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Young standouts Dustin Poirier, Renan Barao move closer to title shots at UFC 143

Poirier wins Submission of the Night; Barao stays on his feet against Scott Jorgensen

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Sam Morris

Dustin Poirier submits Max Holloway during the first round of their fight at UFC 143 Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

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Roy Nelson and Fabricio Werdum embrace after their heavyweight fight Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Werdum won by decision. Launch slideshow »

If developing new stars for the two weight classes the UFC added a year ago remains a priority, the promotion may have taken two giant steps forward Saturday night at UFC 143.

Two fighters under the age of 25 confirmed their places among the top five in the world in their respective weight classes at the Mandalay Bay Events Center’s annual Super Bowl weekend card.

Dustin Poirier submitted UFC newcomer Max Holloway with an arm bar less than four minutes into their featherweight bout, while Renan Barao won a unanimous decision over former bantamweight top contender Scott Jorgensen.

“It is my objective to fight for the belt,” the 24-year old Barao said through a translator. “Whenever that is, if I have to wait in line, I’m here for it.”

Barao (28-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) and Poirier (12-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) could both fight for championships before the end of the year. Both are likely no more than one victory away from reaching top-contender status.

Poirier, 23, won his fifth straight Saturday and stayed unbeaten since dropping to the 145-pound division last year. He’s now finished 10 of 13 career opponents within the opening two rounds.

“When I do fight for that title, I want to take it and I want to hold it for a long time,” Poirier said. “So I’m just taking my time and building it fight by fight.”

Poirier has preached his desire to gradually climb to the top, but the time for patience may be running out for the Lafayette, La., native. The pool of challengers vying for featherweight champion Jose Aldo’s belt has started to dry up.

Aside from Poirier, Erik Koch and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung are the only top 145-pound fighters who haven’t faced Aldo. Poirier, who was supposed to face Koch at UFC 143 before an injury prevented the pairing, could face one of the two in his next bout to determine a top contender.

“I like those fights,” Poirier said. “Two guys on good win streaks, we’ll see what happens.”

Ideally, Poirier would like to spend a couple months working on his overall game before booking his next fight. Although it may not have looked like it recently, Poirier said he had plenty of areas where he needed to grow.

The game plan against Holloway was to come out methodical and pick him apart on the feet. That changed when Holloway attacked Poirier from the opening bell.

“He had nothing to lose and came in there throwing a lot of punches and kept the pressure on me,” Poirier said. “I had to close the distance, take him down and finish him.”

Defending against takedowns was supposed to be the area where Barao struggled against Jorgensen. But the Brazilian proved too quick on his feet and under control to succumb to any of Jorgensen’s advances.

Barao blew past Jorgensen in the stand-up, out-striking him by a wide margin. It’s unclear who will serve as Barao’s next opponent, as he seems to rank ahead of every bantamweight except Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber.

Cruz and Faber will clash for the title this summer. Barao could lurk for the winner.

“I have worked very hard and this feels great,” Barao said. “I was ready for this moment. The title is my goal. I train every day and I’m ready for it.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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