February 27, 2019

UFC 236: Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier 2 Shows How Broken the System Has Become

By Raphael Garcia

Last Friday evening, the UFC announced that Max Holloway will face Dustin Poirier at UFC 236 for the interim lightweight title. This is a huge rematch at an important time in both fighters' careers. But once the initial excitement about another big matchup subsides, fans are left with some real questions about this fight, questions which show that the entire system is broken.

Brett Okamoto of ESPN broke the news, which came after rumors from earlier in the week hinting at a potential interim title bout between Holloway and Tony Ferguson, not Poirier. However, when UFC President Dana White confirmed the fight, it was clear that plans had changed. Now, Ferguson sits on the sidelines while Poirier and Holloway are poised to take part in this important bout on April 13. But let’s break down everything that occurred here:

First, there is current UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov is sidelined until November as he sits out his punishment for his involvement in the out-of-cage violence that occurred at UFC 229. Once that suspension is up, a year will have passed since his title defense against Conor McGregor. So it’s understandable that the lightweight division must continue to move forward.

Ferguson, the consensus #1 contender, has already been an interim champion, earning that title with his win over Kevin Lee at UFC 216. However, he was stripped of that championship when an injury forced him out of his UFC 223 matchup with Nurmagomedov just days before the event. According to Dana White, he was offered the bout against Holloway first, but turned it down.


Poirier, on the other hand, is coming off a TKO victory over former champion Eddie Alvarez. He has been demanding a shot at the belt for some time now, even going as far as calling for the UFC to release him when the rumors about the interim title bout between Holloway and Ferguson first started to circulate. Now he’s in a position to receive his first crack at any UFC title -- a position that he undoubtedly deserves, though some may argue that he isn't the most deserving at this very moment.

But the real question here is why the UFC elected to go with the featherweight champion in this interim lightweight title bout. Although the addition of Holloway does create additional intrigue -- he is fighting to become the newest member of the "champ-champ" camp -- it’s clear that both Ferguson and Poirier have done enough to earn a title opportunity. You have Ferguson, who is on a run of historic proportions in the toughest division in mixed martial arts. Plus, you have Poirier, who has defeated former champions in his last three fights. In today’s UFC matchmaking climate, you would be hard pressed to find a title fight that would have two more deserving combatants than Poirier vs. Ferguson –- yet the UFC elected to go in another direction.

Holloway fighting for a belt instead of Ferguson shows that the path to a title shot is very unclear, as if that wasn’t already obvious at that point. Ferguson has not lost a fight since 2012, a run that includes wins over Lee, Anthony Pettis, Rafael dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, Josh Thomson, and others. When he defeated Lee, he earned an interim title, one that was quickly stripped from him. And for the UFC to come back to him and ask him to fight for yet another interim title is tone deaf to the notion that he’s done more than enough to lay claim to a real title shot.

Again, Holloway vs. Poirier is an intriguing fight that should create a lot of buzz. But what about the featherweight division? That is another tough division with contenders chomping at the bit for a shot at the belt; when will that championship be defended next? Holloway has done a fantastic job cementing himself atop the division, but what does this mean for the fighters in the weight class who are on the climb? Holloway went over a year between his last two title defenses, and it's likely that no matter how the fight turns out, that will happen again. Does his resume warrant such a division-displacing push? Does his drawing power? These are difficult questions to answer, but they still should be asked.

It's also worth considering the favoritism that is being shown to Nurmagomedov right now. Yes, he defended the title a little over four months ago, anchoring a pay-per-view that garnered a record 2.4 million PPV buys. But a year will pass before he defends the lightweight title again. Less than a year passed before Nicco Montano was stripped of her UFC Women's Flyweight Championship title when she couldn’t make weight at UFC 228. Daniel Cormier was stripped of his UFC Light Heavyweight Championship after less than a year so that promotional poster boy Jon Jones could have a real title to fight for. Dana White threatens to strip UFC Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley of the title on a monthly basis. Ferguson and Colby Covington were stripped of their respective interim titles mere months after winning them, due to missing bouts on account of injury. And while a disciplinary suspension is not the same as an injury or weight-cut-related medical emergency, it's clear that there's a difference in the UFC's approach to stripping champions it does and doesn't deem to be its stars.

Dustin Poirier vs Max Holloway will still be an interesting fight on what is shaping up to be a compelling UFC 236 card. Everyone will watch, and these two men deserve the attention that will come with this main event contest. But with Tony Ferguson on the outside looking in, and featherweight contenders about to play the waiting game (or see their division get an interim belt if its own), one can’t help but wonder what it will take for the UFC to see that it needs to fix a very broken system.

UFC 236
Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier 2 (Interim Lightweight Championship)


UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2 takes place April 13, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Click HERE for more UFC 236 Pre-Fight Analysis


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