Best bets for UFC 291: Poirier vs. Gaethje

By Lou Finocchiaro and Reed Kuhn  ( 

July 29, 2023 06:06 AM

Best bets for UFC 291: Poirier vs. Gaethje

Salt Lake City hosts this week’s UFC 291 where fight fans will witness a much-anticipated rematch in the lightweight division. Second-ranked Dustin Poirier faces third-ranked Justin Gaethje for the ‘BMF’ belt. Whether for a mythological belt, the lightweight championship or a backyard melee, all these two require to face one another in an epic rematch is time and place.

Dustin Poirier -145 vs. Justin Gaethje +125

Lightweight (155 pounds) Main Event


Finocchiaro: I was fortunate enough to be live at the first bout between these two in Phoenix in 2018 when Poirier, who’d had his legs bludgeoned by the unrelenting forward striking pressure of Gaethje, ultimately ignored his injuries, persevered and finished Gaethje in the fourth in an ultra-impressive display of guts and grind.

What Gaethje took from that experience is what many did in that he realized that his “go for broke” fight style, though entertaining for fans, had to be refined, and a true fight plan had to be installed if he had any aspirations of taking the title for this division.  Attributes such as footwork, patience, strike defense and levelheadedness are required improvement areas to instill into Gaethje’s warrior mentality.

Trevor Wittman of team Elevation in Colorado has worked with Gaethje on his mental approach, especially his fight IQ once he finds himself in the blistering heat of the fight. This has been their focus since the first Poirier bout.

In Gaethje’s last fight, we saw great evolution as we witnessed him systematically take apart a very accomplished, future lightweight elite in Rafael Fiziev. In that fight, Gaethje came with a plan, executed said plan, then allowed his raw aggression to put an exclamation on his systematic yet aggressive attack.

Gaethje believes that Poirier will step into the cage Saturday with a foe that is nowhere near the fighter or man he fought in 2018, and to an extent I believe that to be true.

For Poirier, there is only positivity. Aside from losses to Oliveira and Nurmagomedov which Poirier has moved beyond; he’s had his hand raised in his last nine competitions. He’s a refined, precise striker who is versed in grappling, has cardio for ten rounds, features a granite chin and is as determined as any athlete in the organization.

Poirier’s precision, athleticism, fight IQ and experience against the absolute elite in the division make him the threat to the title, in my opinion, should he get his hand raised here.

A clarifying way to look at these maniacs is by their numbers.

Poirier lands 5.51 significant strikes per minute and only allows 4.25 for a +1.26 ratio. He averages 1.4 takedowns per fight, and he defends 63% of takedown attempts. A well-rounded approach.

Gaethje’s numbers are more reflective of the reckless, aggressive Gaethje as his successful significant strikes are a whopping 7.38, but the significant strikes he receives is 7.66 for a negative .28 ratio. He attempts few to no takedown attempts in his bouts, though he has a solid wrestling base and defends 53% of takedowns. A singularly dimensioned approach.

Both men, after losing to Oliveira, had impressive victories to set them up for this fight which essentially props the winner into a final run at a title fight, while the loser will have a long road back to contention realizing that each combatant is thirty-four.

It’s Poirier’s more diverse fight ability, his logic, calm demeanor and ability to remain on plan against the “natural born brawler” in Gaethje who is claiming to be more patient and “Poirier-like” in his approach.

My question is, does that all change once Poirier pastes Gaethje with a two-piece to the teeth?

This fight opened Poirier -125

Total for this fight: 2.5 Rds. Over -130

This total surprised me since these two went a ferocious four-plus rounds in their first fight. Each man seems to be entering this fight more dangerous as a mixed martial artist than when they first fought despite the five-year gap in bouts. The point spread of “Poirier -5.5 points -105” most surprises me as this seems to indicate a relatively one-sided fight favoring Poirier.

I handicap this fight as very tight early but as the minutes elapse wears Poirier’s speed, precision, power, cardio and footwork will be the differentiating factors in this bout.

Pick: Poirier via KO, Submission or DQ +130

Kuhn: We can only hope that Poirier and Gaethje are getting paid a lot this weekend because they are both bound to deliver and receive much violence. Both have been about as successful as you can be at Lightweight, without ever having won more than an interim title, so the "BMF" belt is a fitting concession when the real belt isn't on the line.

Gaethje's raw power and go-for-broke mentality are dangerous, especially when combined with his five-round stamina. But if you had to design a foil for Gaethje, it would be someone with Poirier's skillset: methodical and technical striking, with excellent ground transitions and submissions.

The numbers lean Poirier, but that might assume he's going to leverage his ground game to limit how much time he stands in the pocket with Gaethje. The striking duel will be high-level but boils down to Poirier landing more often, with Gaethje throwing more heat. Poirier can score points, but he'd be wise to quit while he's ahead on the feet and get the fight to the ground where he has a bigger advantage.

Jan Blachowicz -120 vs. Alex Pereira +100

Light Heavyweight (205 pounds) 


Finocchiaro: We last saw the Brazilian Pereira being KO’d by Israel Adesanya in their rematch at middleweight this past April after KO’ing the then-champion in the fifth round of their first bout.

Pereira moves up to the 205-pound weight class for obvious reasons. He walks around at 225-230 pounds normally. The cut to 185 made him a monster to face on fight day, but as Adesanya displayed this past April, that cut took too much away from the Brazilian stalwart, thus this move up.

Weight class or not, Pereira, a decorated, elite, world-class kickboxer is relatively inexperienced in the MMA realm as his 7-2 record indicates. He was profoundly powerful and dangerous at the middleweight level, and his power will more than translate to light heavyweight.

What he may have issues with are the size of combatants he’ll face as well as foes whose fight arsenal is equipped with world-class grappling and wrestling. That will likely provide Pereira with plenty of challenge for his area in need of improvement is surely grappling.

In ex-champion Jan Blachowicz, we have a relatively understated Polish killing machine trained in Judo, dangerous on his feet, and decorated with a black belt in BJJ.

Blachowicz has been in with the likes of Jared Cannonier, Glover Teixeira (Pereira’s coach and mentor) and Thiago Santos, so he’s prepared for structured, physical foes like Pereira.

What Blachowicz offers as his most valued asset in this fight is his well-rounded fight ability. He can compete at a world-class level anywhere this fight goes. Blachowicz’s certain edge in the grappling/wrestling department provides him the means to get his hand raised in this bout.

He’ll need to press and tax the Brazilian striker from the opening bell and try to back him up. Blachowicz does not benefit in any way by remaining at distance too long.

For Blachowicz, eliminating distance from Pereira, smothering him, clasping onto him, clinching then pressing him against the fence are all signals he’s got the fight working by his parameters. The next move from the fence is the floor, and once there, this fight becomes Blachowicz’s to lose.

In summary, Blachowicz wants to fight forehead to forehead, then chest to chest while his Pereira must maintain distance in order to be effective with those long, vicious, damaging knees, teeps, elbows and fists.  

Blachowicz opened -145 for this fight because he is the experienced light heavyweight with more diverse weaponry. We’ve seen his price drop a bit leading into the week which in my estimation makes the Blachowicz side an interesting proposition.

Pick: Still monitoring

Total in this Fight: 2.5 Rounds Under -185

Kuhn: There are weight classes for a reason, and the 20-pound jump from Middleweight to Light Heavyweight was glaringly obvious when Adesanya attempted the same task of moving up to face Blachowicz. Periera might be better suited to the move than Adesanya, but the same factors still apply.

Blachowicz will still be the bigger and stronger man, capable of using heavy top control to stifle any striking threats, and probably also landed the more powerful shots while on the feet. Add in that Pereira's chin was exploited even at Middleweight, and there's a lot to like backing Blachowicz.

Marcos Rogerio de Lima -180 vs Derrick Lewis +155

Heavyweight (265 pounds)


Kuhn: You have to go back to 2016 to find a time when Derrick Lewis wasn't on the main card. But riding three straight losses, it could be that his best days are past, or that his opponents have cracked the code on how to handle his one-dimensional threat of power.

Marcos Rogerio de Lima may be a BJJ black belt, but he’s seen much better success with his striking. And if there's a glaring risk based on his record, it's when he's facing grapplers. That certainly isn't a problem with Derrick Lewis, so we might see a different strategy from de Lima, who could take things down to completely tilt the fight in his favor.

The Black Beast has a puncher's chance as long as he can stay standing, but thankfully de Lima's striking base has kept him safe from strikes throughout his lengthy career. The risk of Lewis's power will keep lines relatively close, but the fight should have a more lopsided outcome if de Lima has gameplanned properly.

GambLou’s ‘Bout Business Podcast drops Friday mid-day PST. All of Lou Finocchiaro’s final releases can be found there. He will also appear on VSiN’s ‘Follow the Money’ program Friday 5:30 a.m. PT.

Thank you for reading and enjoy the fights!

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