Dustin Poirier and Erik Koch had the privilege of leading off the UFC 164 pay-per-view, and fans, in turn, had the privilege of watching them fight. Both men are young, exciting prospects in the featherweight division although no matter how much Joe Rogan may say it, and no matter how similar they may look they are not terribly similar fighters. Poirier entered this fight coming off a tough, but fair decision loss in which he went strike for strike with, but was ultimately out wrestled by Cub Swanson. Koch entered this fight off a brutal TKO loss to Ricardo Lamas in which he looked to be controlling the tempo early until Lamas went beast mode and opened up a new avenue to Koch's skull. As young fighters in a strong division this was a pivotal showdown to see which could reassert their path to a title shot in the next year or two.
Dustin Poirier started this fight strong. There's something about his striking, I don't know if it's a certain amount of tricky speed or just surprising power, but he's consistently able to put what should be better strikers on the back foot with his hands. He hurt Koch early and looked to be pushing for a dominant TKO victory. As he chased Koch into his guard however he got caught in a brutal triangle that almost put him to sleep. He scraped through it only to be caught in another from which he gained another narrow escape. The fighters reset on their feet and Poirier again caught Koch with a crushing blow and followed up with a tight d'arce choke attempt as time expired.
In the second round Poirier controlled the distance and range again and hit a couple of good takedowns. He went for a neck crank that looked painful but didn't lead to anything, but it was another strong, dominant round.
Entering into the third, Koch dug deep and found his second wind. He was able to fend of an early Poirier takedown attempt to gain top control. From there he poured on a lot of good ground an pound and was eventually able to get back mount. He looked for the rear naked choke with about a minute and a half left in the fight, but it ended up costing him a chance at a late comeback stoppage as he was unable to sink it in and rode out position for the loss. The result: Dustin Poirier def. Erik Koch via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27).
What was the high point?
The whole fight, but particularly the traded submission attempts in the first round. both looked to be as tight as possible without ending the fight. It was an amazing five minutes that could have been stopped at any moment.
What was the low point?
There wasn't much, but if I had to pick something it was Koch's choice of to keep hunting for the RNC at the end of the third. I'm sure he was dead tired and probably still woozy from getting dropped twice in the first, so I can't really fault him, but it would have been nice to see him try and chain sub attempts there instead of just trying for the one and not getting it.
Where do they go from here?
This fight gives Poirier a big shot in the arm. He's firmly in the top 10 right now and any one win could put him in the hunt for a shot at 145 lbs. I'd like to see him face off against Darren Elkins fresh off his own victory over Hatsu Hioki. Both men have strong track records at 145 and it would help figure out which of them could really make the jump to title contender.
For Koch this fight is a set back, especially as this makes two straight losses for the Roufusport prospect. He's only 24 and he showed great heart in coming back in the third, but he needs to seriously shore up his striking and footwork if he's going to stay in the featherweight elite. Right now he needs a step back to regain his confidence. I'd give him a fight with the loser of Nik Lentz vs. Dennis Bermudez or possibly a bout against Cole Miller.
Watch it now, later, or never?
Watch it now. Quite seriously this was one of the best fight on the card. I have no idea how it didn't win fight of the night as it was all sorts of crazy. Multiple knockdowns, multiple submission attempts, great striking, great heart. As good a fight as you can hope to see without a finish.
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