UFC 291: Poirier vs. Gaethje 2 – Winners and Losers

Get the lowdown on the real winners and losers of UFC 291: Poirier vs. Gaethje 2.

By: Dayne Fox | 1 week ago

Another UFC PPV come and gone and there’s no doubt UFC 291 was a good omen the MMA gods are presently pleased with us. Justin Gaethje beheaded Dustin Poirier in the second round of their highly anticipated rematch. In the processed, Gaethje exercised one of his past demons by evening up the score with Poirier and claiming the BMF belt in the process. While the belt is merely an honorary trinket – Jorge Masvidal never won another fight after claiming it and managed to maintain it anyway – it’s still a nice trinket only two people can ever claim to have owned. 

Derrick Lewis had a big night at UFC 291.
Derrick Lewis had a big night at UFC 291. IMAGO/USA TODAY

That was hardly the only excitement in the building for the night. While the co-main event between Jan Blachowicz and Alex Pereira was a ho-hum, nip and tuck affair, there were several other contests that more than made up for it. Derrick Lewis returned to his explosive form. Only one of the preliminary contests required the judges to do any scoring. The crowd was into it from the beginning and the fighters fed off their energy. If ever a recent card demonstrated what a positive effect a live crowd can have, this was it. 

But who were the real winners and losers of UFC 291? Sure, 11 fighters officially had their hand raised in victory, but that doesn’t always mean they are the true winners of the night. Same with those who didn’t get their hand raised. Just like not all wins are created equal, not all losses are either. I’ll give you the lowdown on who the biggest winners and losers of the event were. I’ll limit it to three in each category, doing my best to avoid having the same combatants of a contest in both categories. Let’s dig in! 

MMA: UFC 291 - Poirier vs Gaethje Jul 29, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Justin Gaethje (blue gloves) reacts to defeating Dustin Poirier (red gloves) during UFC 291 at Delta Center. Salt Lake City Delta Center Utah USA, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xJeffxSwingerx 20230729_szo_si8_0362
IMAGO / Jeff Swinger

UFC 291 Winners 

Justin Gaethje 

Despite Gaethje having won the interim title back in 2020, he’s been stuck with the label of coming up short on the brightest of stages. He lost the coaches’ fight to Eddie Alvarez. He lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov. He lost to Charles Oliveira. There was a degree of that with Poirier too, but Poirier also had the pair of wins over Conor McGregor. I don’t want to say Gaethje’s KO win erases away the idea that he can’t win the big one – he would still need to win the lightweight title for that to happen – but he can claim himself to be one bad MFer. 

It’s hard to believe Gaethje doesn’t have next as Islam Makhachev and Oliveira battle over the lightweight title. In other words, he’ll have the opportunity to completely erase that narrative. There was also talk of Gaethje fighting McGregor next at the post-fight press conference, but he quickly shot that down. Even if Gaethje doesn’t have quite the same vibe Masvidal had after putting Nate Diaz down, he appears to be calling his shots. About the only worry is Gaethje could age out soon as he turns 35 in November. We can only wait and see how much Gaethje has left in the tank. 

Derrick Lewis 

I suppose Lewis was able to find his motivation. Entering the event on a three-fight losing streak – and having lost four of his last five – the thought was Lewis’ career was winding down. Lewis has never had a strong love for the sport of MMA – I remember an interview with him several years ago in which he said he didn’t know who Fedor Emelianenko was – and he’s made a nice chunk of change over the years. It was conceivable he was done dealing with the punishment fighting brings. Or… maybe not. 

Lewis blasted Marcos Rogerio de Lima with a flying knee out of the gate. After de Lima hit the mat, Lewis didn’t let up, pounding away on the bulky Brazilian until the stoppage came shortly after. Lewis showed some genuine enthusiasm after the win, removing his shorts to the delight of the crowd due to his balls once again being overheated. Lewis also let it be known he’s now a free agent, which explains his motivation: money. Not that I blame him. Winning in this manner allows him to enter the market riding high and likely cashing in.

Roman Kopylov 

It wasn’t a flawless performance, but Kopylov delivered the highlight reel finish that was necessary to erase the shaky moments he had from everyone’s memory. After a back-and-forth opening round, Kopylov casually caught Claudio Riberio with a high kick out of nowhere shortly into the second round, putting a sudden end to the fight. In the process, Kopylov has reestablished himself as an up-and-coming middleweight after dropping his first two fights in the organization. Too bad Joe Rogan took the wind our of Kopylov’s callout of Sean Strickland…. 

The quality of the wins doesn’t call for a definitive contest against a ranked opponent, but Kopylov is proving capable of consistently entertaining contests. Each of his three wins during his current win streak came via violent finish. Combine that with the way his fight with Riberio went, it seems likely that Kopylov is a regular for Performance Bonuses. That should make him a hot commodity for other fighters to face. Or at least he should be. Given this is the way they make their living, I’d think they would be wanting to face guys who provide an increased chance for an extra $50K. 

UFC 291 Losers 

MMA: UFC 291 - Ferguson vs Green Jul 29, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) fights Bobby Green (blue gloves) during UFC 291 at Delta Center. Salt Lake City Delta Center Utah USA, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xJeffxSwingerx 20230729_szo_si8_0269
USA Today / Jeff Swinger

Tony Ferguson 

I find it hard to believe there was anyone who still believed Ferguson had anything left in the tank entering the event. I’ll be absolutely shocked if there’s still anyone left. Ferguson was still throwing the same type of strikes he was throwing when he was in his prime. The problem is he has declined so sharply in his physical abilities that it’s like he’s fighting in slow motion. Bobby Green was merely toying with Ferguson as soon as he was able to establish a rhythm. He capped that off by being the first to submit Ferguson, putting him to sleep just before the final buzzer. 

Ferguson may not have ever outright won UFC gold, but he established himself as an all-time great anyway. Some of the other all-time greats have never come close to sniffing a 12-fight win streak like Ferguson had. There were several former champions within that streak too. But there may not be a sport more cruel to its participants at the end of their careers than MMA. Ferguson is a good example. After six losses in a row, it can’t be ignored: Ferguson is done. 

Michael Chiesa 

I can’t remember a Chiesa fight where he looked like he didn’t want to be in the cage. He hasn’t always fought to his strengths, but he never looked like his head was elsewhere. Against Kevin Holland, Chiesa looked like he was already onto the next step of his career, working behind a desk as a UFC analyst. I’m not even just referring to his performance in the cage. I was regretting my pick of Chiesa as he was walking to the cage as the typical glint in his eye was missing. The feeling I got was let’s go and get this over with… and that’s what happened. 

This isn’t me saying Chiesa didn’t try. He was attempting to get the fight to the ground. He was fighting back after Holland hurt him on several occasions. But Chiesa’s heart wasn’t into it. Given Chiesa already has the next part of his life ready and roaring to go, it isn’t a surprise to see him fall out of love with the fighting game. Well… at least being an active participant. I anticipate we’ll hear a retirement announcement soon enough

MMA: UFC 291 - Chiesa vs Holland Jul 29, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Michael Chiesa (red gloves) fights Kevin Holland (blue gloves) during UFC 291 at Delta Center. Salt Lake City Delta Center Utah USA, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xJeffxSwingerx 20230729_szo_si8_0224
IMAGO / USA TODAY / Jeff Swinger

Vinicius Salvador 

What’s frustrating is Salvador has the potential in the world to be not just a good fighter, but a fun fighter. He has an insane amount of power for the flyweight division, has a solid chin, a lanky frame, and plus athleticism in a division known for having the best overall athletes. Instead, there’s a reasonable chance the young Brazilian is going to end up on the chopping block due to a complete lack of discipline. I’m not just referring to his performance in the cage; he missed weight by a wide margin too. 

In his contest with CJ Vergara, Salvador appeared to be more interested in showboating than attempting to win the fight. He threw with power only occasionally, treating the fight more like a sparring session than looking to put out the lights of Vergara. The only reason Salvador took a round is because Vergara took off the first round himself. Even in this fight, Salvador flashed what makes him awesome. The problem is he didn’t flash the goods nearly enough.  

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About the author
Dayne Fox
Dayne Fox

Dayne Fox is a contributing writer and analyst for Bloody Elbow. He has been writing about combat sports since 2013 and a member of Bloody Elbow since 2016. Dayne primarily contributes opinion pieces and event coverage. Dayne’s specialties are putting together the preview articles for all the UFC events and post-fight analysis. Outside of writing on combat sports, Dayne works in the purchasing department of a construction company, formerly working as an analyst. He is also a proud husband and father. In what spare time he can find, he enjoys strategy games and is a movie enthusiast. He is based in Utah.

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