Makhachev beats Poirier by submission at UFC 302 to defend lightweight title


NEWARK, N.J. — Islam Makhachev had a desperate opponent in front of him and much of a sold-out crowd against him.

None of that stopped him. Nothing has in a long time.

Makhachev defended his lightweight title and extended his winning streak to 14 fights, third-longest in UFC history, by getting a submission victory over Dustin Poirier in the fifth round on Saturday night at UFC 302.

Overcoming one of the sport’s accomplished veterans and a crowd — including former President Donald Trump — that was against him from the start, Makhachev ran his record to 26-1 and said afterward he may move up in weight for another challenge.

“This is my dream,” Makhachev said.

There’s certainly not much left for the Russian at 155 pounds, where he defended his title for the third time and showed again why he is ranked as the pound-for-pound best in UFC.

Poirier (30-9) fell short in his third attempt for the undisputed title, all three ending by submission. At 35, he is considering retirement.

“I’ve got to see. I think this could be it,” he said after the fight.

He battled back after Makhachev controlled the first round and bloodied the champion’s face later, but Makhachev took him down midway through the fifth and quickly pounced, with Poirier unable to escape the choke hold.

“Incredible fight. Both guys dug deep,” UFC President Dana White said.

Makhachev, while respectful of the challenger’s accomplishments, noted this week that Poirier did well against boxers but was exposed against fighters with wrestling backgrounds — which Makhachev lists as his strength.

The champion seemed on his way to a 12th victory by submission in the first round when he took Poirier down in the opening minute of the fight and kept him on the mat the rest of the round.

Fans roared when Poirier, the No. 4-ranked lightweight, escaped a couple of takedown attempts in the second, growing even louder when he made it to the horn at the end of the round.

The fighters had good exchanges in the third and fourth and both were bloodied, but Makhachev didn’t have to worry about taking any more punches.

“Happy to finish him, but this guy is still one of the best in the world,” Makhachev said of Poirier.

Though he spoke of his desire after to move up to 170 pounds, White seemed more interested in making a match with Arman Tsarukyan, another Russian who is the No. 1-ranked contender at lightweight. But Makhachev seems intent on challenging for another belt.

“If you want to create a legacy you have to get second belt,” he said.

Poirier, the popular veteran from Louisiana who ranks in the UFC’s top five in career victories, knockouts and finishes, ran into perhaps the best fighter today. He was choked out by Charles Oliveira and Khabib Nurmagomedov in his other title shots, and while White said that gave Poirier knowledge he could use for this fight, it wasn’t enough to win it.

Though he sounded at times like retirement was the plan, he certainly didn’t sound sure.

“I still feel like I want to be world champion,” he said.

In the co-main event, former middleweight champion Sean Strickland got back in the win column with a split decision over Paulo Costa. Strickland appeared to be controlling what he called a boring fight against the Brazilian, who spent much of it backpedaling away from exchanges.

Strickland (29-6), who lost the title in his last bout, also by split decision to Dricus Du Plessis in January, said afterward he wants another shot.

“I want to fight for the belt,” he said.

Strickland spent most of the first round using short kicks to keep the distance, throwing few punches with the newly designed UFC gloves — designed in large part to prevent eye pokes — that he criticized until dropping Costa (14-4) with a right hand in the final minute of the round.

He tried for the finish in the final minutes of the fifth round, knocking Costa down with a kick and rushing after him before the the clock ran out.

Trump entered to a loud ovation just as the preliminary portion of the event was ending. Days after becoming the first former U.S. president to be convicted of felony crimes in New York, he shook hands with the announcers, waved his fists to supporters who cheered him before sitting to watch the action with White.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports



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