UFC 291: Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje – Fights to make

All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights that need booking after UFC 291: Poirier vs. Gaethje in Salt Lake City.

By: Zane Simon | 2 months ago

Another PPV in July, another badass UFC card. UFC 291 just rocked, hard. Elite quality MMA action from top to bottom. Justin Gaethje became a title contender once again, Alex Pereira looks like a shoe in for the next light heavyweight championship fight, and Derrick Lewis reminded everyone why he’s long been one of the UFC’s mainstay fighters. There were a couple lows points here and there, but nothing that could drain the night’s momentum.

So, is there any reason that Gaethje won’t get his shot at lightweight gold in the next 6-8 months? Who the hell is Pereira going to fight for gold? And is Derrick Lewis going to re-sign with the UFC?

Dustin Poirier falls to Justin Gaethje at UFC 291.
Dustin Poirier falls to Justin Gaethje at UFC 291. IMAGO/USA TODAY

To answer those questions—and everything else—I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!

UFC 291 Fights to Make

JUSTIN GAETHJE

An absolutely monumental performance from Justin Gaethje in a fight that had major implications on the immediate future of the lightweight title. Even with Charles Oliveira already booked to fight Gaethje in October, there was no clear fighter on the horizon next in line for a title shot at the lightweight belt. Beneil Dariush was the big story heading into 2023, and he fell tragically short to Charles Oliveira at UFC 289.

While a big win could put him right back in the conversation there isn’t a fight on the horizon that seems like it would have that kind of profile to it. Michael Chandler is tied up with a bout against Conor McGregor that may or may not happen. And while McGregor is certainly a huge deal, there’s nothing to even seriously suggest he’ll be fighting anyone soon.

Fighters like Tsarukyan, Gamrot, and Fiziev could all be in position to contend for a belt someday, but that day is not today and it’s unlikely to be tomorrow. The truth is, if the UFC is looking for a contender they can be sure of heading into spring of 2024, Justin Gaethje is almost certainly going to be that man. Sure he’s already got a loss to Charles Oliveira, which could be a problem if ‘Do Bronx’ manages to regain his belt in Abu Dhabi. But that fight was an absolute banger the first time, I don’t think there are many fans who would hesitate to watch it twice.

MMA: UFC 280-Oliveira vs Makhachev Oct 22, 2022; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Charles Oliveira (red gloves) and Islam Makhachev (blue gloves) during UFC 280 at Etihad Arena. Abu Dhabi UAE, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xCraigxKidwellx 20221022_jla_ooo_485
The winner is gonna need to fight somebody. Gaethje is that somebody. IMAGO/USA TODAY Network

The only person that really seems like they could throw a wrench in the works would be Alexander Volkanovski, if he could get himself set for a Makhachev rematch. But given that Volk just had surgery and seems like he’s got a contender on the horizon in Ilia Topuria, it really doesn’t feel like problem Gaethje should be losing sleep over. End of the day, Islam Makhachev vs. Charles Oliveira is on the horizon. Justin Gaethje should fight the winner.

DUSTIN POIRIER

As big as this win was for Justin Gaethje, it feels like it may have been just as hard a setback for Dustin Poirier. The ‘Diamond’ has contended for the lightweight title twice now and got finished both times (the same thing has happened to Gaethje too, but with each passing year the idea of another title shot seems like it becomes a more difficult opportunity to grab.

It doesn’t help either that this was such a decisive win for Gaethje. The ‘Highlight’ came out on the back foot, drawing Poirier into the pocket and intercepting his pressure with hard low kicks and winging hooks upstairs. The plan was successful enough to force Poirier to up the aggression in round 2, where he tried to stave off Gaethje’s blitz with a hand parry. That decision left him wide open for a sneaky right leg head kick that dropped the Louisiana native in a heap, ending the fight just 1 minute into round 2.

June 9, 2023: VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 09: Beneil Dariush poses on the scale during the UFC 289 ceremonial weigh-in at Rogers Arena on June 09, 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia. - ZUMAp175 20230609_zsa_p175_033 Copyright: xTomazxJrx
Maybe Dustin will take the fight this time. IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

I suppose as long as Makhachev remains king, Poirier will have a path to contend. But he’s gonna have to win a couple other fights first. What was it I said above about Beneil Dariush? That there wasn’t a high profile fight on the horizon that could put him back in contention? Seems like one just popped up. And it’s got a little extra history to it after Poirier previously publicly accepted, and then turned down the booking. Poirier vs. Dariush should be a top-priority fight for the UFC.

ALEX PEREIRA

An absolutely brutally close fight in which Jan Blachowicz looked like he hit a cardio wall midway through and did his absolute damnedest to keep battling on. Unfortunately for him, Alex Pereira was at least a little less gassed and the Brazilian was able to keep landing the cleaner strikes on his way to a very hard fought decision win.

Czech professional mixed martial artist Jiri Prochazka shows the UFC champion s belt in the semi-heavyweight category from the title match in Singapore, during meeting with fans, on June 13, 2022, in Brno, Czech Republic. (CTKxPhoto IgorxZehl) CTKPhotoP2022061306685 PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxCZExSVK zeh
It’s Jiri time again. IMAGO/CTK Photo

That victory almost certainly sets Pereira up for a title fight, but the question is, against who? Will Jiri Prochazka be back soon, will the UFC look to get Magomed Ankalaev back in the mix? My guess is that Prochazka will be ready to go sometime early next year and we’ll see Pereira vs. Prochazka then. Alex Pereira vs. Jiri Prochazka is a real decent light heavyweight title fight, even if this bout was just a bit of a dud.

DERRICK LEWIS

Only Derrick Lewis could produce a moment in MMA like that. From the jump knee to the GnP to the post-fight speech he nailed every moment of his latest iconic TKO/KO. Gotta feel a little bad for Marcos Rogerio de Lima, because the man just became part of every highlight reel for the rest of 2023 at least.

After the bout, Lewis revealed that he had just finished his UFC contract. My first reaction was that if he says he hopes to resign with the UFC, then that’s what he’ll do. But then I had to look at the options with just a little more clarity. Being real, the only ‘big’ fight I see on the horizon for Lewis in the Octagon is… Jairzinho Rozenstruik?

He got beat by Sergei Pavlovich, he got beat by Ciryl Gane, Stipe Miocic doesn’t seem like he’s about to fight anyone without a belt around their waist, and Tom Aspinall would be foolish to do anything else. He beat Curtis Blaydes and lost to Tai Tuivasa and beat Alexander Volkov and lost to Sergey Spivak. Jailton Almeida is a nightmare matchup. The reality is, there’s not a lot for Lewis inside the UFC.

May 15, 2023, Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles, CA, United States: Los Angeles, CA - May 16: Francis Ngannou behind the scenes of his promotional video workout at Professional Fighters League - Francis Ngannou workout at Unbreakable Performance Center on May 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA Los Angeles, CA United States - ZUMAp175 20230515_zsa_p175_005 Copyright: xLouisxGrassex
It’s time to try it again. IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

Outside of it, there’s Francis Ngannou, a man Lewis has already beat once (in one of the worst fights in UFC history, sure, but a win’s a win). And alongside Ngannou is a guarantee of a $2 million payday. As a free agent, Lewis is automatically the biggest name on the market and there’s even a history there to sell. Seems like a no-brainer for all parties, unless, of course, the UFC can exercise their matching rights. Derrick Lewis vs. Francis Ngannou 2 is a fight so obvious it’d be stupid not to try and make it.

BOBBY GREEN

Tony Ferguson had a little bit in the tank for Bobby Green early on in their bout, even dropping ‘King’ in the opening round. But once those early exchanges were over it was almost entirely one-way traffic for Green. Especially after Ferguson dove for that Imanari roll in round 2 and came up short. Several minutes of top control time for Green and the tide was firmly turned.

These are the kind of performances that keep Green a perennial force at the edges of the lightweight elite…


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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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