guard. Waterson decides to let her up and nails her with a heavy right hand, and now Casey’s clearly breathing heavily. Takedown attempt from Waterson is stuffed this time, but it’s only momentary as Waterson keeps on driving and almost gets her down. Casey does well to sprawl though and then spins to take the back! Big shots land for Casey to the side of the head, and Waterson might be in trouble. Both hooks in for Casey and she slaps on the choke, then transitions into an armbar….but Waterson just about manages to last it out to the buzzer! 10-9 Casey for that big finish, and 29-28 overall. I could see it going either way though.

Official scores are 29-28 Waterson, 29-28 Casey, and 29-28 for Michelle Waterson to steal the split decision. Super-close fight in the end that could’ve gone either way really – it could even have been 30-27 for Casey in fact as the last two rounds were so close. Both women performed really well but it looked like the willingness to fight off her back was what cost Casey, as she was getting the better of things on the feet but seemed too ready to work from the guard, something that the judges don’t tend to like. Big win for Waterson though who did really well with a much bigger and stronger opponent. If the UFC ever decides to bring in an Atomweight class she’ll likely be the champion for sure.

Middleweight Fight: Israel Adesanya vs Marvin Vettori

Big-time prospect Adesanya was taking a quick follow-up fight here after his debut win in February over Rob Wilkinson, and to be honest this looked like another setup for him despite Vettori being an upgrade on Wilkinson purely by virtue of actually having a couple of UFC wins on his resume. I didn’t think the UFC would’ve booked Adesanya into a bad match though and took the Stylebender via KO.

Fight begins and they exchange a couple of low kicks with Vettori clearly looking to close Adesanya down. Vettori comes up short with a bunch of strikes before clinching, but he can’t get Adesanya off his feet. Good job from Adesanya to separate but he isn’t throwing that much yet. He does land some low kicks though. Vettori returns fire with a couple of his own, but Adesanya seems chilled and just throws out some feints and the odd flicking punch. Kick is caught by Adesanya and he fires back with a couple of strong body shots. Eye poke follows though and Herb Dean has to call time. They restart and Vettori lands with a hard body kick, but Adesanya fires back with a low kick. Hard low kick lands for Adesanya. Good left hand follows and he dodges a flurry from Vettori. Brief exchange ends the round. 10-9 Adesanya, but he didn’t exactly assert much dominance.

Into the 2nd and Adesanya shows some really nice movement to avoid some early strikes. Takedown attempt from Vettori follows but Adesanya manages to stuff it really well. Good low kick and a left hand follow. Solid overhand left answers back for Vettori. He’s taking a lot of low kicks here though. Couple of big shots land for Adesanya. Big head kick narrowly misses for Vettori as Adesanya just about leans out of the way. Another good low kick from Adesanya. Beautiful counter right hand connects for the Stylebender. Standing elbow stuns Vettori and he tries to claim an illegal blow, but obviously that doesn’t work. Big head kick lands for Adesanya and he’s taunting him now too. Vettori’s really finding it hard to actually hit Adesanya. Takedown attempt from Vettori is stuffed. He’s taking some deep breaths now and he keeps on missing too. Big head kick into a body punch from Adesanya. Clean right hook lands too. Clinch from Vettori is quickly broken. Round ends on the feet and it’s a 10-9 for Adesanya for sure.

3rd and final round and Vettori comes out swinging but still can’t land flush with any of his punches. Nice left hand lands for Adesanya. Takedown attempt from Vettori and he manages to get Adesanya down, planting him on his back in half-guard. Adesanya clings on from the bottom but Vettori doesn’t do a lot from the top, causing the crowd to begin to boo. Adesanya gets to full guard, and he isn’t taking too much damage either with Vettori almost stalling it out on top. Good job from Adesanya to use the fence to stand, but a lateral drop goes wrong and they go back down. He pops back up, but Vettori forces him into the fence in the clinch. Another takedown follows and Vettori works hard to keep him grounded, but Adesanya works back to his feet and this time Herb Dean separates the clinch. One minute to go now and Vettori looks exhausted. Both men miss with some punches before Vettori gets busted open around the right eye. Round ends on the feet with Adesanya landing a couple more shots. 10-9 Vettori for the takedowns, 29-28 Adesanya overall.

Judges have it 29-28 Adesanya, 29-28 Vettori and 29-28 for Israel Adesanya to take the split decision. Well, the right guy won I think, but it wasn’t a flawless performance by any means. I didn’t have many issues with the third round as Vettori fought hard and obviously Adesanya’s going to have holes in his wrestling game that he’ll be looking to close up, but he almost gave away the first round by being too passive and that’s something he needs to sort out for his next fight. I mean, you just can’t win rounds by feinting and dodging unless you’re doing actual damage yourself, you know? Fight was passable at best due to the relatively slow pace.

Welterweight Fight: Carlos Condit vs Alex Oliveira

This was originally a crazy-sounding fight between Condit and Matt Brown, but when Brown withdrew with an injury, the equally crazy Oliveira stepped in giving us more guaranteed fireworks – in a way that was, as Condit had looked really bad in his last fight with Neil Magny. I was hoping that was just cage rust and he’d be back to his awesome self here but I still worried he was shot and so I was picking Oliveira.

Fight begins and they circle and exchange a few early kicks that come up a bit short. Huge counter right hook narrowly misses for Oliveira. Both men continue to come up a bit short before Oliveira clinches and hits a slick takedown to half-guard. Dude is so big for 170lbs it’s bizarre to think he was once a 155lber. Action slows down a bit from there as Oliveira does a good job of controlling Condit, but Condit manages to regain full guard. Armbar attempt follows for Condit and that leads to a scramble, but Oliveira remains in top position. Reversal from Condit allows him to dump Cowboy onto his back though and from there Condit goes for a possible Von Flue choke. Oliveira releases his head to avoid that and he eats a couple of elbows before advancing to half-guard. More strong ground-and-pound leads to Oliveira giving his back, and Condit slaps both hooks in and now the Cowboy is in trouble. Crowd go crazy as it looks like Condit might have a choke sunk in, but Oliveira does enough to survive the round. 10-9 Condit for the good finish to the round.

Into the 2nd and Condit presses the action with a flurry, but gets a kick caught and Oliveira hits a takedown to guard. He postures up over Condit, and begins to open up with some punches as Condit looks to kick him away. Big upkick lands hard for Condit and he hops up, but eats a right hand. Oliveira goes for the takedown again, and puts him back down into guard, but almost gets swept from there. Condit remains active from his back despite taking some shots, but when he tries a reversal he eats some elbows. Good takedown from Condit puts Oliveira on his back, but Condit’s cut from one of the elbows. He stands over Oliveira to try to drop some elbows, but a NASTY upkick stuns him and in the scramble Oliveira hooks up a high-elbow guillotine! Condit looks to be in trouble, and despite trying to fight it off Oliveira forces him down and GETS THE TAPOUT!

Big win for Alex Oliveira, wow. It looked like Condit had turned the tide but he clearly got hurt by the upkick and from there Oliveira smelt blood and sealed the deal. Dude is quickly becoming one of the best guys to watch in the whole UFC for my money. As for Condit, the fight was super-exciting and he looked better here than he did against Magny, but clearly he’s lost a step and I wouldn’t complain if he hung it up now. He’s got nothing left to prove and shit, the dude was having wars in the WEC a DECADE AGO.

Lightweight Fight: Dustin Poirier vs Justin Gaethje

Awesome fight on paper right here – seriously, neither guy ever has a dull fight and so this was almost guaranteed to produce a FOTYC. Gaethje was coming off his tough loss to Eddie Alvarez while Poirier had won his last fight in a war with Anthony Pettis, but everyone coming in was talking about the winner getting a potential title shot with Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson both essentially sidelined. My pick was Gaethje just because I thought he could outlast Poirier, but it was a close one to call.

Round One begins and the crowd are HUGELY into Gaethje. Good leg kick opens proceedings for him and he’s rushing right forward, no fucking around. Poirier comes back with a combo but Gaethje looks like he doesn’t care and he lands a few more leg kicks and looks to shell up to avoid Poirier’s counters. More leg kicks from Gaethje and Poirier fires right back as neither man is holding back here. Looks like Gaethje’s already cut. Low kick almost drops Poirier but he pops right back up. More forward pressure from Gaethje and they’re just trading recklessly now with Poirier coming back with a combination. Gaethje’s left eye is a mess and we’re only like two minutes in. Big left hook lands for Gaethje. This is a disgusting pace, wow. Both guys keep on throwing flurries and Poirier is really landing big shots now despite taking leg kicks. Huge body punch lands for Poirier. Gaethje of course fires right back but he’s getting the worst of things now. Big left hook rocks Gaethje but somehow he recovers. Gaethje’s chin is insane. Exchange continues until the buzzer. Amazing round, call it 10-9 Poirier for landing the bigger shots.

