DUSTIN Poirier defeated New Zealand’s Dan Hooker, in a remarkable fight of the year contender.

Something about the UFC Apex in Vegas continues to give us entertaining and high quality fight night’s. The card this past weekend was no exception.

Results:

-Youssef Zalal def. Jordan Griffin by unanimous decision (29-28 all)

-Kay Hansen def. Jinh Yu Frey by armbar at 2:26 of round 3

-Tanner Boser def. Philipe Lins by KO at 2:41 of Round 1

-Khama Worthy def. Luis Pena by guillotine at 2:53 of Round 3

-Julian Erosa def. Sean Woodson by D’Arce choke at 2:44 of Round 3

Takashi Sato def. Jason Witt by TKO 0:48 of Round 1

-Brendan Allen def. Kyle Daukaus by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 30-27)

Maurice Greene def. Gian Villante by arm triangle at 3:44 of Round 3

Mike Perry def. Mickey Gall by unanimous decision (29-28 all)

-Dustin Poirier def. Dan Hooker by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-46)

In the fifth consecutive event held at the Apex, the facility saw one of its best cards on Saturday night and certainly its best fight. Dustin Poirier entered the Octagon for the first time since his defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov in Dubai last year.

Prior to this, Poirier had collected consecutive wins against Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez and Max Holloway.

Hooker went in off the back of a five-round war with Paul Felder earlier this year, where he defeated the Irish Dragon by split decision.

Prelims and Undercard

As with every card held at the Apex facility, the prelim fights brought a bundle of entertainment.

A close opening contest in the featherweight division saw the promising Youssef Zalal defeat Jordan Griffin. Now 2-0 in the UFC, Zalal has impressed. Despite some errors, the Moroccan Devil looks a good prospect.

The only female fight on the card featured the debuting 20-year-old Kay Hansen. The bout became immediately more interesting after it became known one individual had placed $37,000 on a Hansen win. After the opening round they might have been worried, but Hansen got to work in the second. Landing an impressive takedown on Frey, she worked well from half guard for the remainder of the second.

Hansen secured a bonus and one man a whole load of cash with an extremely impressive submission in the third. After maneuvering into position for an armbar, Hansen dummied a triangle to force a Frey adjustment and lock the armbar in deeper, forcing the tap.

The only knockout of the card came next, and it came in brutal fashion.

Heavyweight, Philipe Lins was the victim, falling to an overhand right that Tanner Boser had been threatening all fight. Six consecutive strikes put Lins out cold, in a KO brutal enough to make you grimace at the replay.

Luis Pena and Khama Worthy was the pairing I was most looking forward to seeing come together at the event. Worthy achieved one of the biggest upsets of last year when he finished Devonte Smith with a clean knockout.

The underdog started strong, taking the first round through his superior striking and power. After taking the fight to the ground in the second, Pena evened the scores going into the final round. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that predicted a Worthy win via submission but that’s exactly what he accomplished. A tight standing guillotine forced the up and coming talent to submit.

With two highlight finishes in the UFC a seven-fight winning streak, Worthy looks to be a name we’ll soon see in the lightweight rankings.

A catchweight contest between Julian Erosa and the unbeaten Sean Woodson provided another Performance of the Night bonus.

Woodson’s unorthodox and awkward style presented an issue for Erosa, who looked unable to deal with Woodson’s striking. An entertaining second round saw Erosa firing back, and the fight could have been 1-1 heading into the third.

In the end scoring was irrelevant, as Erosa recovered from being knocked down to lock in a D’arce choke, handing Woodson his first MMA defeat.

The only middleweight fight on the card was a bloodbath. Brendan Allen and Kyle Daukaus beat each other up for 3 rounds. Daukaus was leaking blood significantly and Allen had one eye practically closed up.

Allen clearly won the opening two rounds and the 10-8 for the first round by one judge was understandable. Daukaus had a strong final round but was unable to find a finish. The awarding of the final round to Allen by one judge was unacceptable and raises serious questions about the quality of judging once again.

The card had already featured a number of impressive finishes so why not add a completely bizarre one. It was a lacklustre fight between Maurice Greene and Gian Villante, until the former secured a knockdown in the third.

