Dustin Poirier headlines Saturday’s card in Norfolk, Va. It’ll be just the third time in Poirier’s 18-fight run with the UFC that he’ll be at the top of an event inside the Octagon.
Despite the often celebrated honor, Poirier shouldn’t be popping the champagne in response to this opportunity.
He deserved better. Far, far better.
That’s not to say a matchup against former champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis isn’t an opportunity to smile at. It is, to a certain degree. Regardless of what struggles Pettis has endured since losing his title in stunning fashion in 2015, he remains one of the more noteworthy fighters south of 170 pounds. A win over Pettis would go a long way for Poirier, but it still doesn’t make up for what he was robbed of on May 13 at UFC 211.
Facing former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez on a stacked card in Dallas, Poirier was set to be the first man to welcome Alvarez back into the Octagon since getting starched against Conor McGregor at UFC 205 — the event when Alvarez became a “former” champion. Despite the soul-crushing defeat to the Irishman, Alvarez was still well-regarded among the 155-pound elite.
That’s what made Poirier’s performance so impressive. “The Diamond” more than held his own against the former titleholder, securing the opening round with a solid jab and constant aggression. It was in Round 2 that Poirier really started to make some noise, crushing Alvarez with several punches that appeared to have him on the ropes. Alvarez recovered, swinging for the fences before landing three illegal knees onto Poirier.
“You know, in that fight, everybody who watched it saw I whipped Eddie Alvarez, made him look like an amateur,” Poirier told FloCombat’s Duane Finley recently. “I mean the guy was two steps behind, couldn’t keep up. And then he kneed me in the back of the head with a shot that was illegal. And in the heat of the moment, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
With Poirier unable to continue fighting, the fight was ruled a no-contest. But considering the fight was ended illegally, it was expected by many that an immediate rematch was in store. That’s often the case for contests that end in controversial fashion, whether by an accidental illegal blow or a divisive decision from the judges.
That, as evident in Saturday night’s main event, was not the case.
Where Poirier was more than willing to sign on the dotted line to face the former champion and finish what he started, Alvarez jumped ship and latched onto a better opportunity.
Alvarez served as a coach on the latest season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” leading a group of 125-pound women who each hoped to become the first-ever female UFC champion at 125 pounds. Alvarez opposes rival coach Justin Gaethje, who stormed onto the UFC scene earlier this year with a remarkably entertaining debut against Michael Johnson. Unranked going in, Gaethje walked away with a TKO victory and the No. 5 slot in the rankings. He also stole Poirier’s date to the dance.
Alvarez and Gaethje are set to meet on a stacked UFC 218 card in Detroit this December, with the winner expected to have a great deal of ammunition for a title shot at 155 pounds.
That’s far more than Poirier will be able to say regardless of how impressive he looks against Pettis this weekend. A big win means Poirier defeats an opponent who was already well on his way toward divisional irrelevance, whereas a loss sets him up to be a valuable stepping stone for a revitalized former champion. Sure, beating Pettis would be the biggest win of Poirier’s career, but it won’t place him in the title-contending spot he hoped to occupy with a second crack at Alvarez.
He deserved more, but there wasn’t much to be had given the circumstances of the 155-pound landscape. By the time Poirier-Pettis was announced, five of the eight men ranked ahead of Poirier were already booked for a fight or otherwise unavailable (Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson, Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje and Kevin Lee). Of the three remaining options — Khabib Nurmagomedov, Edson Barboza and Nate Diaz — only one made some sense: Barboza. Even then, Barboza was pegged by many to be the next man to face Nurmagomedov.
That’s where Pettis, ranked 13th at 155 pounds, comes in.
Still, nobody should have been required to save the day. Alvarez, who admittedly accepted the better opportunity, should have answered the call.