Can the former champion take out the dark horse of the division?

Coming off of the post fight high of UFC 217, one of the best fight cards in recent memory, it was easy to forget that another major fight card was on the horizon this week. But when you see the names Poirier and Pettis, it’s hard not to get immediately excited about the potential fireworks this match up will offer. Of all my years following the sport, I didn’t realize that I wanted this fight so badly. Dustin Poirier has the means to put anyone away with the raw power in his hands and his underrated grappling. Anthony Pettis has destroyed some of the best in the world with some well placed kicks and devastating submission game. Save for punching and kicking, these two mirror each other a great deal. Now we get to see the two square off at UFC Fight Night 120.

The Louisiana native was riding high since returning to the lightweight division, taking out tough competition which included Joe Duffy and Bobby Green. Then he ran into Michael Johnson and things came crumbling down. Such is the fate of any fighter in the lightweight division where anyone can be the victor on any given night. But Poirier bounced back with a battle with Jim Miller before getting an unfortunate no contest in his bout with Eddie Alvarez. Both matches saw Poirier use his trademark power on the feet to truly frustrate and hurt the opposition. Poirier’s counters in particular were truly devastating for his opponents.

In his fight against Pettis, Poirier should be looking to follow a similar game plan to that of the Duffy fight. Should Pettis decide to fight from open stance, inside leg kicks will do well to slow down the former champ’s movement and keep him in place long enough for a combination with the hands. But rather than insist on battling it out at boxing distance, Poirier should instead look to do most of his work in close. The clinch and dirty boxing are two areas in which Poirier’s powerful hands will give him the edge.

Wrestling should also be a key strategy to rely on. Poirier can set up a double leg takedown with strong left hands. Should the takedown fail and he gets Pettis to the fence, he can readjust and attack with strikes in the clinch or drop down to another takedown. Since Pettis has a tendency to find his back against the cage often, this should be a priority for Poirier.

Dustin Poirier also has an underrated ground game and is absolutely devastating when in top position. His ground and pound is vicious and could likely lead to either a scramble from Pettis which opens up submissions, particularly the D’Arce choke, Poirier’s favorite, should the former lightweight champion try to wrestle his way back up to his feet. Poirier will want to trap Pettis against the fence so he’ll be out of submission danger and free to rain down elbows like he did against Duffy at UFC 195.

Like Poirier, Anthony Pettis was riding a huge wave of success when first entering the UFC. He battled his way back from adversity since his bout with Clay Guida to absolutely destroy every fighter that stood before him. His knockout of Joe Lauzon still sits as one of the most devastating head kick knockouts in the sport’s history.

An all action fighter with tons of flash and flare, Pettis should choose to stick with bread and butter basics. The Lauzon KO, as with most of Pettis’ wins, was set up by laying traps for his opposition to walk right into. Fighting from open stance will give Pettis the opportunity to land devastating back leg round kicks from distance. Targeting the legs and body should be the main focus of his attack from the first bell.

Once he gets his man thinking, Pettis can start laying the foundations for a devastating head kick as seen above. Each kick should be set up with either a jab or more preferably a cross. The cross will force Poirier to either cover up, move away and close distance with a counter, or slip and counter with an overhand left. All options leave his body open to punishment and if Pettis is fleet of foot could have Poirier walking right into a devastating kick to the body. Once the hands start dropping the head will open up. Once he has Poirier flinching, a little creativity here and there could allow Pettis to land something devastating.

Should the fight hit the mat, Pettis can’t hesitate to attack from his back. If he settles in the position and gives Poirier the opportunity to set up ground and pound he could find himself in a world of hurt. But Pettis has a ton of options from his back. With an attacking guard, Pettis wrested the lightweight title from Benson Henderson.

His transitional game can’t be ignored either as he’s caught some of the toughest fighters in the world in guillotine chokes evidenced by his win over Gilbert Melendez.

All and all this should make for a tremendous match up that will have both fighters digging into their tool kits. The more the fight remains in the pocket the better for Poirier. The more Pettis keeps the fight at distance and off the fence the greater the chance the former champion gets a victory here.

Who do you think wins at UFC Fight Night 120?

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Jonathan Salmon is a writer, martial arts instructor, and geek culture enthusiast. Check out his Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with his antics.

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