The UFC legend Chael Sonnen often summarises the objective of Mixed Martial Arts as “You don’t hit me, and I hit you”. It was an objective barely in sight, let alone attained, in the wild slugfest of Poirer VS Hooker at UFC Fight Night: Austin. In a year full of fights vying for the accolade, many claim this was the best fight of 2020 (for my money it’s still Joanna Jędrzejczyk VS Weili Zhang). Undoubtedly it included one of the best rounds in all UFC history, with a thrilled Michael Bisping shouting “the best thing you’ll ever see in the Octagon, unless you like defence” at its close.
There looked to be a feeling out process early in round 1, with Poirier landing some body kicks and Hooker firing back with the calf kicks that have become a stock-in-trade in the UFC over the last year. This quickly melted away into a war. The fight became a see-saw – Poirier would land a flurry of hard head shots, with a terrifying accuracy rate. You felt Hooker would crumble. And then Hooker would fire right back with body shots, upper cuts, hooks, and the threat of his most feared weapon, the sudden right knee. Neither man backed off from this process for even one second of the first two rounds; Poirier in particular was trying to take Hooker’s head off, narrowly missing with a couple of shots that swung his entire body across the octagon with momentum. They simply emptied the gas tank on each other there and then, as bewildered UFC fighters tweets appeared at the bottom of the screen – “These guys are trying to kill each other”.
The challenger looked good. Hooker’s calf kicks and body shots worked nicely, he was calm and smooth under intense pressure from Poirier, and narrowly edged the back-and-forths for the first two rounds. At the end of the second, he unleashed a devastating combo on Poirier against the fence, beginning with a right knee and then appearing to just use his head as a punch bag, landing what felt like a dozen vicious and unanswered hooks before the buzzer. I couldn’t believe Poirier was standing. But this is a fighter possessed with pure grit – a man who knocked out the zombie-chinned Justin Gaethje, and although as outclassed by Nurmagomedov as every other fighter, had the Dagestani on the run at one point in their fight, and was a hair’s breadth from finishing a guillotine that would have shocked the world.
As the rounds wore on Poirier picked up momentum – Hooker was cut over his eye and had absorbed an incredible amount of head shots, but was ultimately being limited by fatigue. He looked to have switched strategies with an impressive series of takedowns – Poirier seriously threatened with guillotine submissions from the bottom, but both men were too sweaty for them to lock in. In the end Hooker couldn’t quite keep the pace up, with Poirier edging him out in rounds 3 and 4, and picking apart the exhausted Kiwi at the end of round 5. Neither man’s stock goes down – an incredible fight.