Max Holloway or Dustin Poirier? Top MMA trainers give their picks

How to beat Holloway and Poirier (1:49)

Tom Egan, who was in Conor McGregor's corner for wins over Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier, breaks down the keys to win the main event of UFC 236. (1:49)

A lot has changed since Dustin Poirier submitted Max Holloway in the first round of a featherweight bout at UFC 143 in 2012.

Holloway (20-3) became a featherweight champion and has turned into one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. At age 27, he's already working on "legacy fights" and will attempt to claim an interim lightweight title against Poirier at UFC 236 in Atlanta.

Poirier (24-5) is more of a late bloomer, if you want to call it that. He has steadily worked his way up the lightweight rankings and cemented a title shot by defeating two former UFC champions (Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis) in his past three fights.

Who has the edge in Saturday's rematch? ESPN asked some of the brightest minds in the sport to break it down.

Duane Ludwig, Ludwig Martial Arts

Holloway needs to make sure he keeps his distance, and Poirier needs to press him and get inside his punches. Poirier tends to sit back and counter a little bit, though, and he also has good length. To me, it's whoever can push, pull and then return -- what I mean by that is, if you throw a right cross and the guy leans back and then goes to counter, I have to counter the counter. I think it will be a game of touch, pull, return. Whoever counters the counter will win.

I love Max's accuracy, volume and fluidity between his stances. He's maturing as a fighter and no longer following the misconception that you can't cross your feet. He's crossing his feet quite a bit, fighting out of both stances, from an athletic stance. That allows him to control distance. He's able to close distance by making full, fluid steps. If you're in a traditional stance, gaining ground like a traditional boxer, where your lead foot comes forward and then the back foot meets it, you're covering 6 to 8 inches. Maybe a foot. If you walk and take your right foot and step it all the way forward to southpaw, you just covered twice the space. Now, your foot is in the air during that time, so you have to know how to do it and when to do it, but you're able to cover more space.

My prediction is an awesome stand-up fight. Max is on top right now, mentally, physically, spiritually. It's very hard to beat Max right now. He knows he's a champion.

John Kavanagh, SBG Ireland

Max is just a completely different fighter since losing to Conor [in August 2013]. I believe around the time he fought Cub Swanson [in April 2015], I said he was the second-best 145-pounder -- after Conor. Since then, he's just improved every fight and naturally grown into a 155-pounder. Dustin has also improved a lot since losing to Conor. Plus, he's beaten some genuinely tough 155-pounders.

Overall, I think Max has improved most, and I think he gets it done by decision.

Danny Castillo, Team Alpha Male

I feel like Dustin's self-confidence and experience have reached a certain point where he believes he's invincible -- but Max has the same thing going. I think Max Holloway truly believes nobody on this planet can beat him.

Max is really long and super-accurate on the feet. I believe his punching power might be a little more, as he goes up in weight and fills out his body. Part of his game we just haven't seen much of is his jiu-jitsu. That's not to say it isn't good; he's just done such a good job of stopping the takedown to not even show that aspect of his game.

One thing Brian Ortega did [in a loss to Holloway in December] was smother him against the fence, but Ortega doesn't really have a good takedown. He was just using his upper body and keeping him in a clinch though. As far as going down to the legs and shooting, Ortega doesn't have that. His takedowns are mostly getting into a clinch and pulling guard. I think if Dustin has an opportunity to win this fight, it's against the cage, but maybe following with a takedown. I can't pick a winner.

Marc Montoya, Factory X MMA

Big fan of both. They do have contrasting styles. Poirier is super-calculated on the feet and has the ability to find power when it's needed. Holloway has power, but he's more of a volume striker. He's a rhythm guy. I think the big key with Poirier is, how does he break Holloway's rhythm?

Let's say Holloway's combo is a jab, cross, hook. If you allow him to throw that, he's able to find his rhythm. So in that example of the 1-2-3, you have to be able to break it. When he throws the jab, can Poirier slip it and prevent him from throwing the 2-3? That's what I mean when I talk about rhythm. Can he move into the clinch, or land a front kick that disrupts what Holloway is doing? When a rhythm guy finds his "swag" is what I call it, he's very dangerous -- and both guys, but especially Holloway, do a great job with that.

That's a start-to-finish battle, because rhythm fighters are great at finding it and, once it's disrupted, resetting and finding it again. It can be frustrating fighting someone like that because you'll land a good shot, but the other guy keeps coming offensively. Dustin is from a great camp, so I guarantee they've mimicked that in practice.

