UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2 Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC 236 card, set to take place in Atlanta.
Updated: April 10, 2019 • 4:37 PM ET
Max Holloway is looking to claim another title this weekend.
Two dynamic interim title fights will headline UFC 236 in Atlanta this Saturday. The interim lightweight title will be on the line in the main event, as featherweight champion Max Holloway will face No. 3 ranked lightweight Dustin Poirier in a rematch after the two fighters originally met in 2012. The co-main event will be for the interim middleweight title, as No. 4 Kelvin Gastelum will fight No. 5 Israel Adesanya.
Holloway is on a 13-fight winning streak and hasn’t lost in the Octagon since a 2013 unanimous decision defeat to Conor McGregor. Holloway’s first career loss came in his UFC debut at the hands of Poirier in their first meeting at UFC 143. Poirier won the fight by first-round submission, but Holloway has improved beyond expectations since then, while Poirier has found new life at lightweight.
Holloway (20-3) will step up to 155 pounds for the first time in his career with a chance to redeem one of his just three losses. He was only 20 years old when he made his debut and has become one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world since then. On his path to winning the featherweight title, Holloway defeated the likes of Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas and Anthony Pettis.
He then defeated featherweight legend Jose Aldo by TKO to win the title at UFC 212 in June 2017 and followed that with a dominant TKO title defense against Aldo again at UFC 218 later that year. In his last fight against Brian Ortega at UFC 231 in December, Holloway showed once again that he’s the most efficient striker in the featherweight division, defeating Ortega by fourth-round TKO (doctor stoppage). He landed the most strikes in UFC history by out-striking Ortega 614 to 224, while landing 580 significant strikes for one of the most dominant title performances in UFC history. Holloway also landed the most strikes in a round and set the record for UFC featherweight wins with 15.
The 27-year-old Hawaiian fighter knows he’s a different fighter than the first time he fought Poirier.
“The number one thing I remember from that Dustin fight was telling myself not to faint when Bruce Buffer was announcing me in the fight,” Holloway recently told UFC.com. “That’s about it. I remember walking out and everything. My coach was like, ‘Stay calm. Stay calm. Stay calm.’ The boy went 200 miles per hour once they told me to start walking.”
Poirier has won three straight fights, taking home Fight of the Night honors in two and most recently Performance of the Night against Eddie Alvarez in a rematch last July. The other victories were an explosive TKO triumph over Justin Gaethje and a submission win over former champion Anthony Pettis.
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The 30-year-old Poirier (24-5) has fought in the UFC since 2011 and has other notable victories over Diego Brandao, Yancy Medeiros, Joseph Duffy, Bobby Green and Jim Miller. His losses in the UFC have come to Chan Sung Jung, Cub Swanson, Conor McGregor and Michael Johnson, respectively.
Poirier could be one win away from challenging Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title and believes he’s finally ready for a title shot.
"I just think that a few years ago, if I would have gotten this opportunity, I wouldn't have been ready," Poirier recently told ESPN. "I've overcome a few things and matured as a person and a father and a husband and just, you fight how you live, and I feel like I'm in a good spot right now in my life and with who I am, who I see in the mirror.
"I'm just in a really good place to go in there and put it all on the line."
Gastelum was scheduled to challenge champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 234, but an injury forced Whittaker to withdraw from the fight. Adesanya moved to the main event at UFC 234 and defeated middleweight legend Anderson Silva by unanimous decision, which earned him Saturday’s interim middleweight title shot.
Gastelum (15-3) has had a long road to gaining a title shot, experiencing unsuccessful weight cuts, a drug suspension and losses. He most recently defeated longtime contender Jacare Souza last May by a close split decision that many people believed Souza could have won. That followed a one-punch knockout of former champion Michael Bisping, which Gastelum badly needed after being submitted by former champion Chris Weidman in a fight he was winning. Gastelum’s other two losses came to Neil Magny and Tyron Woodley at welterweight, a division he’s unlikely to ever fight in again.
Since finding comfort at 185 pounds, Gastelum has looked like a different fighter, displaying dynamite hand speed and power. He defeated Tim Kennedy by TKO in December 2016 and looked great in a fight against Vitor Belfort soon after, which he initially won by TKO. The victory was later ruled a no contest after Gastelum tested positive for a marijuana metabolite.
A victory over one of the UFC’s rising stars in Adesanya would prove that the title shot against Whittaker was well-deserved for Gastelum, and that the obstacles on the long road there were worth it.
“It’s for a world title, but at the same time it is kind of like a No. 1 contender’s spot with a little prize,” Gastelum recently said at a media lunch. “That’s kind of how I think. It’s a little bittersweet that I’m not fighting for the undisputed title against Rob in Australia, but at the end of the day this has been the longest layoff of my career, and I just wanted to get in there fight. So I was like, ‘Give me a fight, give me a fight and make it for a title.’”
Adesanya is undefeated at 16-0 and has taken the middleweight division by storm since debuting at UFC 221 in February 2018. He’s 5-0 in the UFC with wins over Anderson Silva, Derek Brunson, Brad Tavares, Marvin Vettori and Rob Wilkinson. His fighting style has won over fans, and by fighting four times in 2018 and staying busy, he quickly moved into contender status and placed himself on everyone’s radar.
However, the 29-year-old Adesanya isn’t an overnight success story. He had 31 professional kickboxing fights, going 25-5-1, and six professional boxing matches, going 5-1. He began kickboxing training at 18 years old, and his transition into MMA took what many believe to be the necessary amount of time.
If Adesanya can defeat Gastelum this weekend, it could set up a giant showdown with Whittaker in Australia. Adesanya wouldn’t be at an incredible disadvantage, as his New Zealand roots would make it a spectacular main event for the UFC against the Australia-born Whittaker.
Adesanya hasn’t been shy to criticize the champion in the buildup to his fight with Gastelum.
“Dude, the guy has fought twice in three years,” Adesanya recently said on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. “Imagine me as champion in three years what I could do. My first year look what I did in UFC, so imagine me in three years what I could do.
“And I actually work, I actually show up to work. Even though I don’t like it all the time, I actually get all the media shit done. I actually perform.”
The rest of the main card
Light heavyweight bout - Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
Welterweight bout - Alan Jouban vs. Dwight Grant
Light heavyweight bout - No. 12 Ovince Saint Preux vs. Nikita Krylov
Lightweight bout - Jalin Turner vs. Matt Frevola
Flyweight bout - No. 4 Wilson Reis vs. No. 5 Alexandre Pantoja
Welterweight bout - Max Griffin vs. Zelim Imadaev
Bantamweight bout - Boston Salmon vs. Khalid Taha
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims
Welterweight bout - Curtis Millender vs. Belal Muhammad
Bantamweight bout - Montel Jackson vs. Andre Soukhamthath
Women's flyweight bout - Lauren Mueller vs. Poliana Botelho
Bantamweight bout - Brandon Davis vs. Randy Costa