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Islam Makhachev of Russia prepares to fight Alexander Volkanovski of Australia in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 284 event at RAC Arena on February 12, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
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Coach Conversation | UFC 302: Islam Makhachev vs Dustin Poirier

Tyson Chartier Drops By To Break Down Saturday’s Lightweight Title Clash Between Islam Makhachev and Dustin Poirier

When it comes to dissecting the elements of UFC championship fights, there is no greater resource than the coaches that spend their days preparing men and women to make the walk to the Octagon and step into the fire.

The Coach Conversation series was created to bring the insights and opinions of some of the top coaches in the sport to fans ahead of each championship pairing, offering an insider’s perspective on the combatants getting set to step into the fray and compete for UFC gold.

Order UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier

Ahead of this weekend’s UFC 303 lightweight title fight between Islam Makhachev and Dustin Poirier, I sat down with New England Cartel head man Tyson Chartier to discuss the key elements of this matchup and get a sense for how things might play out on Saturday night at Prudential Center.

Best Trait of Each Fighter

Dustin Poirier prepares to face Benoit Saint Denis of France in a lightweight fight during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 09, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Dustin Poirier prepares to face Benoit Saint Denis of France in a lightweight fight during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 09, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Kyte: Let’s get into this one. What’s the best trait of Islam Makhachev and what’s the best trait of Dustin Poirier?

Chartier: Obviously, for Islam, I would say his grappling, and for Poirier, I would say his striking.

It’s kind of the classic “grappler versus striker” matchup and I think both guys have an idea what they need to do to win: one guy wants to keep it on the feet; the other wants to keep it on the ground.

Kyte: When you look at this fight and that dynamic — and I agree — does one guy have a greater edge in their area of expertise than the other or do you think it’s fairly balanced in your estimation?

How To Watch UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier From Your Country

Chartier: It’s hard to tell because I think there is a little of the “Khabib Effect” going on where I’m giving Makhachev credit for stuff Khabib (Nurmagomedov) has done because it’s a similar style and they’re teammates.

I think Makhachev has shown a little more weakness — he’s obviously one of the best grapplers, but compared to Khabib, he’s not been as dominant with the grappling. There have been instances where he’s been taken down and he’s struggled holding guys down, like if you look at the fight with (Alexander) Volkanovski, a smaller guy being able to deal with his pressure.

Islam Makhachev of Russia poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Islam Makhachev of Russia poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

But then if you look at Dustin, he’s a great striker, but he’s also getting knocked out and getting touched.

So I think it kind of equals out: they’re both very dominant in what they do, but they have also shown that if you fight the right way, they’re not unstoppable.

Kyte: Who is better in the other’s expertise? Is Islam a better striker than Poirier is a grappler or vice versa?

Chartier: I think you have to say Islam is a better striker than Poirier is a grappler because while Poirier is a decent grappler, he’s not really using that to win fights. He wasn’t submitting (Benoit Saint Denis); he was pulling guillotines and stuff like that, but he wasn’t defending the takedowns.

MORE UFC 302: Islam Makhachev's Win Streak | Dustin Poirier Full-Fight Marathon

He’s a competent grappler, but he’s not a super-high-level grappler where he’s getting finished with submissions, too. When you look at Makhachev, he’s not the smoothest on the feet, but he just won by head kick knockout against the No. 1 fighter in the world, and the threat of the grappling always gives him the advantage.

I think if you’re gonna give them a score, Makhachev is a 10 in the grappling and Poirier is a seven. And in the striking, if Poirier is a 10, then Makhachev is probably an eight or a nine.

Path to Victory for Each Fighter

UFC 302 Breakdown | Islam Makhachev vs Dustin Poirier
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UFC 302 Breakdown | Islam Makhachev vs Dustin Poirier
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Kyte: So I guess then it’s a pretty straightforward path to victory on each side given the clear dynamics of the fight — one keeps it standing and the other, in theory, wants to take it to the ground?

Chartier: Yeah, I think Makhachev can stand — without mixing in takedowns, I don’t think he can stand with Poirier for five rounds; eventually he’s going to get hurt. We saw him get hurt in the first Volkanovski fight and Poirier is a much harder hitter than he is, in my opinion, plus there is the size. So I don’t think he can just not grapple; he’s got to grapple.

Poirier has to fight smart, straight punches, not try to load up too much, and stay off the fence.

Kyte: And not jump guillotines.

MORE MAKHACHEV VS POIRIER: Five Islam Makhachev Fights To Watch | Five Dustin Poirier Fights To Watch

Chartier: That’s gonna come up later, but yeah.

Kyte: In terms of the path to victory, when you look at this fight, how do you see it playing out?

Do you think we get a quick finish? Do you think we get a submission? A knockout from either side? Or is this a 25-minute battle?

Islam Makhachev of Russia reacts after his knockout victory against Alexander Volkanovski of Australia in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Islam Makhachev of Russia reacts after his knockout victory against Alexander Volkanovski of Australia in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chr

Chartier: I don’t see it going to a decision. I think Dustin is either going to get finished on the ground or get a finish on the feet. They’re both so aggressive, so whenever they’re winning, they’re doing damage, and we’ve seen them both be vulnerable and almost get finished.

