Dustin Poirier is a little over a week out from his title clash with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. For someone who is about to take on a grappling phenom who is widely considered the best of this era, Poirier seems oddly relaxed.
The interim champion secured the belt by defeating Max Holloway in Holloway’s initial bid at lightweight. Now to be the true champion he must unify the belt against a man who has made a habit of mauling top-shelf fighters.
Most of Nurmagomedov’s fights have looked alike. While his striking isn’t terrible, it’s his world-renowned Sambo skills that have made him a nightmare matchup for anyone who hasn’t been wrestling bears since childhood the way he has.
Nurmagomedov usually gets his hands on his opponent within a round, and it doesn’t take him long to establish a dominant position. He saps their energy, breaks their will, and demolishes them with either ground and pound or submissions. He’s done it to Edson Barboza, Michael Johnson, Al Iaquinta, and even Conor McGregor.
While it is true that fighters know what they’re getting into when they sign to fight Nurmagomedov, Poirier isn’t focused on his opponent’s grappling. According to him, takedown defense is good – but the best defense is a good offense.
“I’m not worried about his takedowns so much. I need to hurt this guy. That’s a huge part of this training camp. Putting myself in good positions to win the rounds and win the fight. Staying off the fence. Getting up off the ground. But, at the same time, I need to do what I do.”
Poirier knows the real challenge with Nurmagomedov is avoiding his pressure. The takedown is a byproduct of the fighter’s willingness to press the action and continue coming forward. This is what also helps him create striking openings, as his opponents are so worried about the shot, they forget about the punches coming at them.
The best way to stop a pressure fighter is to demonstrate the power to them early in the fight. If Nurmagomedov tries to pressure Poirier and ends up stung with punches, he may think twice about closing the distance, at least so often, in search of a takedown.
Of course, Nurmagomedov has never seemed to be seriously hurt in a fight. He’s absorbed some punches, and even a roundhouse kick from Barboza, but he’s never been wobbled or even seriously stunned.
Some people believe the takedown is an inevitability when fighting Nurmagomedov, and that the best chance of success lies in a submission from one’s back. While Poirier has never been known for submissions off his back, he does have submission wins. Though he has recently relied more heavily on his striking, he may need to use his ground game more than ever in the next fight.
Should Poirier be worried about the takedown, and gear his game plan around it? Or does it make more sense for him to focus on his own offense?