Which lightweight continues their climb on Saturday?

UFC Fight Night New Orleans goes down this Saturday and fight fans are only slightly interested in whether Dan Henderson can dig himself out of his 1-5 slump in his last 6 fights. While the card seems to be lacking important match ups, there is thankfully one that sticks out to me in deserving some notoriety.

Hometown hero and former featherweight contender, Dustin Poirier looks to break into the division’s upper echelon as he faces the dangerously underrated Hawaiian, Yancy Medeiros in a fight that could see the winner propelled into a fight that could lead to a spot in the rankings. Can Poirier please the hometown crowd or will Medeiros play spoiler to Poirier’s return home that has been five years in the making?

Who are the Fighters?

Dustin Poirier

Before Dustin made his Zuffa debut at WEC 50, he was frequenting the Louisiana scene (where he’s returning this Saturday), picking up an undefeated record of 7-0 all by way of finish. Just 21 years old, Poirier went 1-1 in the WEC’s lightweight division. He was grinded out for three rounds against tough Alpha Male wrestler Danny Castillo and in opposite fashion was able to stop Zach Micklewright with strikes while standing in just 53 seconds.

Following the merger between the UFC and the WEC, Poirier was offered a short notice replacement bout against the top featherweight contender at the time, Josh Grispi. Grispi was actually scheduled to fight the champion Jose Aldo at UFC 125, but an injury to the champion opened the door for Poirier to both make his featherweight debut and a lasting impression on the division. In a huge upset, Poirier would be the first of a four fight losing streak for Grispi who was battered for three rounds by "the Diamond". In this fight, Poirier used fantastic push kicks, a solid muay thai clinch as well as high volume boxing to avoid the Brazilian jiujitsu game of "the Fluke" and absolutely overwhelm him.

Poirier would parlay his successful featherweight debut into a solid win streak that proved his win over a top contender was no fluke. His next few performances showcased his multi-faceted MMA game. At UFC 131, he took a decision over Jason Young in a match that saw Poirier use superior boxing and strong kicks to out strike the Englishman. Next, at the first UFC on FOX show, he showed dominant wrestling ability over the lanky TUF 12 alum Pablo Garza, taking him down and smashing him at will until setting up the D’arce choke in the second round. Finally, at UFC 143, Poirier faced a debuting Max Holloway whom he dispatched in the first round. Using a triangle choke to sweep into the mount, Poirier would attack Holloway’s arm in a submission that has yet to be replicated (the mounted triangle/armbar) - this submission also won him submission of the night honours.

Now riding a four fight winning streak in the UFC’s featherweight division (and five fight win streak overall), Poirier was put into a number one contender’s matchup opposite fan favorite "Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung. In a fight that can only be described as ‘bananas’, Poirier rallied to win the third round after a rough first two - where he was out grappled and out struck. However, "Zombie" broke "the Diamond" in the 4th round after landing a crushing uppercut followed by a flying knee and latching onto a D’arce choke to elicit the tap early in the round - beautiful stuff. This fight was extremely entertaining and won fight of the night honours (it was also considered the fight of the year for 2012 by many media sources).

Following the loss to Jung, Poirier was able to get back to his winning ways against TUF 12 winner, Jonathan Brookins, who he was able to quickly submit with a D’arce choke in the opening round following a poor takedown attempt from Brookins. Poirier to my knowledge, is the only fighter in UFC history to have two victories by D’arce choke (the aforementioned Pablo Garza fight and the Brookins fight).

Poirier then took a short notice fight against the flashy Cub Swanson in England, replacing an injured Dennis Siver. Cub was able to use beautiful sweeps from his back, powerful hooks, and roundhouse kicks at range to overcome the takedown and leg kick offense generated by Poirier. Ultimately, Poirier dropped a unanimous decision.

Poirier would then go on a three fight winning streak, decisioning former top featherweight contender Erik Koch and finishing TUF 14 alums, Diego Brandao (who won the 14th season) and Akira Corassani (who was a semi-finalist on the 14th season) with strikes in the first and second rounds respectively. However, this win streak was halted by surging featherweight (and now number one contender), Conor McGregor who backed up his trash talk as he finished Poirier in just 106 seconds into the first round.

After 11 fights at featherweight and most likely having grown more into his frame, Poirier decided to move back to the lightweight division. Focusing on the fighting rather than the weight cut paid off as he quickly dispatched of BJJ black belt Diego Ferreira by knockout in the first round due to ground and pound - the first time that Ferreira was stopped in his professional career. He now looks for his 10th professional win in the lightweight division against the less-experienced Yancy Medeiros.

