Islam Makhachev submits Dustin Poirier to retain UFC title

Dustin Poirier is widely recognized as the greatest UFC fighter to never hold an undisputed championship, and Islam Makhachev made sure that remained true Saturday night, submitting him in the fifth round to retain the lightweight title during UFC 302 at the Prudential Center.

Makhachev had to fight hard versus a resilient adversary who did everything in his power to dethrone UFC’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in front of a crowd that desperately wanted to see Poirier achieve his dream.

But on this night, Makhachev (26-1 MMA, 15-1 UFC) would gladly accept the role as both villain and dream shatterer.

For 4½ rounds, Poirier fended off multiple takedown attempts, escaped submissions and pulled himself off the canvas when things looked dire. But Makhachev finally caught Poirier during a scramble with a beautiful ankle pick that allowed him to snatch a d’arce choke and elicit the tap out at 2:42 in the final frame.

“He did very good,” an exhausted Makhachev said. “He defended my takedown and gave me a hard time.”

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Makhachev extended his UFC winning streak to 13, passing his mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson for the longest in lightweight history.

Although Arman Tsarukyan is next in line for a title chance, Makhachev said he is targeting a move to welterweight to challenge for a championship in a second weight class.

“I want to fight for a second belt,” said Makhachev, 32. “When you defend the belt, it’s not the same. I need a new one. This is my dream.”

Poirier (30-9 MMA, 22-8 UFC) failed to capture undisputed gold in his third try.

There were rumors he might retire if he came up short. Poirier wouldn’t commit one way or another during his postfight interview.

“I know I can compete with the rest of these guys, but if I do, am I fighting just to fight?” said Poirier, 35, a Louisiana native. “I got a little girl and a family at home, but I got to see (what’s next). This could be it.”

In front of a deafening crowd that got behind the challenger, Makhachev was pushed arguably harder than he had ever been in his UFC tenure and wore the damage on his face from a valiant Poirier.

The fight started in absolutely the worst way for Poirier, as he was taken down just seconds in. Makhachev chased a kimura submission, but Poirier managed to escape. Poirier gave up his back to the Dagestani grappler, and Makhachev methodically worked Poirier over, softening him up with strikes while keeping a body triangle locked in. Makhachev repeatedly fished for a choke, but Poirier defended well as a panicked crowd urged for his survival. As the final seconds ticked in the first round, a roar swept over the audience.

Poirier opened the second frame with a leg kick attempt that Makhachev snatched for a takedown. However, this time, Poirier managed to escape the takedown attempt as a sellout crowd of 17,834 chanted for the challenger. The two engaged in a striking battle, which benefited Poirier, but Makhachev more than held his own versus the lightweight division’s leader in knockout finishes. However, Poirier managed to land with hooks.

Makhachev put Poirier on the mat early in the third and put himself in the same position, with a body triangle and fishing for another choke. The champion transitioned to full mount, and a hush washed over the arena as it appeared that the end was near. Once again, Poirier found a way out and, with blood pouring from his nose, shouted at Makhachev when the fight returned to the feet.

Poirier’s resiliency continued into the fourth round as he shrugged off multiple takedown attempts and managed to cut Makhachev with a short elbow to the forehead.

Down on the judges’ scorecard, Poirier needed a finish and went for it in the final round, landing a flush straight right hand. Makhachev went back to his bread and butter and got creative with another attempt at the takedown. This one caught Poirier off guard, as the ankle pick put the challenger in a vulnerable position. With Poirier’s neck exposed, Makhachev quickly snatched a d’arce choke and squeezed until he finally secured the finish.

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