Dustin Poirier is 7-1 in the three years since he returned to lightweight. His road has been anything but easy. From Justin Gaethje to Anthony Pettis, Jim Miller to Joseph Duffy, Poirier has given his body over to the blood gods time and time again and spilled his fair share of crimson inside the UFC’s Octagon, all in pursuit of his long-awaited, ever-elusive first title shot. And now his moment may finally be within reach.
Poirier faces Eddie Alvarez this Saturday in Calgary in the much-anticipated main event of UFC on FOX 30, and for “The Diamond,” a 20-fight UFC veteran, the stakes have never been higher.
“For me, in my heart, I believe a win gets me a title shot, so that’s what I’m going into this fight with,” Poirier said Monday on The MMA Hour.
“They’re all so important, every one is the most important, every next fight is your most important fight, but there’s a lot on the line for me in this fight. It’s been a lot of years to get to this point, to be a step away from a title shot, and here we are. I’m not going to let it slip through my fingers. I’m prepared to do whatever I have to do and go through whatever I had to go through Saturday night to be victorious, and there’s no doubt in my mind I’m going to get my hand raised. That’s just the mindset I’m going into this fight with.”
Poirier, 29, previously faced Alvarez in an infamous 2017 contest at UFC 211 that ended prematurely in the second round when Alvarez landed a pair of illegal knees to the head of a grounded Poirier. Prior to that sequence, Poirier and Alvarez were well on their way to putting together an instant classic. “The Diamond” badly hurt Alvarez in the opening stages of the match, but Alvarez roared back to life and returned the favor with a fury before the action ended in an anticlimactic no contest.
Both men are undefeated since, and their rematch has remained atop the must-see lists of MMA fans worldwide. Alvarez rebounded with a grueling knockout win over Gaethje in December 2017, while Poirier scored back-to-back TKOs over Pettis and Gaethje, the most recent of which took place this past April. And Poirier believes the lessons he learned against Gaethje, along with careful study of where things went wrong at UFC 211, will turn the tide in his favor when his second shot at Alvarez arrives this weekend.
“I just need to sharpen up,” Poirier said. “My patience is better. I’m more experienced, I’m more mature now. Those kind of things got me in trouble in the last fight. When I hurt [Alvarez], I went crazy trying to get him out of there. I had a similar thing happen in the Gaethje fight — I hurt him, but that time I was a little bit more patient and I put him away.
“This time when I hurt Eddie, I’m going to take my time. I know that I did it with skill, this stuff doesn’t happen by chance. So if I do hurt him, I can take my time and put him away. And if I don’t put him away there, then it’ll happen again, I’ll hurt him again. You’ve just got to stick to that and keep it clean, man.”
Poirier’s approach to the Gaethje fight led to perhaps the most mature performance of the Louisiana native’s nine-year MMA career. His goal was to not get sucked into a brawl, and although there were definitely moments when his brawling tendencies slipped out, Poirier for the most part stayed technical, precise, and patient en route to dispatching Gaethje with a gritty fourth-round stoppage. “The Diamond” is confident the same approach will be equally successful in his rematch with Alvarez.
“I feel like it’s going to be similar,” Poirier said. “I feel like the Gaethje fight could’ve been as smooth or as tough as I made it, and I think this fight is going to be similar if I stick to my gameplan. If I use clean and crisp striking and I don’t brawl, then it’ll be as smooth as I want it to be. Of course, it’s still a fight, so adversity might present itself. But I’m the better fighter, I believe.
“[Beating Gaethje in the way that I did] gave me reassurance that these guys — guys like Gaethje, guys like Eddie — these guys don’t mentally break,” Poirier added. “They don’t find a way out. They don’t beat themselves. These guys are in there for the long haul. And it just reassures to me that technique and patience [matter]. When your body quits on you, it doesn’t matter how mentally tough you are. All of these guys are tough. And the same thing is going to happen with Eddie. He’s a warrior. He’s a dog. He wants to go out there and fight. His back’s against the wall. He’s in a dangerous spot in his career and he’s going to leave it all out there. And when his body quits on him, there’s nothing he can do about it. That’s the beautiful part about fighting.”
The UFC lightweight title picture is still murky, largely because of the questions surrounding Conor McGregor, but also partly because of the uncertain injury status of Tony Ferguson. Poirier believes lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his belt in late 2018. If that happens, Poirier knows McGregor will have first dibs. If McGregor doesn’t fight, though, Poirier is staunch in his belief that he will be the next man up with a win over Alvarez. And even if Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor takes place this year, Poirier hopes he will get the next crack at the title in early 2019.
But that’s simply speculation.
None of it will matter if Poirier doesn’t first attend to business at UFC on FOX 30.
“I’m going to go out there and earn it the hard way: In blood,” Poirier said. “I’m going to earn my title shot. I’m going to earn this win. I’m going to take everything I want, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
“Everybody has their own path. Everybody peaks at different times. Nothing in my life was ever easy. Adversity teaches a man a lot about himself. I’m well acquainted with myself, man. I know what’s going on, I know who I am, and this is just fighting. Tune in Saturday, watch me go to work.”