Poirier rallies, outslugs Hooker in UFC thriller

Dustin Poirier’s time as a top UFC lightweight contender was in peril. He was coming off getting finished by champion Khabib Nurmagomedov last September and in front of him after a long layoff was Dan Hooker, a tall, rangy, rising star.

Facing adversity early with blood pouring from his face, Poirier rallied for a unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-46) victory over Hooker on Saturday night in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. In arguably one of the best MMA scraps of 2020, the fight was bloody, grueling and went back and forth — and Poirier was able to preserve his status as one of the top lightweights in the world.

“That’s fighting,” Poirier said. “A fight isn’t a fight until there’s something to overcome. That’s what we did tonight.”

ESPN scored the bout 48-47 for Poirier.

The card took place in front of no fans at the UFC Apex, a facility across the street from the UFC’s corporate campus. It was the fifth straight weekend the UFC ran an event in Las Vegas and the eighth card the promotion has held since returning from a pandemic-related hiatus May 9.

Poirier vs. Hooker had major UFC lightweight division implications. ESPN had Poirier ranked No. 4 and Hooker ranked No. 5 among MMA 155-pound fighters.

Poirier has the second-most UFC wins since 2011 (18) and is tied with two others for the second-most UFC lightweight wins since 2015 (10). Donald Cerrone is the leader in both categories with 23 and 11, respectively.

The first and second rounds were similar. Hooker landed a lot of volume, including punches to the body and hard, low calf kicks to Poirier. Poirier landed hard combinations, but Hooker put pace on him. Late in the second round, the 6-foot Hooker landed a combination that he finished with a big knee against the cage. Poirier said it was the hardest he was hit in the bout.

“It was pretty impressive how high and quick he got his hips up without telegraphing,” Poirier said.

Hooker had all the momentum heading into the third round, but that’s when Poirier started to take over. Poirier set the tone early in the third with a big combination. Hooker took Poirier down, but Poirier landed slicing elbows from the bottom. By that time, both men were bleeding from several cuts on each of their faces.

In the fourth round, Poirier got Hooker down, and the most significant damage came when he snared Hooker in a leg ride, coincidentally very similar to the technique Nurmagomedov uses to ground opponents. Poirier landed several hard shots to Hooker’s face from that position. The fifth was much of the same. Poirier landed hard punching combinations, while Hooker clearly was sucking wind. Poirier outlasted him in the end.

Poirier (26-6, 1 NC) fell to Nurmagomedov at UFC 242 nine months ago by third-round submission. The Louisiana native, who trains at American Top Team in Florida, has just one loss in his past eight fights. Poirier, 31, owns career victories over the likes of current UFC interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje, former UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway and former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. This was Poirier’s first fight back since hip surgery.

“I’m a winner, man,” Poirier said. “It was a long time off. It was the longest break of my career. … I had to overcome some stuff.”

Hooker (20-9) had a three-fight winning streak coming in. The New Zealand native sports a 7-2 UFC record since moving up to lightweight in 2017. Hooker, 30, trains at City Kickboxing in New Zealand with current UFC champions Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski.

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