With lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov under suspension stemming from last October's brawl following his victory over Conor McGregor, the UFC put together Saturday's interim title fight featuring featherweight champion Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier. The two fighters are both on impressive winning streaks, and they have a history. Seven years ago, Poirier handed Holloway his first career defeat in his UFC debut. The following statistical categories will reveal a lot about what will be the same in the rematch and what will be different.
Holloway signed with the UFC in 2012 to fill in for Erik Koch against Poirier at UFC 143. Both fighters came out looking to strike in the undercard fight. While they both were getting to their offense, it seemed as though Holloway was getting the better of the exchanges. Poirier changed gears and began looking for takedowns. He failed on his first two attempts, but his tenacity paid off and he scored with a body lock.
Once on the ground, Poirier almost immediately passed to mount and began going to work. In a scramble, Poirier caught an armbar, transitioned into a triangle choke and finally finished the fight with a triangle armbar from mount. Both fighters finished with 11 landed significant strikes, but Poirier swung the fight in his favor with a takedown, two passes on the floor and three submission attempts. While their first fight was one-sided once it hit the floor, both fighters have evolved over the past seven years.
While Poirier has rightfully earned the reputation of a dangerous striker, he has always made it a point to mix in his wrestling. In his UFC/WEC career, he has landed only 41 percent of his takedown attempts, but due to persistence he has landed his fair share of takedowns. He has averaged 4.24 attempts and 1.75 landed takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time.
He will likely need that wrestling output and determination to score takedowns against Holloway. The featherweight champion stops 83 percent of the takedown attempts against him, but he has allowed his opponents to land 1.15 per 15 minutes. If those numbers hold, Poirier will likely be able to score takedowns if he puts in the effort.
Grappling was a bit of a liability for Holloway early in his career. He allowed 13 takedowns in his first nine fights. However, he has continued to learn on the job and has developed impressive countermeasures. In his past 10 fights, he has stopped 95 percent of takedown attempts against him and been dragged to the floor only twice. Brian Ortega scored both of those takedowns in his title challenge at UFC 231, and he needed 11 attempts to achieve that limited success.
Poirier needed three attempts to score one takedown in the first meeting with Holloway, and Holloway has clearly made strides since then. If Poirier is forced to turn to his wrestling, he might struggle to bring the fight to the floor and be forced to endure more of Holloway's striking.
The improvements to Holloway's wrestling get a lot of attention, but his continued development in the striking realm has been equally impressive. The Hawaiian has always been able to affect a fight with his punches, kicks and knees. In his UFC career, he has landed 6.90 significant strikes per minute while absorbing only 4.03 significant strikes per minute, a striking differential of 2.57. That differential ranks him second among qualifying featherweights and lightweights, behind only Alexander Volkanovski (3.45).
While Holloway's career striking numbers are impressive, his recent run of success really stands out. In his past three fights, Holloway has landed 11.58 significant strikes per minute and increased his striking differential to a stunning 6.44. In the three-fight span, his volume has overwhelmed his opponents.
Prior to Holloway's first fight with Jose Aldo, his personal-best SLpM for a round was 15.10 (Round 2 of his fight against Will Chope). He set a new one in the finishing round against Aldo, at 15.18. He then bettered that in the final round of the rematch (22.27). Against Ortega, he set a new personal best once again, with 26.80 in the fourth and final round.
Poirier's striking numbers might not be on Holloway's level, but he is more than effective as a striker in his own right. Over his career, he has landed 5.59 significant strikes while absorbing only 3.69. His striking differential stands at 1.90, which is seventh-best among ranked featherweights and lightweights. He clearly has the ability to land strikes against Holloway, but he should be wary of falling into the same volume-striking trap that caught both Aldo and Ortega.
The best of Max Holloway
Take a look back at the highlights of UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway before he challenges Dustin Poirier for the interim lightweight belt.
While Poirier lags behind Holloway in terms of striking differential, he does have a slight edge when it comes to power striking. For his UFC/WEC career, he has averaged 0.80 knockdowns per 15 minutes compared to only 0.51 for Holloway.
Even though Poirier has the better knockdown rate, he has not always been able to unleash his power striking. Through his first nine fights in the UFC and WEC, he did not land a knockdown. Since then, he has landed 11 knockdowns at a 1.45-per-15-minute rate. But Holloway has never been stopped via strikes or even knocked down in his UFC career, so Poirier is looking at an uphill battle if he tries to sit down and load up on his power shots. However, a properly timed power strike might be able to derail some of Holloway's volume and swing the fight in favor of "The Diamond."