The championships on the line at UFC 236 on Saturday night were just of the interim variety, but the competitors in both bouts put in Fight of the Year-caliber performances nonetheless.
Dustin Poirier (25-5) of Lafayette, La., won the interim lightweight belt in the main event at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, defeating current UFC featherweight titleholder Max Holloway (20-4) of Waianae, Hawaii, via unanimous decision.
Poirier came out with a sensational start in an offensive onslaught that would have felled most fighters. Holloway persevered, though, and hung in there for five compelling rounds. Poirier’s power against an opponent coming up in weight spelled the difference as he won on scores of 49-46 across the board that didn’t indicate how competitive the fight was.
“This feels amazing, I feel like I’m in a dream right now,” Poirier said. “I just beat one of the pound-for-pound best in the world. This is my belt, I earned it in full, paid in blood.”
The main event came just one bout after what might be 2019’s Fight of the Year as Israel Adesanya (17-0) of New Zealand and Kelvin Gastelum (16-4) of Yuma, Ariz., threw down in a tremendous battle won by Adesanya on a unanimous decision to claim the interim middleweight belt.
The undersized but hard-hitting Gastelum took the first round by closing the distance and landing heavy left hands. Adesanya, a kickboxer, mixed up his strikes to take the second and third. Gastelum landed a surprise head kick in the fourth to claim that round. But Adesanya answered with a hellacious fifth round, battering Gastelum, who was saved by the bell.
Adesnaya took scores of 48-46 from all three judges for the victory.
“I was ready for war,” Adesanya said. “I was ready for war, I fought through this adversity.”
The interim middleweight title was created because current champ Robert Whittaker is out following hernia surgery; the lightweight belt due to champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s ongoing suspension, related to his October arena brawl after a fight with Conor McGregor.
—Field Level Media