UFC lightweight contender Dustin Poirier took so many leg kicks on Saturday night that he had to be helped down the stairs on his way out of the cage.
He was poked in the eye twice and his face was battered and bloody from more nearly 16 minutes of nonstop violence.
Poirier’s toughness was rewarded with his third straight win after battering Justin Gaethje with a series of punches early in the fourth round, stalking his staggering opponent and following up with shots until the referee stopped in to call it.
“We left it all out here,” Poirier said after his UFC on Fox 29 main event win at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. “Justin is a warrior. This Guy has no quit in him and I respect him 100 percent. He would have died in here if Herb Dean didn’t step in there to stop it.”
Poirier was struggling to put weight on his right leg late in the third round as a result of all the damage from the kicks, but he came out swinging to start the fourth and it quickly paid off.
He hopes the thrilling victory is enough to finally get him a title shot against new champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I know what it’s like to battle through adversity, get knocked down, get knocked out and stand back up,” he said. “I would never ask for anything I didn’t earn, but it’s time.”
It was the second straight loss for Gaethje after starting his career 18-0.
Alex Oliveira agreed to compete on the card less than two weeks ago and picked up perhaps the biggest win of his career with a second-round submission of former interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit.
Oliveira opened a nasty gash on Condit’s head with an elbow and then forced a submission with a guillotine choke.
“I have been through a lot in the build-up to this fight,” Oliveira said. “I do this for my family so it means everything to be here and win for them. That is all I care about.”
It was the fourth straight loss for Condit, who returned from retirement in December and has lost in both trips to the octagon since.
Middleweight phenom Israel Adesanya remained undefeated, though he was pushed the distance for the first time in his career in a split-decision win over Marvin Vettori.
“I’m not happy, but I’ll take the win,” the kickboxing superstar said after improving to 13-0 overall and 2-0 in the UFC. “My coaches say, ‘A win is a win,’ but that is not enough for me. I want the finish and I’m upset I didn’t find that shot. I think it’s absolutely insane that a judge scored the fight for him. I don’t understand that at all. He had the takedowns in the third round but I felt like I was piecing him up in the first and second rounds. There’s no way you could give him more than one round.”
Women’s strawweight veteran Michelle Waterson snapped a two-fight losing streak with a split-decision win over Cortney Casey.
Waterson struggled to deal with Casey’s size early in the fight before a takedown late in the first round changed the course of the fight.
Casey attempted several submissions despite spending much of the final 11 minutes on her back and was nearly rewarded for her efforts with a victory.
“Oh my gosh, when I heard the split decision coming in, I was worried,” Waterson said. “I felt like I had done a lot more in the fight and I had escaped every submission attempt, but you never know what the judges see and that’s the difference between half of my pay.
“I felt great throughout the fight. I was winning the exchanges and I was getting the better of the grappling too so I felt like I had done enough for a unanimous decision but I’m very happy to get the win. I showed myself that I can compete with the bigger girls in this division and I’m very happy to be back in the win column.”
Middleweight Antonio Carlos Junior highlighted the preliminary card with a first-round rear-naked choke of Tim Boetsch.
It was the fifth straight win for the Brazilian, with four victories during that stretch coming by submission.
Las Vegan Brad Tavares knocked out Krzysztof Jotko midway through the third round of a middleweight bout.
“I’ve got a nice win streak going and I finally found that finish that I was looking for,” he said. “Every guy I fight talks about how hard I hit so I wanted to make a statement and I did that tonight. Hopefully this win pushes me into the top 10. I’ve only lost once in the past three years and that was to the champion of the division so I feel that it is all coming together right now.”
Tavares hopes his four straight wins are enough to earn him a shot at former champ Michael Bisping next.
Welterweight Muslim Salikhov knocked out Ricky Rainey late in the second round and flyweight John Moraga edged Wilson Reis by unanimous decision in a matchup of fighters who have lost title bouts against Demetrious Johnson.
Also on the card, Gilbert Burns and Alejandro Perez picked up second-round knockout victories and heavyweight Adam Wieczorek submitted Arjan Bhullar with an omoplata.
Lauren Mueller, Luke Sanders and Yushin Okami all earned unanimous decision victories.