Makhachev almost got knocked out two fights ago against a smaller guy, we’ve seen him get a little tired, so even when he’s winning fights, we’ve seen a little fatigue. I think when you add all that in, I don’t see these guys, with the styles that they have, going to a decision.

I don’t envision a quick finish either. If it’s a quick finish, Dustin caught him. If it’s not, either Makhachev gets tired and gets finished late, or Poirier gets stuck in that bad spot and gets finished, a la Khabib.

Order UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier

Kyte: I was going to say — for me, it looks a lot like the Khabib fight (at UFC 242) and not just for the easy, straightforward comparison.

Dustin can be a slow starter out of the gate, so first round, feel each other out, get a sense for each other. Second round, Islam has some success grappling, but can’t get the finish, and then third round, he finds it. That’s my thought.

Chartier: I would not be surprised if that’s how it goes.

X Factor

Kyte: If there were one thing that was going to significantly impact how this fight plays out — that swings it in one direction or the other — what would it be?

Chartier: I think whether or not Dustin Poirier is disciplined.

You can be the fun guy and say, “Gillies for days; I’ll never stop” but the reality is it hurt you in the Khabib fight, it hurt you last fight, even though you still won after that. You can’t do that with Makhachev.

You can’t pull a guillotine. The chances of you getting it are far less than the chances of ending up on the bottom, losing a round, getting tired, and him building his confidence. So I want to see whether Dustin comes out and goes all-in — listens to his coaches, stays disciplined, resists that urge to engage in the grappling?

MORE UFC 302: Dustin Poirier's Top Finishes | Islam Makhachev UFC Connected

It’s gotta be a “the floor is lava” type thing, and if he sticks to that, I think he has a much better chance. But that’s the X factor to me: how disciplined does Poirier fight?

Kyte: I think there is a chance that this is his last fight.

I think if he doesn’t win, he’s probably not getting another title fight, and if he loses, he might say, “It’s been a great ride.” His whole family is going to be there, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he won the title and pulled a John Elway and said, “See ya later!” either.

Dustin Poirier reacts after his victory against Benoit Saint Denis of France in a lightweight fight during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 09, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Dustin Poirier reacts after his victory against Benoit Saint Denis of France in a lightweight fight during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 09, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

And, for me, that’s the X factor for this: is he able to channel everything into this opportunity?

It’s a great story — third shot, opportunity that came together right, we weren’t expecting things to go the way they did against Saint Denis, but now the timing has worked out to where he gets an opportunity for a potential fairytale ending.

So can he channel that and make it work for him or does all of that get the best of him and he starts making bad choices that cost him?

Chartier: I feel like he’s handled really big moments well before.

VIEW THE ATHLETE PROFILES: Islam Makhachev | Dustin Poirier

He fought Conor three times and it doesn’t really get bigger than the last two; he handled those moments really well. I feel like he’s used to these moments. This fight will probably feel smaller than the McGregor fights did in terms of media attention, not going to Abu Dhabi.

It’s going to be interesting.

One Coaching Curiosity

Islam Makhachev Origins | UFC Connected
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Islam Makhachev Origins | UFC Connected
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Kyte: What’s the one coaching point you’re paying close attention to in this fight?

Chartier: Can Poirier defend the takedowns past the first couple?

He’s shown in the past that he can defend one or two, but Makhachev is going to be a dog on a bone, so can he keep it going past the first round, keep defending those takedowns? And if he does get taken down, is he able to get up?

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If the answer to both of those is “No,” Makhachev isn’t going to get tired. But if he has the ability to defend some takedowns or get up after he gets taken down in the third, I think that really sways the line in his favor to where I think he can wear this guy out. So I’m interested to see how he does that and if he’s able to defend past the first and second, get up.

Kyte: This is the classic instance you and me and Eric (Nicksick) always talk about where “you need to wrestle three seconds longer than you think you do” because this dude is going to be chaining things together.

To me it’s “defend, defend, defend” to the point that you can’t be looking for offense along the fence; it’s just gotta be sell-out defense.

Dustin Poirier punches Benoit Saint Denis of France in a lightweight fight during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 09, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Dustin Poirier punches Benoit Saint Denis of France in a lightweight fight during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 09, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Chartier: We always say you need to fight the hands two seconds longer than they’re willing to attack the hands, and get up one more time than they’re willing to mat-return you. The scramble isn’t over until you’re away (and into space) and I think that has to be the mentality.

Kyte: I’m always fascinated when guys get up against the fence with these grapplers — and that is where Makhachev is working for most of his takedowns is against the fence — and they’re looking for short punches and elbows, little shots instead of pummeling and trying to break the grip and get free.

To me, that is where the “no gillies” and do all the things you can do to get away and get space comes into it. If that’s the mindset, it can get interesting, but if he does that the first time, and then it’s “but his neck is right there,” Poirier is in trouble.

Chartier: Yeah, it all comes back to the discipline.

Kyte: I agree. Now we just have to wait and see how it plays out.

UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier took place live from Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on June 1, 2024. See the Final Prelim and Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses, and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!