UFC 302 results, takeaways: Poirier shows what makes MMA special; Makhachev deserves welterweight title shot

In what likely goes down as the last waltz of Dustin Poirier’s legendary MMA career, the beloved action hero fought courageously despite coming up empty in his third shot at an elusive undisputed lightweight title. 

It was Islam Makhachev’s night on Saturday as the lightweight champion tied for the most title defenses in 155-pound history (three) by holding off a Poirier rally to score a fifth-round submission by putting him to sleep via D’Arce choke. The bout served as the main event of UFC 302 in Newark, New Jersey. 

Let’s take a closer look at the biggest takeaways from the UFC’s return to the Prudential Center.

1. Poirier remains the heart and soul of the UFC

He’s not the biggest star in company history nor the most accomplished. But Poirier’s guts, commitment and resiliency remain unmatched. At 35, Poirier took on the top pound-for-pound fighter in the game today and nearly had enough guile and stubbornness to pull off what would have been among the most emotional title wins in UFC history. Even though he came up short, like he did twice before when he was submitted in title fights, Poirier’s performance on Saturday turned out to be an amalgamation of everything that makes him so special. Unlike Michael Bisping, who likely needed a late-career run to an upset middleweight title win to secure MMA immortality, the blood-and-guts warrior with the humble heart and a blue collar work ethic named Poirier is already a shoe-in for the UFC Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible. He proved why once more by surviving a nearly disastrous start against Makhachev to slowly stuff his takedown threat and pour on the power shots over time to bloody the dominant champion and push him deeper than any fighter arguably has throughout Makhachev’s incredible 14-fight win streak. 

The fact that Makhachev’s team hurdled the Octagon fence to mob Makhachev after he put Poirier to sleep shows just how much of a threat Poirier still was to pulling the upset at the time of the stoppage in Round 5. In fact, one of the three judges even had it even entering the final round. Poirier wouldn’t commit to retirement after the fight but did express his lack of motivation to chase anymore challenges in lieu of returning home and being there for his young family. A true man’s man inside the cage, Poirier can proudly walk away knowing his story is complete following one of the most honest and respected runs of any fighter to ever step foot inside the UFC cage. 

2. Makhachev deserves a shot at a second division title

Makhachev used his post-fight interview to officially make his plea to UFC brass that a welterweight title shot would be in his near future. Considering his outright dominance over his last 14 fights, including finishes of former champions like Charles Oliveira and Alexander Volkanovski, it would be hard for the promotion to deny him the opportunity (especially after Makhachev twice gave Volkanovski a similar opportunity). Reigning 170-pound champion Leon Edwards will defend his title against Belal Muhammad in July, while rising contender Shavkat Rahmanov continues to stalk the overall title picture. But there’s no reason Makhachev wouldn’t be considered an instant threat to separate himself from coach and mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov by seeking a shot at champ-champ status. Makhachev is physically huge for the lightweight division and fighting closer to his natural weight should allow him even more stamina to fuel his high-powered wrestling attack. Makhachev is such a well-rounded threat and clinical striker, with great head movement, that it would be fun to see just how well he might overcome the 15-pound difference between divisions. At 32, while still in his physical prime, the time is now to let Makhachev find out just how great he can truly be. 

3. It wasn’t always pretty but Sean Strickland held serve in the middleweight title picture

Just over four months removed from a disputed title loss to Dricus du Plessis, the former 185-pound champion Strickland likely stamped his ticket back to a title shot by accepting the UFC’s wishes to take on a lower ranked opponent – while handling him with relative ease – against Paulo Costa in Saturday’s co-main event. Strickland was the far more technical striker as he used volume to routinely back Costa up while muting his potent offensive attack. The only issue came with Strickland’s inability to press on the gas pedal even more and search for a finish, which trainer Eric Nicksick continued to preach in his corner between rounds, that might have aided in the surprising split-decision result. The reality is, none of the three judges should’ve had any business scoring this five-round fight for Costa, let alone via a 49-46 scorecard like judge Chris Lee did, likely due to Costa’s focus on heavy leg kicks. But Strickland proved overall that, at 33, he’s still among the very elite strikers in this game due to his head movement and intelligent pressure. By sending Costa to his fourth loss in his last five, he also made him look basic and limited despite his reputation as a knockout artist (who has failed to actually record one since 2018). 

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