Yancy Medeiros

Similar to Poirier, before making his debut for a large organization (Strikeforce), Medeiros accumulated a 7-0 record on the regional scene of Hawaii with finishes in 6 out of his 7 wins. Fighting in the middleweight division and at only 22 years of age, Medeiros made his Strikeforce debut against a fellow undefeated fighter in Raul Castillo (who was 6-0 at the time). Medeiros used far superior boxing to batter Castillo all around the cage, dropping him multiple times en route to earning a decision victory. He parlayed this victory with a knockout over Gareth Joseph at the historic Strikeforce Fedor vs. Werdum card in San Jose to extend his undefeated record to 9-0.

Following his knockout victory in Strikeforce, Medeiros decided to take a break to deal with some issues with his knee. The break would last almost 3 years (2010 - 2013). Luckily, when he decided to return, Strikeforce had folded and he was now UFC bound. Medeiros also made the decision to drop not one, but two weight classes (from middleweight to lightweight). In his debut for the organization, Medeiros faced highly touted Rustam Khabilov of Dagestan. Khabilov was coming into the bout with a knockout victory (by suplex) over TUF 15 alum, Vinc Pichel in his last fight. Medeiros put a good effort in throughout the first half of the first round by defending just about all of Khabilov’s grappling offence, but during a Khabilov suplex attempt, he dislocated one of his fingers and the fight was ruled a TKO loss for Medeiros (his first loss as a professional).

In his sophomore UFC appearance, Medeiros faced long time veteran Yves Edwards at UFC Fight for the Troops 3. Medeiros would become just the fifth person to stop Yves with strikes in the veteran’s 64 fight career (number of fights at the time), as he finished Edwards with a sneaky lead uppercut in the first round. Unfortunately for Medeiros, his first UFC victory would become a no contest as he tested positive for marijuana metabolites in his drug test.

Medeiros’ woes would continue as he took a short notice matchup at UFC 172 with one of the top lightweights in the UFC, Jim Miller. Medeiros found himself on his back in the first round and while trying to get back to his feet, allowed Miller to latch onto a guillotine choke that eventually put Medeiros to sleep. Yancy was now officially winless in three octagon appearances, a dangerous spot to be in.

Given leeway, probably due to his taking the Miller fight on short notice, Yancy was given a fourth chance to get an official UFC victory against the debuting Damon Jackson at UFC 177. Medeiros took away Jackson’s undefeated record by finishing a guillotine choke from an odd angle. After Medeiros applied the choke standing, Jackson tried to defend by rolling to his back but Medeiros landed in side control with his arm still around Jackson’s neck - eventually putting Jackson to sleep. Medeiros was able to parlay this victory into his current two fight win streak with yet another guillotine, this one over TUF 15 alum Joe Proctor. Medeiros cracked Proctor with a spinning back kick causing Joe to crumble against the cage where Yancy locked up a guillotine to elicit the tap out. Though only at 2-2, 1NC in the UFC, Yancy appears to be someone with dynamic power and solid finishing instincts.

The Matchup

While most can look towards the resumes of the two fighters and favour Poirier, Medeiros has a very tough style for the former featherweight. First, Medeiros has tons of power in his striking (which he brought from the middleweight division) - especially his right ross and lead uppercut. Poirier has shown a susceptible chin in many of his performances, being rocked by Jung, Brookins, Swanson, and Corassani as well as suffering a knockout to McGregor. If Medeiros cracks Poirier at the right time, it could be short night for the hometown hero.

While Poirier will most likely have an advantage on the ground, he may have trouble getting it there. Yancy has shown strong takedown defence in his fights with Castillo, Khabilov, and Jackson. On top of that, he threatens with the guillotine choke whenever a neck is available (as shown in his two UFC wins - over Jackson and Proctor). Conversely, Poirier holds the same strength (the front headlock position) often attacking with a variety of chokes - the D’arce and Peruvian Necktie (e.g. his Brookins and Corassani fights respectively).

Poirier’s significant advantage standing comes in the form of his stance - being a southpaw. Medeiros has shown consistency to getting caught by the right hook (e.g. against Edwards and Jackson). Being a southpaw, Poirier doesn’t have to cover as much distance to counter over the top of a jab from Medeiros. Poirier will also be the fighter who can vary his attacks more, perhaps attempting takedowns as opportunities permit - this can in turn create openings for his striking offence.

Overall, it’s hard to overlook the size, reach, and power advantage that Medeiros will have over Poirier. Poirier will have the home cage advantage and could set something up with a well placed right hook, but the likely scenario is Medeiros finishing Poirier with strikes inside of two rounds to upset the hometown crowd.