The old saying “diamonds are a girl’s best friend and a man’s worst enemy” goes double for the UFC’s featherweight division because it’s their most dangerous competition. The shiniest and sharpest jewel of the resident 145ers cut a three fight win streak in 2011 that announced the presence of the weight class’ newest rising star. Whether they’re from Antwerp or Africa, the only allotrope of carbon fight fans need to know about is the one born, raised, and training to get meaner in Lafayette, Louisiana: Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier.
“I feel like I'm living a dream,” exudes Poirier about fighting in the UFC. “It is all happening so quick. I can feel myself getting better with every fight. It's incredible. I could not wish or want it any other way. It all unfolded perfectly this last year. I really got to show my skills and fans have gotten to see who I am and it's just amazing. It's a lot of hard work that is paying off. It really feels good at night to lie down and see it paying off.”
It was only a year ago that Poirier made his Octagon debut at UFC 125 with the one-sided standup beatdown of the top ranked Josh Grispi. The decision victory, which featured a few 10-8’s in favor of “The Diamond”, shocked MMA fans because previously Poirier was a 1-1 lightweight in the WEC and Grispi was in-line for a shot at UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Poirier returned to the cage in June with another exciting decision win over British striker Jason “Shotgun” Young. To bookend 2011, Poirier was to set face a fellow burgeoning 2-0 inside the Octagon standout in Pablo Garza on the undercard of UFC on FOX in November.
“I felt like it was going to be a step up in competition from my last fight,” admits Porier. “A real test. Pablo Garza had proven himself a couple of times with some big victories. I knew he was an unorthodox guy who was unpredictable, so I knew it was going to be a fun fight. I knew it was going to be a fast pace and I was excited to take a step up on the ladder in the weight division. I train hard always, but mentally I was prepared for as soon as the bell rang to start throwing punches. In my head, it was going to be 'Fight of the Night'. It was going to be a 15 minute war. I thought his standup was going to test mine and I thought his ground game was going to do the same. I thought it was going to be a back-and-forth great fight. I was mentally ready for 15 minutes of bleeding and battling.”
All of that sounds absolutely magical to a fight fan’s ears, but the actuality of the bout was probably Poirier’s shortest and most impressive win yet: a second round victory via D’arce choke. Make no mistake, Garza is a fearsome young fighter with standup and submissions that can beat most competitors. Regardless, Poirier controlled the action on the feet and on the ground early and showed a clear strength advantage that night. The night-ending choke came a little over a minute into round two, as Poirier showed off the grappling skills he’s honed wrestling with close friend, mentor, UFC middleweight, and BJJ black belt Tim Credeur.
“I've been competing in jiu-jitsu for a long time,” tells Poirier. “I've been a purple belt for over a year. I do a lot of gi jiu-jitsu. That's something I have shown in other fights, but not before in the UFC. I think in this next fight, I think I'm really going to show how well-rounded I am. I have wrestling, I have jiu-jitsu. It's just sometimes I get caught up in the battle standing. I'm a fighter and I really enjoy fighting. I enjoy getting into a slugfest sometimes. But I'm grinding those edges away and becoming more well-rounded with every fight. I'm finding the better balance between my aggression and my techniques. I think that takes a while for some guys to find that to click. I think I'm starting to come into my own there. I got lots more submissions and I know I'm capable of finishing the fight wherever it goes.”
At UFC 143, Poirier will enter the Octagon for the fourth time to face the end result of a revolving door of challengers ranging from the “who’s who” to simply “who”. Originally, Poirier was set to scrap with southpaw striker Erik Koch with his similarly stunning string of UFC scores. Koch had to pull out due to injury and was replaced by 2-0 in the UFC orthodox grappler Ricardo Lamas. In another unlucky twist of fate, Lamas was forced to withdraw due to an injury and will be relieved by the debuting orthodox kickboxer Max Holloway. Some fighters play it off like a switch in opponent is not a big deal, but Poirier is candid when he notes that they are major disruptions to him. But what never wavers going into every fight is how committed he is to succeeding.
“In my mind, it's real huge to me when things like that change because I am thinking about it so much,” admits Poirier. “I play the fights out in my head so many times. I think about this 24 hours a day from the time I wake up until the time I wake up again. I even dream about it. This is my life. This isn't a hobby or just a career I'm trying to be good at - this is everything. That's the fight game though. Guys are in training and they get hurt. With all the changes that are happening, the one thing that keeps my confidence up is the one thing that is consistent the whole time and that is me busting my ass and getting ready to fight. That hasn't changed. No matter who I fight, I'm out here every day grinding, getting ready to fight. At the end of the day, I'm a fighter and we're going to get into that cage, close the door and we're going to fight. That's something that hasn't changed.”
As for the UFC 143 bout itself, Poirier will play the role of the savvy veteran to the rookie in 20-year old Holloway. “I feel like the old guy now (laughs) and I just turned 23 last week,” jokes Poirier, who has been scouring the internet to find out as much as he can about his new opponent. “He's 4-0 as a professional, has six or seven amateur fights I think, and I think he has some kickboxing experience. I know Jeremy Stephens flew him out to San Diego to help him get ready for Anthony Pettis. Holloway kind of resembles Pettis a little bit with his kickboxing and his length, so he's a rangy fighter.”
Whether or not he knows much about his competition, Poirier’s rock is his coach, Credeur, and the gym, Gladiators Academy, where he polishes his diamond-like brilliant skills six days a week. Also, Poirier has been in this situation before with impromptu opponents, as his fight with Grispi was taken on short notice and Young was a substitute for previously scheduled Rani Yahya. On top of that, it was only twelve months ago that he was making his own debut as the underdog against a surging odds-on favorite. Where previous experience, abilities, and that fighter’s edge have helped him to victory, Poirier expects much of the same on this Super Bowl weekend.
“Every fight I get into 100%, it is intimate for me,” affirms Poirier. “I study the guy. I don't care if he has one fight or 100 fights, I'm in this fight 100%. He's a dangerous guy. He's 4-0. I'm not underestimating this guy. I'm training like I'm fighting Anderson Silva. I'm over here and I'm not taking him lightly. I know how that happens to people. Just a year ago, I was in his shoes. I was getting into the cage fighting Josh Grispi, no one knew who I was and I was supposed to get destroyed by a top ten guy. I went in there and I destroyed him. Nobody knew that was going to happen. He's over there training and he's thinking he is going to do the same thing to me. Knowing that I've taken that same walk in those shoes empowers me to be ready. For me, I have to go in there and fight smart. I know what he's going to do. I think what he does good, I'm better at. I have to go in there and capitalize on his mistakes. I'm 11-1 as a professional fighter, but this is my 22nd or 23rd mixed martial arts fight. I have a little bit of experience and I have to use it to capitalize on his mistakes when he makes them.”
This Saturday, “The Diamond” will meet the Hawaiian Holloway in the cage with the same seriousness reserved for a main event. “I want to show the fans that I'm coming in better with every fight and I'm growing with every fight,” states Poirier, who knows going 4-0 in the UFC by simply beating the opponents in front of him is what will get him to his ultimate goal: the UFC featherweight title. “I want to go in there and make a statement. I am for real no matter who I fight. I want to move up and take another step closer because I want to be a champion one day.”
A diamond is usually set in gold, but if this year is like Poirier’s last, then “The Diamond” might be wearing the gold.
The Roles Are Reversed, But Poirier Won't Let His Guard Down
"I want to go in there and make a statement. I am for real no matter who I fight. I want to move up and take another step closer because I want to be a champion one day." - Dustin Poirier