Flashback to the post-fight presser following Dustin Poirier’s victory over Justin Gaethje in Glendale, Arizona in April 2018: hobbled by Gaethje’s trademark leg kicks, Poirier took questions from a folding chair where he revealed his greatest ambition: to tell his wife, Jolie, he had become the champ. Through the lean times and prosperity, she had always been his biggest supporter.
"I just want to go to sleep with that belt around my waist one night and tell my wife, 'I did it,'" a misty-eyed Poirier explained.
Fast-forward to February 2019: training in Florida when he learned he’d be facing Max Holloway for the interim lightweight strap at UFC 236, Poirier immediately texted his wife a few states away in Louisiana.
“She was back home. She was driving. She had to park our truck. And she started crying,” he recounted, his voice getting softer.
”You know, it's just the fruit of my labor. Years and years of her believing in me.”
A résumé as accomplished as that of Dustin Poirier could only have culminated in a title shot. With a string of performance bonuses that serve as testimonials to his devastating style, anyone who had followed his career knew this day was coming.
“Even though the way this thing came together last minute, out of the blue…this wasn't an accident,” Poirier said. “This was destiny. This was twelve years of work and preparation. This was no mistake. Everything is happening the way it's supposed to happen. By no means do I feel like this was just a lucky chance; I've earned this.”
That statement is hard to argue. Poirier’s most recent victories were artful works of savagery over a murderer’s row of former champions Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez.
Hovering again among the lightweight division’s elite, Poirier returned to American Top Team where he continued his notoriously dogged and disciplined regimen while he waited for the phone to ring. And he waited. And waited some more.
“I was actually at the end of my patience,” he said. “I was out in South Florida for a while just training, preparing, hoping something big was coming. And after about seven weeks, I started planning on going back home. I was like ‘I'm just gonna go back to Louisiana. I just can't live my life in limbo like this.’”
Just as the frustration was reaching a breaking point, the phone did indeed ring. And while Poirier admittedly was just hoping for “a big match-up, you know, another contender,” the news was even better: a fight for the interim lightweight title, and a shot a being the next fighter to take on current UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Victory, of course, will not come easy. At UFC 236, he’ll find himself standing across from the reigning featherweight champ in Holloway, as the Hawaiian looks to bring his own variety of striking dominance to the crowded lightweight congregation.
When Poirier competed at featherweight, he was among the last fighters to beat Holloway. And although it’s technically a rematch, the seven years since their last bout is a veritable ice age in MMA.
“It was a very long time ago. We were both completely different fighters. This a completely different fight. Fighting at this level for seven years, you have to get better. You have to grow. You have to change. Would we even still be in the organization if we were the same guys we were back then? You sink or swim, and we've been we've been swimming.”
Swimming indeed. Since his last loss in 2013, Holloway has rattled off 13 decisive wins on his way to becoming one of the most beloved champions and ambassadors of the sport. Since his return to lightweight in 2014, Poirier only has one loss in ten fights, and he can already sense some of the glory his opponent has tasted.
“I always knew I was going to hold the gold. I always knew I was gonna be the world champion one day. Here we go, April 13th, I'll be the interim lightweight world champion...another step closer to my ultimate goal of being the undisputed lightweight world champion. I put in the work staying focused stay on the path and victory is going to come.”
Steve Latrell is a writer and producer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheUFSteve