As the weeks and months passed after Dustin Poirier’s December 2021 bout against Charles Oliveira, fans eagerly anticipated his next move, but the former interim lightweight champion, while a little antsy to return to the Octagon, didn’t lose his mind over the wait.
“It's hard to lose it twice,” he laughed. “It's already gone. So I was content but, at the same time, I wanted to fight. I stayed in the gym, helping other guys, made a few trips down to South Florida to keep me sharp, trained with the local fighters in Louisiana, worked on other business things that I had going on, and was being a father and being a husband. I got to catch up a little bit on life, but was still an active fighter, so I had to stay in the gym, as well. If history's shown me anything in the past after these long layoffs, I always come and have a great performance because I'm not burned out.”
If history repeats itself, Poirier will deliver a heck of a show in his Saturday bout against Michael Chandler, a matchup fans have been eagerly waiting for ever since it was announced. The reasons are simple: Poirier and Chandler never met a Pier Six brawl they didn’t like, and that has made them two of the premier action heroes of this era. Yet while the pair are expected to deliver 15 minutes or less of violence in Madison Square Garden, does Poirier ever feel insulted that fans want him to have to walk through fire every time to double his paycheck?
“I know it's not good for you long-term, but those are the kind of fights I've always wanted to be involved in and be part of, fights that the fans say that type of stuff about, fights that make me nervous,” Poirier said. “I like that. I'd like to get in there and it be a smooth, clean night and go home, but this is fist fighting.”
And few have done it better over the last several years than Poirier. Yet despite the wins over the likes of Conor McGregor, Dan Hooker, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje and Anthony Pettis, as you saw, he still gets nervous before every fight.
“When that goes away, it's time to stop,” he admits. “I think it sounds weird to people because they don't expect a fighter to say that because these fighters try to protect their aura. But I'm a human being and a man and I know no matter how hard I work here for the last nine weeks, that I can go in there and it's the theater of the unknown, right? I can get hit with a shot that I didn't see, and I can outwork this guy tenfold in the gym and go out there and still lose. If that doesn't make you nervous, that you've done all this work and there's a chance you still might go home the loser, you're in the wrong business. You should be nervous. It's a dangerous man.”
In the fight business, the old adage is that the nerves keep you sharp, and that the trick is getting those butterflies in your stomach to fly in formation. Poirier isn’t new to this, having heard it from one of his mentors, former UFC star Yves Edwards, when he cornered him for his last fight.
“He (Edwards) said, ‘Dude, it never goes away; this is my 80th fight and it never goes away.’”
So when Poirier is in the locker room about to face Chandler, those feelings will be all too real.
“I feel the same way every time,” he said. “I'm scared to death, but I'm not afraid to say it. That's the thing a lot of these fighters try to protect and hide, and they don't feel comfortable being themselves, but I'm still gonna go out there and put it on the line and fight my ass off, I promise you that. But I'm nervous. I don't want to fail.”
Failure isn’t a regular part of the Poirier resume, but he has felt the sting of defeat before. The trick is using that sting to propel you on to greater things, and “The Diamond” has always done that. But, having done all he has in the Octagon and outside of it, does he still need to hear the roar of the crowd and the thrill of the fight?
It's definitely a want,” Poirier said. “For so many years I needed it. Fighting three times a year in these big fights, on that third fight that year, there's going through camp, another grinding camp, and then you get to fight week and all the emotions, and sometimes I sit back and think I'd rather be any other place than here right now. And then you get out of it and have an 11-month layoff and you think there's no other place I'd rather be than in that place again. So it's a love-hate. It's crazy, the mental part of it for me. But I don't do this because I have to. So many years I had to because I didn't have a safety net. I do this because I want to. I feel good, I'm healthy and I know I can beat these guys.”
And doing it because he wants to makes Dustin Poirier more dangerous than he’s ever been. So, at 33, does that mean he’s got the rest of his prime planned out? Not exactly.
“I take it fight-by-fight,” he said. “I don't like to look too far because so many times I've done that. Honestly, nothing matters until Saturday. Whatever's gonna happen after that, November 12 has to happen first. So I can't look that far. I look at what I have, and that's November 12th, Madison Square Garden, and that's it. Show up my best, give it my all, and see what happens.”
UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira took place live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 12, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!