Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje not “championship-level”

Kevin Lee (16-3-0) enjoyed the fight between Dustin Poirier (23-5-0, 1NC) and Justin Gaethje (18-2-0) at UFC on FOX 29 just as much as everyone else. Poirier scored a TKO victory and picked up his seventh win in eight bouts (excluding one no-contest). Afterwards, Poirier called out current UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0-0).

But Lee thinks the hype from the weekend has gone too far. He made it clear that while Poirier and Gaethje put on a fun fight, he doesn’t think they belong in the upper echelon of the lightweight division.

I seen it. I know Poirier was calling for a title fight and all this but I don’t know, it just seems like those dudes are in a different category. Can you really look at it and say Poirier’s a championship-level fighter? I just don’t see it. He looked good. He did good versus Gaethje, it was an exciting fight, I think he should go out and look for more exciting fights, but it didn’t really seem like a championship-level fight to me to be honest.

Lee is skeptical that he has what it takes to dethrone Nurmagomedov, who recently won the lightweight championship via a unanimous decision against Al Iaquinta (13-4-1). Lee isn’t taking anything away from Poirier’s ability to entertain. He and Gaethje won the evening’s Fight of the Night award. This was the fifth time Poirier has claimed that accolade. His crowd-pleasing style is clearly working. But so far, nobody has managed to even take a round from Nurmagomedov, and Lee thinks Poirier would falter like everyone else.

Speaking as a fan, what are you really looking for? He’s just going to go out there and get taken down by Khabib, he’s going to fight just like anybody else will fight Khabib or fight some of these top guys. I just don’t see too much from his style except exciting fights. I think him and Eddie Alvarez (29-5-0, 1NC), him and Gaethje again, something like that. He makes exciting fights, he should go out there and keep doing that, but leave the real fighting and the real championship-level shit to the other guys.

This was Gaethje’s third Octagon appearance and has take part in the Fight of the Night on every card since signing with the UFC in July 2017. Gaethje is a proven crowd favorite despite losing his last two fights after starting his pro career 18-0. While Lee can’t see himself employing that same reckless style, he won’t begrudge Gaethje for wanting to put on a show even if it’s not the best way to get ahead in the rankings.

Both of them, they seem like they’ve got a different type of mindset. Gaethje is out there just putting on fun fights, which if that’s what you’re doing it’s cool – if that’s what he wants to do, it’s his brain, it’s his body, it’s his health, it’s up to him what he want to do with it. It seems like he’s just okay with just being that and just going out there and getting his brain beat in so I can’t tell a man what to do. The man is grown.

Lee is scheduled to face Edson Barboza (19-5-0) in the main event of UFC Atlantic City. He lost his previous fight having been submitted by Tony Ferguson (23-3-0) at UFC 216 for the interim title. Barboza also lost his previous fight via a unanimous decision to current champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 219. Like Poirier, Lee expects a big win to vault him into a title shot as opposed to setting him up to fight another contender for that opportunity.

I think that’s what’s gonna happen. Even all that fiasco, everything shaking up last week with Khabib and Tony and all this, I apologized, I reached out to them and apologized to the UFC for letting that happen. If I would have shown up healthy against Tony Ferguson, that week in Brooklyn (at UFC 216) would have been completely different looking. So I apologize, but I’m a right my wrongs after this fight and then once I get that 12 pounds on me, I’ll right all this. I’ll clear up this whole division. It’s muddy right now and I feel like it’s my fault and I’m taking personal responsibility for it. Give me about a year’s time and it will all be etched out and they’ll know who the true king around here is.

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