Round Two and Gaethje again presses the action with a combination early on. Lot of pressure from Gaethje and he’s definitely backing Poirier up. Gaethje’s leg kicks are vicious, wow. Takedown attempt from Poirier is stuffed and Gaethje cracks him with the leg kick again, but apparently lands an eye poke too and Herb Dean has to call time. They restart pretty quickly and the trade CONTINUES with Poirier getting clearly hurt by a leg kick, but throwing a big combo that hurts Gaethje too. This fight is living up to all the hype. HUGE EXCHANGE sees both men land with big shots. Jesus Christ. Poirier’s leg is looking fucked now though but he comes back with a combination again. Takedown attempt again fails for Poirier but he puts together another clean combo. Both men keep on landing and to be fair to Poirier he’s still moving well despite the compromised leg. Seconds to go in the round and neither man seems to be slowing up at all. Single leg attempt is stuffed by Gaethje and he nails Poirier with an elbow and ends the round with a big flurry. 10-9 Gaethje for the damage done to the leg I think.

Round Three and both guys look busted up now and pretty tired too. Big leg kick again opens the round for Gaethje. Trade of course continues with Poirier still seeming to land the better shots to the head. He’s busted up badly around his right eye though. Takedown from Poirier but Gaethje reverses right back up to his feet. Nice body shot from Poirier but he’s checking his eye now. Heavy leg kick lands for Gaethje. Another one almost takes Dustin off his feet. Big right hand follows and Poirier’s badly hurt. Gaethje closes in with a solid elbow and it looks like he’s smelling blood, but somehow Poirier fires right back and survives. Gaethje pours it on though and winds up forcing him into the fence with a clinch. Big knees to the legs land for Gaethje as the crowd chant his name. They break off and Poirier looks like he’s wilting. He keeps firing back, but he’s clearly hurting badly. This fight is fucking awesome. Poirier is landing free shots to the head but he takes another bad leg kick to do so. Less than a minute to go in the round now and Gaethje hurts him with another leg kick. Another eye poke follows though and Herb has to call time, much to the horror of the crowd. And this time Herb’s had enough too as he takes a point off Gaethje. Poke was clearly an accident but it doesn’t matter. They restart but the round ends shortly after. 10-9 Gaethje for sure there, but obviously it’s a 9-9 round with the point deduction.

Round Four (!) and Gaethje comes right forward again as Poirier looks to counter, and suddenly a BIG LEFT lands for Poirier and Gaethje is stunned! He tries to fire back but Poirier is ALL OVER HIM and he chases him down with CLEAN COMBINATIONS that have Gaethje out on his feet! He stumbles around and Poirier KEEPS ON COMING and finally Gaethje goes DOWN! Holy shit. Unbelievable finish from Poirier!

Post-fight Poirier calls for a title shot and you know what, I’d be tempted to book him against Khabib given Ferguson is going to be out for a while and lord only knows what’s going on with McGregor right now. I don’t think he’d win but it’d definitely be entertaining as Poirier doesn’t know how else to fight, apparently. Gaethje totally brought the best out of him here and this was probably the FOTY thus far I’d say, and really the only downside is that maybe Gaethje came to the UFC a little too late after taking too much damage in previous fights. Dude is possibly the best guy to watch in all of MMA, though, so there is that. Story of the fight was basically that Poirier’s leg was clearly hurt by the kicks and it looked like he was in trouble to end the third round, but evidently the earlier big shots took their toll on Gaethje and in the end it was Poirier who managed to land the killshot. Could’ve gone the other way on another night, but sadly for Gaethje that’s how the cookie crumbles, dude. Simply unbelievable fight to cap off the night’s action.

-Show ends shortly after with everyone taking the insane action in.

Final Thoughts….

Great show in the end as the top two fights totally delivered as did Waterson/Casey. Adesanya/Vettori was a bit slower but I mean, who cares? This is a must-see show purely for that insane main event. Thumbs way up.

Best Fight: Poirier vs. Gaethje
Worst Fight: Adesanya vs. Vettori

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: