Dustin Poirier is a man who has served his time, and paid his dues to the sport of mixed martial arts.
At 30 years of age, and 30 professional fights under his belt, there is a nice symmetry to a career that has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs.
Having been in the UFC for almost nine years, and with 22 of those 30 pro fights having been with the world’s premier MMA organisation, Poirier’s journey to the top of the mountain has been an arduous one.
His current six-fight unbeaten streak is what has brought him to the lightweight interim title and a shot at Khabib Nurmagomedov and the undisputed crown, but this is no flash-in-the-pan.
Poirier has built unbeaten runs in the past – an initial four-fight run was derailed in 2012 by the Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung. Three wins on the bounce was ended by a certain Conor McGregor in 2014, while Michael Johnson was the man who ended another four-fight streak in 2016.
Since that point three years ago, there is no L on the record. Five wins and an unfortunate no contest have taken Poirier from a skilled and respected fighter who couldn’t quite get that into the title picture, to one who will stand across from the unbeaten Nurmagomedov at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi with a chance to do what 27 men have so far failed in, and it is not lost on the American.
“It means everything to me, how many times in our lives, or in our careers do we have the chance to really do something great,” he said. “These guys are building an arena for us to compete in, I am travelling across the world in the biggest fight that I can get, and I am going out there to do something that has never been done. I have an opportunity for greatness, I am approaching it that way and I am very excited about all this. I can’t wait. I am very anxious to get the fight week rolling.”
Experience doesn’t necessarily mean climbing the ladder in any sport, but as Poirier has matured he has grown exponentially as a fighter – never more seen than in his last outing against 145lbs king Max Holloway who moved up a weight class to challenge for the interim title but was dominated by the best Diamond we have seen to date.
“The biggest thing is consistency and self-belief,” he said. “Showing up every day whether the day before was good or bad. Staying true to the path of becoming the best fighter I can push myself and evolve into. I think self-belief and consistency is what has got me here.”
Khabib has defeated two of the men who inflicted losses on Poirier’s record, Johnson and McGregor, and no matter how much the Louisiana native has evolved this test will be above and beyond anything previously.
“I have been counted out a lot of time and at this point in my career this is just another fight,” he explained. “People are counting me out once again, and for good reason – the guy’s undefeated, I’m travelling across the world to a place we would say he is more favoured, but I am embracing this.
“I am going to go out there and do what hasn’t been done and put a loss on Khabib’s record for all the underdogs across the world. I am going to show that if you believe, if you work hard enough, if you are focused enough, if you are determined enough, in that 25 minutes you can be great. I will not let this slip through my fingers.”
Khabib has had a high-profile absence from the Octagon after his suspension following his win over McGregor, while Poirier’s April outing against Holloway was the perfect tune-up. The Diamond doesn’t see this affecting the Dagestani’s performance in Abu Dhabi.
“That’s more of an individual thing, everybody is different,” he said on the issue of layoffs. “Recently we have seen Nate Diaz come back and beat Anthony Pettis. Anthony has been pretty active and Nate hadn’t fought in three years. Ring rust is a term people toss around but I think it is more individual. It depends how hard you are working in the gym and how focused you are and how ready to compete you are, and I believe Khabib is one of the guys who works all year round and is always working on his craft and I think he is going to be the best he has ever been come September 7.”
This fight will present a unique challenge for Poirier in the fact it is in Abu Dhabi, his first time fighting in the Middle East. As with his fight-plan, no stone is being left unturned – this is terms of both the climate, flight recovery and nutrition.
“I have been doing a few different workouts in this camp,” he said. “I got out and did a lot of work under the sun, a lot of sprint work and a lot of stadium work. I did a lot of hard pushes under the sun, not that we are fighting outdoors but just to get my body in that heat. As far as the time changes, we are leaving nine days ahead of the fight, I think that’s going to be plenty of time.
“I am also bringing a nutritionist and chef with me. He has been in camp the last two weeks, and I am flying him to Abu Dhabi with us. I have housing sorted there with a full kitchen, so I am just taking a lot of guesswork out. I am going to have my team with me, we are pre-planning for all those challenges that come with food and time changes and trying to combat that as best we can.”
The laser focus of Poirier is fixed on Khabib, but should he fly out of the UAE as undisputed king, there is only one man who he sees as being next in line.
“One hundred per cent it’s Tony Ferguson,” he says emphatically. “Without any argument, it is Tony Ferguson. Honestly I don’t even think about that stuff because 25 minutes with Khabib is all I can focus on right now, I can’t disrespect the work that needs to be done on September 7.”
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