Dustin Poirier suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov in the UFC 242 main-event in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
And it truly was a one-sided fight save for a pair of moments of near-brilliance from The Diamond.
Even with that being said, there wasn’t even a second of that fight where Nurmagomedov was in any critical danger.
That’s how it is when you take on the Dagestani destroyer. Sure the clean shots in the second and the last-ditch guillotine in the third were impressive to look at, but in my eyes, those sequences were more a representation of how highly we hold the seemingly unbeatable Khabib in our collective view.
Poirier was understandably distraught once the fight was over. After a resurgence at lightweight that saw him subvert the expectations of all of those who pegged him for featherweight obscurity, last Saturday night was his opportunity to truly prove the world wrong.
And yet, the Russian remains at the top of the 155lb pack and Poirier now finds himself at yet another crossroads in his career.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few fighters who could offer him the opportunity to bounce back next year.
Though pegged to face Dan Hooker at UFC 243, win, lose, or draw, from a stylistic standpoint, Ragin Al would provide a suitable test of The Diamond’s ability to re-establish himself within the lightweight title-picture. These two would stand and bang and when you consider how successfully Khabib was able to nullify Poirier’s offense, for the most part, a fighter who won’t present such a massive takedown threat would likely be ideal.
The great outlier in every prospective opponent discussion is, of course, the famously unpredictable Irishman who still remains the biggest name in the game. Although he holds a quick and brutal victory over Dustin, his own inactivity, as well as Poirier’s resurgence at 155lbs, would no doubt make this a much more compelling matchup this time around. Conor is angling towards a return early next year and who knows, perhaps Dana and co. will jump on the opportunity to make this sequel a reality.
Their first fight was an instant classic and with both now operating around the upper-echelons of the division, setting them up for a second-helping would certainly be the fan-friendly option. In the time since losing to Poirier by way of fourth-round TKO, The Highlight has racked up two consecutive first-round KO’s, firmly re-establishing himself as one of the most difficult matchups in the division. One would have to assume that a win from either of these guys would be enough to earn a top-contender bout.
Cerrone is booked to take on Justin Gaethje this weekend but as we know, his penchant for regular competition makes him a viable candidate for Dustin Poirier’s return to the octagon. Like a fine wine, Cowboy has only seemed to grow with age and while he was well and truly beaten down by Tony Ferguson at UFC 238 in June, he seems almost impossible to kill at this point, returning from each brutal defeat stronger and more hungry to finally realise his championship aspirations.
Felder scored a hard-fought, albeit controversial, victory over Edson Barboza in the UFC 242 co-main-event last weekend but even if you didn’t agree with the judges’ decision, it’s hard to deny that The Irish Dragon is a top-calibre fighter who brings the fire each and every time he steps into the octagon. There’s no doubt that he’ll make a big jump up the rankings after this latest victory and given his spot on last weekend’s card, the timing could well line up for a pairing with the event’s headliner.
A bit of an outside-shout, for sure, but even still, Gregor Gillespie is headed straight for the top of the lightweight division. All he needs right now is a big-name to test himself with. Stylistically, he would pose a lot of the same problems that Khabib would but if Poirier is serious about attempting to make another climb, making the adjustments necessary to beat a fighter like The Gift will be absolutely essential from here on out.
Khabib’s gym-mate is one of the best lightweights in the world, even if his ranking doesn’t yet show it. While he has not registered a victory over a ranked opponent at this point, Islam possesses some of the best technical skills at 155lbs right now and considering that his friend and teammate just managed to run through The Diamond, the narrative would be there if the UFC decided to match Dustin up against this highly-touted Dagestani.
Oliveira has been quietly notching up victories at lightweight – now riding a five-fight win-streak, all finishes, while also becoming the proud owner of the most submission wins in UFC history with thirteen. This guy is a major problem at 155lbs and yet, nobody seems to be talking about him as a viable contender. Matching him up with Poirier could well serve as a springboard for him to enter the top-5, all while giving Dustin a very tricky test, one that will tell us exactly where his head is at.