If there’s one thing the UFC is exceptional at, it’s giving MMA fans the fights they want to see. UFC 291 in Salt Lake City, Utah is one such card. The main event features a rematch of one of the best fights in recent memory between Dutin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier (29-7) and Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaetjhe (29-7). The co-main event sees a clash between Polish Powerhouse Jan Blachowicz (29-9-1) taking on the stone-faced Alex Pereira (7-2) in a light-heavyweight (205 pounds) contest. The event will also see the return of fan-favourite Tony Ferguson (25-8) as he attempts to break his 5-fight losing streak against a dangerous and technically sound Bobby Green (29-14-1). If we go by just the names alone, UFC 291 is shaping up to be one of the best fight cards of the year.
Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaetjhe have met each other in the octagon before. The two first locked horns in Glendale, Arizona in 2018 in a 5-round main event and delivered all the goods and more. The bout was a back-and-forth affair with Justin diligently chopping out the legs of Poirier while the Lousiana native picked his spots to land thudding left hands. After almost four rounds of furious action, Poirier caught Gaetjhe slipping, throwing a naked leg kick, and landed a beautiful left cross off the southpaw stance that rocked him. Poirier then unloaded a series of strikes to force referee Herb Dean to call the fight. The contest even earned various Fight of the Year awards from many publications.
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The two have gone on to capture the interim belt separately but were unable to unify the titles because of fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Olivera who went on submit both men in each of their bouts. Although there is no ‘official’ title on the line, the BMF title will be up for grabs. Last held by Miami Vice impersonator Jorge Masvidal, the title is bestowed on fighters who display a certain viciousness when entering the cage, and Poirier and Gaetjhe are definitely on the shortlist of some of the most violent people in the cage. So, with all the excitement around UFC 291, let’s take a deeper look at the two men and how they actually stack up against each other.
UFC 291 Fight Card: A Breakdown of the Main Event
If there’s a term that best describes Justin Gaetjhe’s fighting style it would be something similar to a car crash. The man is a ball of fast-twitch muscles coupled with excellent technique and killer instinct. Ever since his first fight in the UFC, Justin has carved a violent path for himself right to the top. His real ‘coming out’ moment was when he demolished perennial contender Tony Ferguson over the course of five brutal rounds and stopped the former interim champion with strikes towards the end of the fight.
Sure, he has a few defensive shortcomings but his work with famed MMA coach Trevor Whittman has honed his destructive skill to a more measured fighting style. He’s still got the power and finishing ability but he’s more tactical now than he was when he first fought Dustin. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the defensive tactics of Porier. His strategy of kicking Dustin’s legs off seemed to work quite well until he got countered, so maybe a more patient approach will be needed this time around.
On the other other side of the bracket, we have Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier. The man has been in the UFC for more than a decade now and has ascended to the top of two separate divisions. He first started his career in the featherweight division where his controlled brawling style helped him beat a wide swath of contenders. Unfortunately, he fell just short of his championship goal when he was stopped by Conor McGregor in the first round. He then moved up a weight class and started competing in the 155-pound lightweight division where he amassed a bunch of impressive wins against Jim Miller, Dan Hooker and Bobby Green. His technical brawling style even earned him an interim UFC lightweight title against then-featherweight champion Max Holloway.
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Dustin Poirier is a fighter’s fighter and is extremely aggressive in his offence. Primarily a boxer on his feet, Poirier uses a wide range of tools to stifle and knock out his opponents. He fights out of the southpaw position which means that he is left-hand dominant. His best weapons are a stinging right jab and a thunderous left cross. It was the same combo that made McGregor shoot for a takedown on Poirier in their third fight. He has incredible power in his hands and also holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as evidenced by his submission victories against the likes of Michael Chandler and Jonathan Brookins. He’s also defensively sound as he employs a unique and modified Philly Shell to deal with oncoming blows, so much so that even a seasoned striker like Max Holloway was not able to find the target.
Dustin can also wrestle quite well but he’d be smart to avoid that dimension of the fight since Justin is a legitimate Division-1 college wrestler who has outstanding takedown defense. In other words, this fight should primarily take place on feet unless Justin decides to take it to the ground. Justin, for the most part, just uses his wrestling as a defensive tactic. He rarely takes his opponents down and is content to bang it out on his feet. It’s been a recipe for success but can he afford to take unnecessary risks against Dustin? We’ll find out on July 29 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
UFC 291: The best fights on the rest of the card
While the card is filled with incredible contests, it’s the co-main event that one should keep an eye out for. Jan Blachowicz takes on Alex Pereira in a fight that has serious title implications. With champion Jamahal Hill vacating his belt due to a torn Achilles tendon, this fight could realistically be for the number one contender’s spot. It also has all the potential to become one of the greatest UFC fights of all time.
Jan is a Polish powerhouse with excellent boxing skills and unorthodox kicks in his wheelhouse. He’s a big man and uses his frame really well in the ring. He’s also defensively sound, using a variety of parries, blocks and unusual footwork to outwit his opponents. He’s also got a great top game and has a number of submission wins on his record. Although he does struggle when he’s on his back and is forced to defend against strikes and guard passing techniques. The man has won the light-heavyweight belt and successfully defended it against middleweight champ Israel Adesanya in the latter’s quest to win two titles in the UFC. Jan is coming off a controversial draw against Magomed Ankalaev and this is his big opportunity to make things right. With a win against Pereira, Jan could soon be fighting for the title.
The same could be said for Pereira. The Brazilian kickboxing legend has certainly made his mark in MMA with his vicious TKO of middleweight champ Israel Adesanya to snatch the belt away from the Nigerian. He did get knocked out cold in the rematch but that could be chalked up to an insane weightcut. He’ll have the benefit of putting on a bit of muscle for this 205-pound contest. Not to mention, Pereira is as dangerous as they come on their feet. The man is unnaturally powerful and needs only a small window to close the distance and finish the fight. He has some of the most unorthodox calf kicks in the sport that has flummoxed almost all of his opponents, including Adesanya. However, the million-dollar question here is if he can stop the takedowns of Jan. Although Alex has not been submitted in the UFC, Jan’s top control and pressure could pose some significant problems for the Brazilian.
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UFC 291 will also see the return of fan-favourite Tony Ferguson. The American will look to snap a 5-fight skid against another veteran in Bobby Green. This could be Tony’s last push for relevance as there have been calls for him to retire. If he does lose against Green, it may be time for El Cucuy to call it a day on an incredible fight career.
One last fighter to keep an eye out for is Ikram Aliskerov. The Dagestani native is 14-1 with his lone loss coming against a surging Khamzat Chimaev. Ikram is riding a 6-fight win streak with his last stoppage coming against an outmatched Phil Hawes. As of writing this article, Paulo Costa has pulled out of his bout against Aliskerov and could be replaced by another middleweight contender in Roman Dolidze. This should be a fun fight, if it even comes to that as Roman has an incredible ground game. The man has won the ADCC (Olympics of submission grappling) European Trials and is a force to be reckoned with. Keep an eye out for this bout.
(Hero image credits: Courtesy Instagram/@JustinGaethje and @Dustin Poirier)
(Feature image credits: Courtesy Instagram/@Dustin Poirier)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: UFC 291 is a Mixed Martial Arts event organised by Zuffa Entertainment, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Answer: The main event of UFC 291 features a scintillating bout between top lightweights, Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier and Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaetjhe.
Answer: UFC 291 will be available for purchase on the ESPN App as well as the UFC Fight Pass.
Answer: UFC 291 will take place on July 29th 2023 at the Delta Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah.