Fight fans knew the top two bouts at UFC 236 could deliver tremendous fireworks.
They did that and then some.
Dustin Poirier is an animal. He had Max Holloway hurt and busted up more than any other opponent in Holloway’s amazing career. It looked like Max was in serious trouble. But it’s Max Holloway, and he will fight back. And these two engaged in a war of attrition that was captivating, thrilling, exhilarating, it was everything. Poirier’s damage and power advantage proved vital in him getting the 49-46 victory on all three scorecards. I had it 48-47 Poirier, I can see a case for giving it to Holloway, but I took the damage over Holloway’s volume. He’s now 2-0 over “Blessed” and this one had a lot more on the line.
I love Max Holloway but I am super happy for Dustin Poirier, who’s one of the nicest fighters in the sport and has come so close to the top multiple times over. Hell, I’ve doubted him this entire run and picked against him in each of his last four fights — admittedly the Alvarez bout was a bit tongue-in-cheek since I’d not picked Eddie in any of his UFC bouts — but this run of his is undeniable. Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez, and Max Holloway is one of the greatest run of victories in UFC history. Poirier earned this W and even when it looked like he was fading a bit due to the body shots, he dug deep and would not be drowned by Max’s volume and relentless offense like so many others before him.
Bring on Khabib Nurmagomedov. Let’s see that fight. That is a legitimately dangerous matchup for the reigning champion and I can’t wait to watch it.
As for the other title fight, we saw greatness. Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum gave us a classic. One of the most incredible five-round bouts of high-level MMA you will ever see. Israel Adesanya was dropped once. Kelvin Gastelum was dropped four times. They rocked each other multiple times. Gastelum had Adesanya badly rocked with a head kick in round for, but he may forever regret going for a takedown (which he failed to get) when Adesanya was there for the taking. Instead, Adesanya rallied back in the deciding final round, firstly twice trying to submit Kelvin with a guillotine and a triangle choke, before just working Gastelum over on the feet with masterful striking and several knockdowns. How Gastelum saw it to the final horn I’ll never know.
Adesanya was a deserved winner and I cannot wait for him and Robert Whittaker to duke it out. He just won the toughest fight of his MMA career and probably silenced a lot of critics who weren’t impressed with his resume. Izzy overcame adversity and dug deep when it mattered most to have interim gold around his belt. Bravo to him for the accomplishment, and a round of applause is in order for Gastelum for his efforts and unreal heart and toughness he showed.
More on tonight’s card:
- I don’t know what’s next for Holloway. Perhaps this leads to him moving back down to 145 to defend his title there. Or he vacates and stays at 155. Either way, Max is a badass and I’ll watch him fight anyone. Most fighters would’ve been gone after round one against Poirier. Not Mr. Holloway. I don’t know how much longer he’ll be able to be like this, but he is a gift to this sport and embodies everything we love about MMA.
- Khalil Rountree beat seven shades of shit out of Eryk Anders. This should’ve never gotten out of round two after the four knockdowns and billion leg kicks, but this is MMA, and corners don’t stop fights. Instead, it was a 30-26 beatdown and a great showing by Khalil, who sends Anders to his fourth defeat in five bouts.
- Welterweight strikers Alan Jouban and Dwight Grant were probably on the main card with the expectation they’d throw down and go to war. The fight sucked. Out loud. Grant won a split decision, and we shall not talk about this further.
- Light heavyweight Nikita Krylov got revenge on Ovince Saint Preux. OSP had about a three-minute gas tank, and when that was used up, Krylov of all people took him down and was made to look like a phenomenal grappler. OSP tapped to the rear-naked choke, and that was all she wrote. Good for Krylov, but Saint Preux looked pretty damn bad and I don’t know how much longer he’ll be on the UFC roster.
- Just curious, how many of you had trouble ordering tonight’s PPV through ESPN+? I had no issues, but several on Twitter (including our former BE colleague Chris Hall) had difficulties.
- Matt Frevola overcame the physical disadvantages he had against lightweight prospect Jalin Turner and picked up a shutout decision win. It was closer than the 30-27s suggested, but there’s no doubt the Long Island native deserved the victory, and Turner drops to 1-2 inside the Octagon.
- In a battle of Brazilian men’s flyweights, Alexandre Pantoja clocked Wilson Reis with a lovely straight right hand and sealed the win with ground strikes. It’s a big win for Pantoja given his division might be getting axed soon, so he could stay around at 135 if need be. As for Reis, he’s lost four of his last five, so his UFC days are surely over.
- Max Griffin is always entertaining to watch, and his grueling, back-and-forth battle with newly signed Russian welterweight Zalim Imadaev was no exception. Imadaev was docked a point early (justifiably so by new favorite referee George Allen) for fence grabbing, so he fought from behind all the way. We saw big strikes aplenty from both guys, and it was Griffin who got the nod on the scorecards by majority decision. Good to see him get one go his way given what happened vs. Thiago Alves.
- Boston Salmon and Khalid Taha was supposed to deliver fireworks, and we sure got it... just from Taha. A 25-second TKO after walloping Salmon with a left hook and then landing two shots on the ground. What a bad way for Salmon to make his UFC debut, and after a 641-day layoff. As for Taha, he’s got dynamite in those hands, and men’s bantamweight is just stupidly stacked.
- Belal Muhammad is one of my favorite fighters on the UFC roster. The welterweight veteran dominated Curtis Millender in the last two rounds to earn a unanimous decision. Millender clearly has major flaws on the ground that need to be corrected, and these two losses to Muhammad and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos over a six-week span made that crystal clear.
- Men’s bantamweight prospect Montel Jackson dominated Andre Soukhamthath as expected, showing off slick striking and wrestling on his way to a one-sided decision. Soukhamthath struggled to get off any offense, but he is no doubt tough, as he could’ve been KO’d in round two with the shots Montel was landing. Jackson is another name to watch in the stacked 135 lbs field.
- Poliana Botelho held off her own exhaustion and a late charge from Lauren Mueller to win a 29-28 decision on all three scorecards. It was Botelho’s debut at women’s flyweight, and while she started off well by hurting Mueller with a body kick, her cardio has to be a major concern.
- The night got off to a wild start with Brandon Davis rallying from getting hurt multiple times to submit newcomer Randy Costa by rear-naked choke early in round two. A successful drop to 135 for Davis, as he showed great toughness and durability when Costa was going all-out to land a knockout blow.