Makhachev defends title at UFC 302, holds off No. 4 Poirier

Joe Camporeale - USA TODAY Sports
Islam Makhachev defeats Dustin Poirier via submission to retain UFC lightweight title at UFC 302 in Newark, New Jersey on Saturday.

NEWARK, N.J. — “And still!” UFC Lightweight Champion Islam Makhachev defended his title at UFC 302 against No. 4 ranked Dustin Poirier on Saturday night, winning on a chokehold in the final round.

In one of his most exciting performances to date, Makhachev put the wrestling-heavy, pressure-driven style to which he has become known on full display against Poirier, eventually securing a finish via a D’Arce choke in Round 5.

The narrative surrounding this fight was that Poirier would not be able to contend with the wrestling dominance of Makhachev. Despite Makhachev’s wrestling pedigree, Poirier was able to stay on his feet for the majority of the bout and challenge the Dagestani for a much closer fight than many anticipated.

Poirier and Makhachev, Joe Camporeale – USA TODAY Sports

During his post-fight interview, Makhachev thanked his team and expressed his desire to fight for the welterweight title, potentially becoming a two-division champion. Makhachev is a close friend and training partner of Belal Muhammad who will be challenging for the welterweight title in July, so Makhachev could decide to postpone a move to 170 pounds.

Poirier used his time on the microphone to reflect on his career.

“I’m not 100 percent, but if this is my last fight, I wanted to dedicate this journey to the people who made me the man I am,” he said. “We’re alright, baby. Always chase your dreams, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Many regard Dustin Poirier as one of the greatest UFC fighters to have never held the undisputed world title. Despite this, his legacy in the sport is one that will outlive many past champions.

Poirier leaves octagon, Joe Camporeale – USA TODAY Sports

In the co-main event, Sean Strickland and Paulo Costa vowed to deliver “the peoples’ main event” — a promise which ultimately fell flat, resulting in a five-round fight of tit-for-tat, back-and-forth striking. The combination of Strickland’s forward pressure and impressive distance management made for a relatively safe fight on the feet which Strickland was quickly able to take dominant control of.

As the fight progressed into the later rounds, Strickland’s superior cardio was on full display as he marched Costa down with a jab-heavy boxing onslaught, eventually securing a split decision win over the Brazilian. Though not the fight that many MMA fans were hoping for, Strickland’s dominant win has likely put him next in line for another shot at the middleweight title.

Sean Strickland, Joe Camporeale – USA TODAY Sports

The next UFC PPV will be held on June 29 in Las Vegas for International Fight Week, where UFC superstar Conor McGregor will return to the octagon and face Michael Chandler at UFC 303.