Dustin Poirier vowed to finesse Justin Gaethje, and finesse him he did.
In a clash of lightweight bangers that somehow exceeded lofty expectations, Poirier rocked Gaethje with a left hand before swarming him with punches to secure a stunning TKO in the fourth round of UFC on FOX 29's main event in Glendale, Ariz. on Saturday.
He had to eat a bevy of Gaethje's thunderous leg kicks for his trouble, but Poirier's methodical showing extended his win streak to three and prompted a postfight call to a cage-side Dana White for a shot at newly crowned lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov.
As expected, the pair of fan favorites slung leather and shin bones at an otherworldly clip, Poirier sticking Gaethje with the jab and meeting his pressure with seemingly endless combinations while the latter marched forward and chopped away at Poirier's lead leg with the blistering kicks that have led to many a man's doom.
Poirier wisely refused to let Gaethje draw him into a brawl, his volume putting him ahead on the scorecards heading into the third. Gaethje's striking defense involved little other than shelling up and eating leather, but his undying assault on Poirier's base nearly turned the tables in Round 3. With his legs chewed up by Gaethje's most valuable weapon, Poirier began shooting for takedowns, but the ex-WSOF champ shucked off every one of his attempts, kept walking Poirier down, and momentarily rocked him with a right hand.
Repeated eye pokes from Gaethje gave Poirier much-needed respite and preserved his lead on the cards, as referee Herb Dean briefly halted the action to dock Gaethje a point for the transgressions.
As it turns out, Poirier didn't need the deduction.
As Gaethje opened Round 4 with another leg kick, Poirier countered with a beautifully timed left straight that put him on skates, then unloaded a typhoon of strikes that sent him to the canvas and prompted Dean to wave it all off 33 seconds in.
The 29-year-old Gaethje has staged three instant classics in as many walks to the Octagon, but suffered his second straight defeat by knockout in his return to Gila River Arena, where he claimed two state high school wrestling titles over a decade ago.