Villante joined his stunned opponent on the canvas, but it was Greene who got a finish. A strange arm triangle choke from the bottom saw Villante tap. It didn’t appear tight enough but evidently Villante’s exhaustion got the best of him at the end.

An emotional Greene accepted Boser’s callout from earlier in the night.

The co-main event was widely anticipated, not only as a contest between Mike Perry and Mickey Gall, but for the presence of Perry’s girlfriend as his only corner member. After a close first round, Perry had to motivate himself through lack of a team, and that he did.

Perry largely controlled the remainder of the fight, displaying a vast improvement in his ground game and securing the decision win.

Main Event: Dustin Poirier (25-6-1) vs Hooker (20-8)- Lightweight

The entertainment arrived right of the bat, as an enthralling opening round saw both men exchange shots. Hooker immediately attacked the lead leg of the Louisiana-born fighter, a tactic which left a hefty amount of swelling. Despite early damage from kicks and Hooker’s dangerous left hook, Poirier found his stride after a few minutes. He connected with multiple body kicks and his first right hand of notice.

The round finished with some hard shots by both fighters against the cage. 10-9 Hooker after five minutes on my scorecard.

What followed was the round of the year. The sheer pace and output was beyond description, with shots landed that would have finished most fighters. Poirier pushed forward more in the second, landing clean strikes early. Poirier admitted he underestimated the height the New Zealander can achieve through his knee strikes.

It seems harsh for Poirier to lose a round like this, but Hooker simply wouldn’t stop pushing forward and throwing powerful combinations. Shot after shot landed in the last 30 seconds of the round, as Hooker’s relentless onslaught pushed the former interim champion against the cage.

With both men cut, the fight entered a third round with the underdog Hooker up 20-18 through my eyes.

Although both looked exhausted going into the third, there was no let up in aggression by either man. However, it was Poirier who looked the fresher midway through the fight. Capitalising on Hooker’s fatigue, the 31-year-old began to tee off, forcing Hooker to push for a takedown and end the barrage of strikes he was eating.

Despite achieving top position, Hooker was never able to inflict enough damage to counter Poirier’s efficient work on the ground. After a tight guillotine choke and a number of elbows and punches landed from the bottom, Poirier stood up and finished the round on top with multiple strikes before the five minutes were up.

One round back for Diamond, 29-28.

Entering the championship rounds, it was clear Hooker’s strategy had shifted to taking Poirier down. His attempts mostly failed thanks to some strong takedown defence from Poirier. After landing a takedown himself, it was Poirier who controlled the ground battle for the most part. He attempted an armbar and another guillotine, all whilst throwing multiple left’s to the side of Hooker’s head.

It was another for Poirier, who tied things up heading into the final round.

Throughout the fifth, Poirier found a home for everything he was throwing. Hooker continued to shoot for takedowns, but Poirier’s defence held up. The one occasion Hooker did haul his opponent to the ground, the fresher fighter was quickly back to his feet.

In perhaps the only clear round of the main event, Poirier ended the fight strongly, taking the final round and completing a 48-47 scorecard from me.

Back in Contention

This main event truly was one of the great lightweight showcases. It will have stiff competition for fight of the year after Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s crazy bout earlier this year, but it certainly achieves a close second.

The scorecards were accurate, although I initially failed to consider a 10-8 to Poirier for the final round, a scoring awarded by one of the three judges. Having watched the round back, I’m more understanding of the scoring, but would stick to my 10-9 estimation of the final five minutes.

Ranked third in the division with only Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje ahead of him, a fight with El Cucuy seems the logical path, given Gaethje’s upcoming title shot.

For Hooker, a meeting inside the cage with Charles Oliveira is appealing, given the Brazilian’s seven-fight win streak in the division. That bout would represent an opportunity for Hooker to return to winning ways and maintain a top five ranking, and reward Oliveira with a big name fight to help advance him closer to a title shot.

Performance Bonuses: Kay Hansen (Performance of the Night), Julian Erosa (Performance of the Night), Dustin Poirier (Fight of the Night), Dan Hooker (Fight of the Night)