If I had to put money on it, I hate to say this, because I'm a fan of both, I would probably give Holloway the edge.

Duke Roufus, Roufusport

This is going to be a battle of wills. I've coached against both of these lions, and they're both similar. They're mean volume punchers.

I think Max Holloway is in his true weight class of 155 now. I think he's going to start knocking guys out in this division. I feel his accuracy has always been excellent, and now at 155, he's going to pack more of a punch with that accuracy. That being said, Dustin Poirier has been on a hell of a tear.

I think you're gonna see Dustin box, and he has a great double-leg takedown. If he can get Max to the ground and kind of keep his back to the mat, isolate him, I think he can slow this fight down, and that's his best way to win. In a fight of this magnitude, where the wrestling is won is how well Dustin throws strikes first. When he strikes first and follows with takedowns, he's hard to beat. He has a great team behind him, and he's a black belt in jiu-jitsu.

Dustin is hard to get out of there. I can't pick if there's going to be a stoppage, but I think Max Holloway is going to be our new interim champion. On paper, we couldn't ask for a better fight.

John Crouch, MMA Lab

I love the fight. I love Max. I can't bet against him. I think he's at a whole different point in his career now. It's going to be a tough fight, though.

I don't see it hitting the floor at all, because I don't think Max will let that happen. And I don't think Dustin cares. I think he's willing to give people fireworks. He's got to get the range in his favor. You can't stay at the end of Max's punches. He's so good at floating, and then killing you. You've got to do something about the range either with pressure or angles. Dustin has a lot of good coaches, and that's where I would start. Threaten with takedowns, even if you don't get them. That's the only way to beat him.

I don't think Dustin is naturally a pressure fighter, but he's not scared to do it. When he fought Justin Gaethje (April 2018), they just went at it. When he fought Eddie Alvarez, both times they went at it. He's good enough to do it, and he's willing to step in there.

I think Max is a better wrestler than he used to be, and his physical presence when he fights is bigger. He's a grown man. He was a kid when he fought Dustin the first time. I'm gonna say Max by TKO in the fourth round.

Sayif Saud, Fortis MMA

Dustin Poirier is one of the most underrated fighters in the sport. He has a wealth of experience, long amateur career. He's hitting his streak. But Max Holloway is in the zone, just like Anderson Silva was during his run. He has so much confidence. You saw that when he fought Jose Aldo, just walking him down, eating Jose Aldo's shots.

Strikingwise, they can go tit for tat. Both have great lead hands, great jabs. They both switch stances. The big question is whether Max can take that shot at 155 pounds from a power striker like Dustin. I think he can, but that damage will wear him down. The shots at 155 will be more damaging than the ones he took at 145, which he seemingly walked through easily. I think his chin will hold up, but Dustin, with that straight left and beautiful right hook, he could put Max in trouble.

Will Dustin's size factor in the clinch, as well? It could wear Max down in a fourth- and fifth-round situation. Or will Max's experience shine through in the fourth and fifth? If I were coaching Dustin, I would absolutely involve some clinching. Try to wear Max down in his first fight at 155. Clinch, break off with elbows and dirty boxing, control that distance all the time and make him deal with the size of a lightweight. And if you can convert takedowns in the later rounds, why would you not?

These two guys could go head-to-head in striking, which is what makes this so exciting. They could just stand and bang. The later it goes, Dustin has the advantage. I think Max will come out strong and confident in the first and second rounds, but as it goes on, the probability of Dustin winning goes up. It really is 50-50.

Henri Hooft, HKickboxing

They both have very good hands. Max is more of a volume puncher, while Dustin is very precise with his shots. On the floor, I think they're both really good. Man, this is a really, really close matchup. And who doesn't like these guys? Max is a great champion. And Dustin, it's his time to win the belt. If he doesn't do it now, it won't happen.

You can't take away Dustin's last couple of fights. Before, if things weren't going his way, then they weren't going his way. Now, if something doesn't go his way, he goes back, sits on his chair and comes out the next round and pulls it off.

A prediction is so difficult. I think Max is going to win. He's been the champion and knows how to win these fights. I do think it has to be now for Dustin to win the belt, but winning the belt is not something that happens for everybody. I think the weight will be a little different for Max, but he will pull it off.