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UFC 291 Awards, Including Lifetime BMF Honors for Dustin Poirier

Although only one BMF belt was handed out at UFC 291, three men on the main card have built their reputations for the characteristics that would earn the fan favorite honor. They should be recognized for what they have brought to the sport, win, loss, or draw.

With all of that in mind, let’s hand out some awards to three of the key fighters at UFC 291 this past weekend.

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Late Evolution Award – Justin Gaethje

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Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the absurdity of a BMF belt, the rematch between Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier was the right fight to reintroduce the concept with. Their first meeting, which happened to be 2018’s consensus Fight of the Year, was a wild gumbo of violent collisions, and even in brevity this reunion lived up to that standard.

Not only did Gaethje avenge that loss with an exclamation point, he did so in a surprising way. Poirier admitted that the head kick that led to the stoppage was a technique he didn’t expect from the former WSOF champ. Twelve years and 29 fights into his career and Gaethje is still showing signs of growth. Considering the mileage he has accrued during that time, it’s amazing that we’re still witnessing an evolution at such a high level. 

Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an upgraded version of “The Highlight” step in the cage and outperform the high benchmark he’s already set for himself. After the aforementioned Fight of the Year defeat, which was preceded by an eerily similar bout with Eddie Alvarez, Gaethje returned with a calmer and more calculated approach which led to his interim title win over Tony Ferguson. After falling short in two undisputed championship opportunities, he displayed new wrinkles in his game against Rafael Fiziev. 

Perhaps the third time’s the charm for Gaethje. Either Islam Makhachev or Charles Oliveira will have quite the challenge on their hands if the newly crowned BMF is granted a title shot.

BMF of Life Award – Dustin Poirier

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Credit: Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

Just because Justin Gaethje walked away from UFC 291 with a new belt for his trophy case, doesn’t mean that Dustin Poirier isn’t a BMF in his own right. The “Diamond” has proven time and time again over a long and storied career across two weight classes that very few deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence when it comes to both entertaining and performing under the bright lights.

Poirier has remained dedicated to showing up, biting down on his mouthguard, and justifying his place among the world’s elite fighters. As the landscape of the sport has evolved during his 14 years as a professional, his resistance to engage in marketing gimmicks has been a breath of fresh air for purists longing for the simplicity of two combatants testing one another’s skill sets without artificial stakes.

The irony here is that Poirier has become sort of an antihero in this era. He has been able to thrive by going against the grain while benefiting from the spotlight he simultaneously shuns. He can stand on the shoulders of a brash personality like Conor McGregor and fight for prop belts without compromising his own integrity. 

If his post-fight comments are any indication, Poirier has no intention of hanging around as a stepping stone for emerging contenders or bending his principles to remain relevant. If he were to hang it all up right now, how could he not be in the conversation for all-time great BMFs?

Out To Pasture Award – Tony Ferguson

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Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It happens to everyone who spends a bit too much time taking life-altering damage for a living. The body, the mind, or spirit will eventually give out and lead to a destructive decline. This is especially true for someone who has spent much of their time in the Octagon giving as much damage as they have received.

No one can question Tony Ferguson’s mind or spirit. Ferguson’s sometimes woefully eccentric mind has never wavered as far as MMA is concerned. His spirit is strong as ever as evidenced by his consistent forward pressure against Bobby Green. His body on the other hand is far removed from the man who set the record for consecutive wins in the UFC lightweight division.

While Ferguson did find a few fleeting moments of success, the overall picture of his submission loss to Green was anything but competitive. Much like his previous five losses, “El Cucuy” couldn’t build upon what was working and was overwhelmed by the offense of his opponent. Instead of the unconventional yet effective game of a well-rounded fighter with quick reflexes, we’re seeing awkward displays at half speed which render him ineffective against the best in the world. 

It would be nice to see Ferguson get a proper send off much like Robbie Lawler recently did. But Lawler scoring a dramatic knockout in a retirement fight against a much younger opponent stands out for it being the exception to the typical story of a weathered veteran. Considering his in-cage performances and his recent legal issues, perhaps it’s time for Ferguson to focus on something other than fighting. If it wasn’t clear before, last night is a clear sign that the BMF mentality has finally caught up to Tony Ferguson.

Ant Walker is a native of the Washington DC area that now lives in Los Angeles. He has been... More about Anthony Walker

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