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Makhachev vs. Poirier headlines UFC 302 in Newark

Craig Kidwell - USA TODAY Sports
Dustin Poirier challenges champion Islam Makhachev for the UFC Lightweight championship at UFC 302.

NEWARK, N.J. — The UFC will return to Newark for UFC 302 on Saturday, June 1.

Headlining the card will be the Lightweight Champion and No. 1 ranked Pound-for-Pound fighter, Islam Makhachev (25-1), who defends his title against UFC legend and former interim champion, Dustin Poirier (30-8). First announced by Dana White following UFC 300 in April, the upcoming fight between Makhachev and Poirier has been one of 2024’s most anticipated bouts. 

Makhachev last fought in Abu Dhabi in October, where he secured a first-round knockout over then Featherweight Champion, Alexander Volkanovski. Since his last performance, Makhachev has taken a seven-month hiatus from the octagon, and during this time there has been much debate as to who he should face on his return. The Lightweight division has no shortage of title contenders, and after his electrifying knockout of Benoît St-Denis in early March, it was clear that Poirier’s name had a rightful place on that list.

Poirier vs. St-Denis, UFC 299, March 9th.

Poirier’s record in title fights is 0-2, both times suffering submission losses to former champions, Charles Oliveira and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Though arguably one of the sport’s best strikers, Poirier’s biggest challenge has always been against wrestling-heavy opponents, and the current champion is no exception. A lifelong training partner of Nurmagomedov, many view Makhachev as the sport’s most dominant wrestler and an exceptionally formidable opponent for Poirier.

Credits: Stephen R. Sylvanie, Per Haljestam – USA TODAY Sports

In the lead-up to UFC 302, Poirier has openly stated that win or lose, this may be his last time in the octagon. In a conversation with The Sporting Tribune’s Fredo Cervantes, Poirier said that winning the belt would make leaving the sport a much easier decision.

“For sure, with the win, it’ll be easier. That’s the last thing I have left to do in the sport, I feel… I’ve won as the underdog, I’ve lost as the favorite. I’ve walked this walk so many times, this is the last thing I have to do, is to be the undisputed world champion.”

Poirier boasts wins over some of the sport’s biggest names, notably Conor McGregor, who recently gave his opinion on Poirier’s upcoming fight against Makhachev.

“I think Dustin does him, knocks him out…I think the things that Makhachev does wrong, the things he’s not good at, he fumbles over his feet usually early on and falls into shots. He’s been knocked out by a back check hook from a southpaw before inside the UFC, and that’s one of Dustin’s best shots. If Dustin’s ever going to do it, it’ll be this time.”

Though the heavy betting underdog, many MMA fans feel that Poirier has the potential to shock the world on June 1.

Credits: Jasmin Frank, Gary A. Vasquez – USA TODAY Sports

In the co-main event, former Middleweight Champion Sean Strickland goes head to head against the Brazilian powerhouse, Paulo Costa. Though both fighters hold black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Strickland and Costa are predominantly strikers, each with their own unique style.

Paulo Costa, Gary A. Vasquez – USA TODAY Sports

Costa brings a lot of power and heavy output, whereas Strickland boasts a style of intensive forward pressure and impeccable defense. Fans can expect Costa to look his best in the early rounds, while Strickland often gains momentum as the fight goes on. Because this fight is scheduled as a five-round co-main event, Costa will have to take chances to finish Strickland within the first few rounds, or potentially risk losing a decision as the fight progresses into the later rounds where Strickland likely takes dominance.

Sean Stickland, Jasmin Frank – USA TODAY Sports

Other fights on the main card include middleweights Kevin Holland vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk, heavyweights Jailton Almeida vs. Alexander Romanov, and welterweights Randy Brown vs. Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos.

UFC 302 will be available on ESPN+ PPV on June 1. Early Prelims begin at 3 p.m., with the Main Card beginning at 7 p.m.