altitude vs attitude

Dustin Poirier: Attitude Vs Altitude

On 29th July at UFC 291 in Salt Lake City, “Diamond” Dustin Poirier sets out once again on his journey to become UFC Lightweight Champion in what is surely a “must-win” fight for the BMF title against former opponent Justin Gaethje.

Due to the enormity of this fight, one would imagine that Poirier will be putting nothing down to chance. However, in a recent MMA Hour interview with Ariel Halwani, Poirier shocked fans by stating that he would not be acclimatising to the high altitude of Salt Lake City, claiming that “they are not fighting on Mount Everest”.

Unfortunately, fighting a fellow rival title contender over 5 rounds at altitude is going to make climbing Mount Everest seem like a walk around a lake – even a Salt Lake maybe.

This is because competing at altitude impacts a fighter’s aerobic performance due to the reduced level of oxygen within their blood being passed on to their muscle. In fact, aerobic capacity is reduced by approximately 12 to 16 percent when first settling into a high-altitude environment. In a sport where fighters are constantly searching for an extra 1-2% performance gain, this can be a significant performance game changer.

Although variable from person to person and not being an exact science, it usually takes between two to six weeks for the body to fully acclimatize to high altitudes. 

Whilst Poirier plans to use an altitude chamber and mask in his preparation, these do not and cannot fully simulate living and performing at high altitudes. At a minimum, an MMA fighter should take four weeks, with high volumes of rest and a gradual training program rather than jumping into an immediate session of high intensity.

To further underline the seriousness of Poirier’s decision to arrive just days before the fight, Gaethje happens to train at a higher altitude than Salt Lake City (along with Kamaru Usman who is known for his gas tank) – providing a double whammy effect on the bout.

Looking back at the most recent card at Salt Lake City, many fighters claimed to have experienced several fitness and breathing-related issues. 

Before pulling off one of the now most famous head kicks in UFC History, Leon “Rocky” Edwards claimed he just couldn’t find his performance from the second round onwards. If he hadn’t thrown that once-in-a-lifetime head kick – he would be still ruing altitude rather than shouting “Headshot Dead!”

In 2015, “Cardio” Cain Valesquez also became a victim of bad altitude attitude when he lost to Fabricio Werdum in Mexico City (7,400 feet) for the UFC Heavyweight title.

Valesquez later claimed “It was like the air had “no substance” to it. Javier Mendez, Velasquez’s trainer later clearly exclaimed “For me, 100 percent altitude was the main factor,”. Velasquez had spent two weeks acclimatising to the altitude whereas Werdum had taken over a month to train in the Mexico mountains.

Going further back, in 2001 Lennox Lewis was offered a role in the huge hit movie Oceans 11. Whilst filming in Las Vegas where the movie was based, Lewis trained at 2,000 feet for his upcoming fight against the 20-1 underdog Hasim Rahman in South Africa. Whilst this was supposed to be a routine defence for the widely acknowledged best heavyweight boxer on the planet, Lewis had not taken into consideration one small but critical detail of his fight. 

The fact it was at 5,200 feet above sea level. Rahman had arrived weeks earlier in order to adjust whereby Lewis arrived just 10 days before the fight. Come fight night, Lewis appeared out of sorts (think Leon Edwards Round 2 to 4) until he was spectacularly knocked out in the 5th round.

All in all, when you consider age, the 5 rounds, Gaethje’s constant training at altitude, and the lack of preparation by Poirier to acclimatize, I predict a Gaethje TKO win by round 3.

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