The month of April could be a major turning point in Dustin Poirier’s pursuit of gold.
A week before Poirier faces Justin Gaethje on April 14 in the main event of UFC on FOX 29, the division’s top two active fighters — interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov — will square off for a 155-pound title of some kind at UFC 223. For Poirier, that means a win over Gaethje would put “The Diamond” on an ideal timetable alongside the victor of Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov. And while the UFC has thus far declined to strip Conor McGregor of the belt he’s not defended in 15 months, Poirier is confident the promotion will step in before the time comes at UFC 223.
“I think they’re stripping Conor here, and they’re going to fight for the real belt,” Poirier told MMA Fighting.
“This sport is a crazy thing, and what happens, it’s unpredictable. But I think the winner of Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib is going to be the real, undisputed UFC lightweight champion.”
The UFC has given no clarification of its lightweight plans since UFC president Dana White simultaneously announced that Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov was for the real 155-pound title at UFC 223’s kickoff press conference then declined to say that McGregor has been stripped of his belt. While Poirier has no insider information on the situation, he believes it’s only a formality until the decision to officially strip the Irishman is announced.
Such a move would obviously raise the stakes for UFC 223, as both Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are worthy of the championship mantle.
The two men currently combine to have the best and second-best win streaks in the division, with Ferguson having won 10 straight Octagon appearances and Nurmagomedov holding a perfect 9-0 in the organization. And Poirier is just as interested as most fight fans are to see how the scintillating matchup plays out.
“Just the two styles, I think Khabib’s going to pressure him and be stronger and better on top, harder to submit,” Poirier said. “I mean, if Kevin Lee can take Ferguson down, Khabib is going to do the same. And we’ll see. We’ll see [Ferguson] on his back again, we’ll see him throwing elbows and throwing submissions. It’s an interesting fight, for sure, but I think the most dangerous thing is how long it lasts on the feet.
“I know Tony’s really unpredictable, moves in weird, awkward ways, different timing. Khabib’s not as fluid of a striker, but we’ve never really seen Khabib in trouble on top, in guard. He does a lot of damage from the top position as well. So it’s an interesting fight, but I think Khabib’s going to come out ahead.”
Poirier added that he thinks Nurmagomedov also has a better chance to beat McGregor if “The Notorious” does decide to come back to MMA, explaining that Nurmagomedov’s “hard-nosed, staying in his face, wrestling and being gritty, keeping him against the fence” type of style could be a tough matchup for the Irishman to overcome.
But ultimately, that’s not what Poirier foresees happening.
After bruising through an undefeated 2017 campaign that included thrilling victories over Anthony Pettis and Jim Miller, Poirier finds himself at 6-1 (with one no-contest) since returning to lightweight. A good performance over Gaethje would even further add to his run. So with the timetables from UFC 223 matching up, and McGregor’s status a total mystery, Poirier believes his elusive first title shot may not be far away.
“I’m on the right track,” Poirier said. “I’ve just got to keep winning, and winning solves everything. So I’m going to come out here in two months and beat Gaethje, and I feel like I might get a title shot. I feel like I should get a title shot with that win.
“Get past Gaethje and fight the winner (of UFC 223), and I think it’s going to be Khabib.”