Two surging talents meet in a featherweight clash at UFC on Fox 1: Velasquez vs. dos Santos this Saturday night. Dustin Poirier vs. Pablo Garza will be streamed on the UFC's Facebook page and Fox.com. Along with the lightweight tilt pitting Clay Guida vs. Ben Henderson, this match will broadcast live on Fox Deportes preceding the main event on the Fox network.
Each on a roll after incurring their first career loss while debuting in the WEC, Poirier (10-1) and Garza (11-1) have emerged as enticing new prospects in the UFC's loaded featherweight class. Seven fights deep, Poirier made his first appearance on the big stage against Team Alpha Male's Danny Castillo at WEC 50, dropping a decision. Poirier has since strung three wins together: a TKO over Zachary Micklewright at WEC 52, a career-defining upset of Josh Grispi at UFC 125 and a hard-earned decision over UK kickboxer Jason Young at UFC 131.
Garza was undefeated after nine fights leading into his WEC entrance, where Chinese product Tiequan Zhang latched his signature guillotine to elicit a first-round tapout. It's worth noting that Garza accepted the bout with only a few days to prepare; an opportunity that likely arose from his impressive lightweight elimination fight with Michael Johnson on TUF 12.
"The Scarecrow" took flight for his last two wins, both of which were indelible, highlight-reel stoppages of epic proportions. He absolutely crushed veteran Fredson Paixao with a flying knee in the first round of the UFC's first official featherweight bout on the undercard of the TUF 12 Finale. I'll relent on my typical embellishments of how violent the impact was, as the reality of it was frightening enough: Paixao was unconscious for an uncomfortable amount of time and eventually left the cage on a stretcher with an oxygen mask.
A poetic flying triangle was Garza's method of dispatching Yves Jabouin on the UFC 129 preliminary card. These two achievements earned Garza "Knockout of the Night" and "Submission of the Night" bonus checks.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Physically, Garza is the tallest featherweight on the roster (6'1") but Poirier isn't far behind (5'9") and they both have tremendous reach measurements (73").
They also have comparable modes of offense with blitzkrieg striking, ardent transitioning and scrambling with rock-solid BJJ and position-work. They're lanky fighters who rely on violently aggressive offense and don't have a strong wrestling base. Ingredients like this usually make for ultra-exciting match ups.
Poirier's length and fierce kickboxing was just too much for Josh Grispi, who was thoroughly overwhelmed.
"The Diamond" used his reach to prod kicks and long punches from outside and picked his spots to follow behind them, where he exploded with unending salvos at close range.
His whirlwind of strikes acted as a battering ram that locked Grispi into reverse gear for the entire fight. When he ran out of real estate with his back against the fence, he'd attempt a desperation takedown or Poirier would grab the Thai plum and shower him with knees to the head and body.
This was a showcase for Poirier's potential. Grispi's faulty striking game and inability to ground the fight relegated him to covering up while Poirier teed off with no fear of retaliation.
Jason Young, Poirier's next opponent, willingly engaged him in a standing shootout and is one of the better pure kickboxers in the division. Poirier's decision win showed us that his stand up is legit, his wrestling is savvy and -- considering the way he muffled Young by exploiting his weakness -- his combat intelligence is fully intact.
I think it's safe to say that both Poirier and Garza are fairly unproven against similarly well rounded fighters. The opponents they crushed are proficient in one area (Grispi and Young for Poirier, Paixao for Garza) and the fighters that delivered their sole losses did so with the tool they specialize in (Castillo with wrestling, Zhang with the guillotine).
In each other, Poirier and Garza will encounter a set of lively variables that mirror their own: height, length and a wicked union of fiery striking, scrambling and submissions.
The beautiful part about the brutal flying knee from Pablo Garza (right) is how he deftly adjusts his stance from traditional to southpaw right before he goes airborne with it.
Knowing Paixao was likely to shoot and his head would naturally drop over his right knee, Garza makes one precise pivot and launches the devastating blow. Paixao ended up lowering his head right into the center of the pocket so it didn't matter, but the adjustment is still impressive.
Garza wields the crowd-pleasing combo of fierce Muay Thai and go-for-broke BJJ.
Am I wrong, or is this the only true flying submission finish in UFC history -- taking into account Evan Tanner's "semi-flying triangle" over Justin Levens? (R.I.P. times two.)
This is an incredibly bold and instinctual move to pull off at the elite level. Amazingly enough, Garza is billed as a lowly blue belt (Poirier as a purple), further demonstrating the dwindling emphasis of belt color to realistically gauge grappling prowess in MMA.
Despite his noodle-like frame, Garza's ideal striking range is up-close and in the clinch.
One key aspect is that Poirier excels on the fringe of the striking bubble; a particular range that Garza has had trouble defending.
I wouldn't put Poirier's kicks on par with Jabouin's (right) and he does like to work his way inside where Garza's wheelhouse is crippling. However, it might behoove Poirier to stay well outside and pick away with distance strikes rather than risk being drenched by Garza's close-range barrage and vicious clinch game.
This always sounds disrespectful but I think Poirier's getting a little too much credit for the Grispi fight.
It was indeed a shocking upset and an arresting display of pleasing firepower, but the betting odds that favor Poirier by as much as -300 with Garza in the +200's seems askew. Again, the only vulnerability Garza has shown was the Zhang guillotine after a mere five days to prepare.
I would consider Poirier a very slight favorite and Garza's affinity to take dangerous risks could be just as much of a hazard as a threat. Perhaps I'm basing this too much on the fact that no one is expecting Garza to win, but I'll go out on a limb and give him the nod here. I assess their scrambling and submission skills to be fairly even and Poirier might be more effective on his feet from a distance, but eventually he'll find his way into the clinch where Garza is a creative terror.
My Prediction: Pablo Garza by decision
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com