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Duffy can still reach the top but Poirier was a step too far, too soon

The Irishman suffered his first taste of defeat as a UFC fighter on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

UFC lightweight Joseph Duffy.
UFC lightweight Joseph Duffy.
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

SATURDAY’S BOUT BETWEEN Joseph Duffy and Dustin Poirier at UFC 195 was a good example of why you should probably never judge a fighter’s abilities based on how they’ve performed against Conor McGregor.

Five years into his career in the UFC, Poirier was entering the bout as an underdog against an opponent who had spent less than five minutes in the octagon.

Poirier’s legitimacy took a hit after his September 2014 loss to McGregor. He talked the talk but was brushed aside with ease by the current featherweight champion. That emphatic defeat, coupled with the arduous requirements of the weight-cut to 145lbs, persuaded the Florida-based fighter to find a new home in the 155lbs division.

He and Duffy each picked up a couple of first-round wins to start off 2015, so in the eyes of the UFC, the match-up paired two men with 2-0 records as UFC lightweights. As is generally the case, however, this contest was far more complex.

There was some logic to support the bookmakers’ decision to install Duffy as the favourite; it wasn’t just his status as the last man to defeat the last man to defeat Dustin Poirier. Having returned to MMA from a 7-0 stint as a professional boxer in 2014, Duffy came armed with a sophisticated striking weaponry capable of bringing Poirier down.

In the first half of the opening frame, the accuracy of his shots appeared to be narrowly tipping the balance in the Donegal fighter’s favour. Although Poirier was having plenty of success with his own hands, Duffy was causing more damage — as evidenced by the severely fractured nose Poirier sustained.

Recognising that Duffy was the more likely victor if the fight stayed standing, Poirier changed levels and shot successfully for a takedown with three minutes on the clock. Therein lay his key to victory, as the American Top Team product used the same formula in the second and third rounds to remain in the ascendancy.

“After the first round, I felt there wasn’t that good takedown defence from him against the fence obviously, so I went right back to it in the second round. Same thing in the third. He wasn’t defending that well so it wasn’t a struggle to get him down,” Poirier explained in the post-event press conference.

Poirier hasn’t previously shown himself to be an exceptional wrestler but that aspect of his game has never looked as good as it did on Saturday — perhaps a consequence of working daily with the likes of former WEC champion Mike Brown at ATT.

The victory should be enough to promote Poirier to the top 10 in the UFC’s lightweight rankings and it went a long way towards repairing the damage done to his reputation by the McGregor defeat. Duffy’s abilities may not have been over-estimated, but Poirier’s were most certainly under-estimated.

Saturday’s fight was Dustin Poirier’s 16th under the umbrella of Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company (as well as fighting 14 times for the UFC, Poirier competed twice for the WEC). The fight was the 16th of Duffy’s entire professional career.

Poirier now has a 12-4 Zuffa record, with wins to his name over the likes of Max Holloway and Erik Koch. The 26-year-old has also competed in a main event against ‘Korean Zombie’ Chan Sung Jung, a former UFC title challenger. In terms of experience, Poirier and Duffy are poles apart.

By contrast, Duffy has had just 17 minutes and 46 seconds of professional MMA competition in the last four years and his career as a fighter on the roster of his sport’s largest organisation is not yet 12-months old.

Duffy is the first person to acknowledge that he’s by no means the finished article. Seven days ago he told The42 that irrespective of the outcome of Saturday’s fight, he still has areas of his game to address: “After this fight I want to spend a bit of time working on my game to make sure I’m ready for these top 10 guys.”

His wrestling and takedown defence will be high on his task list, but as a member of the Tristar team in Montreal, he’s in the right place to make the adjustments. It wasn’t all negative for Duffy against Poirier either. There was plenty to take encouragement from.

Again, his head and foot movement was superb, which gives the 27-year-old the confidence to keep his lead-hand low, allowing him to throw disguised strikes from the hip.

He displayed impressive grit and determination in the face of immense pressure when Poirier was in top position, landing vicious elbows and knees. Duffy’s jiu-jitsu came to the fore too when he attacked with a triangle-choke that could have picked Poirier’s pocket had the bell not bailed him out.

Given the hype that has surrounded Duffy — a significant portion of which is due to his 2010 submission of Conor McGregor — the UFC’s eagerness to fast-track his journey to the upper echelons via a fight with an opponent of Poirier’s calibre this soon was understandable.

McGregor is the UFC’s golden goose so it’s in the organisation’s best interests to line up as many legitimate rivals as they possibly can for the Dubliner. A rematch against the last man to get the better of him — and a fellow Irishman — is a fight that would certainly sell, but Duffy’s defeat to Dustin Poirier has tossed that possibility further down the tracks.

In time, that may prove to be the best thing for Duffy’s long-term prospects. He needs to be given sufficient scope to develop on his own timeline, not McGregor’s.

Joseph Duffy’s fight with Dustin Poirier broke a UFC viewership record

Joseph Duffy comes up short in a thrilling battle with Dustin Poirier

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About the author:

Paul Dollery

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