After having his days as a rugged regional prospect with elite upside captured in the documentary Fightville, it’s only fitting that Dustin Poirier’s maturation as a fighter has played out on the grand stage for all to see.
The final image of Petra Epperlin and Michael Tucker’s behind-the-scenes look at the mixed martial arts scene in Lafayette, Louisiana is Poirier celebrating his victory over Derek Gauthier in Montreal, frozen with the news that following the bout, “The Diamond” inked a deal to compete in the WEC, which was still the home of the best featherweights in the world at the time.
Everything since then has taken place in full view of the ravenous MMA audience who have watched Poirier go from being an unknown newcomer and intriguing prospect to a Top 10 fixture and consistent all-action fighter in a pair of divisions.
Currently stationed at No. 9 in the lightweight division and readying to square off with former champion Eddie Alvarez at UFC 211 on May 13, the now 28-year-old American Top Team product is on the precipice of establishing himself as a title contender in the loaded 155-pound ranks and believes he’s finally found the right approach to help him ascend to the top of the division.
“Over the last couple training camps, I’ve focused on my awareness in there and my defensive boxing because I’m trying to go out there and take less damage,” said Poirier, who earned Fight of the Night honors for his victory over Jim Miller at UFC 209 earlier this year. “I want to be in those exciting fights that people want to see, but I don’t want to take a lot of damage; I want to be able to do it for another seven, eight years.”
The bout with Miller in Brooklyn showcased both sides of the internal tug-of-war that takes place for Poirier inside the cage.
At times, he was patient, calculating and precise, picking apart the gritty veteran with clean jabs and crisp crosses. In other moments, he threw caution to the wind, eschewing his fundamentals in favor of swinging for the fences and trading heavy blows with a smile on his face.
“The struggle is real, I promise you,” Poirier laughed when asked about the challenges of sticking to the game plan when a donnybrook is set to jump off. “That’s my DNA, that’s how I’m wired and that’s never going to leave. Put my back against the fence and the fight gets rough, I’m going to be the guy that bites down and fights until somebody falls; that’s never going to leave.
“But bringing that out at the right time, harnessing that fire and not letting it burn you is the way to think about it.”
Not only has Poirier’s approach inside the cage matured and evolved over the years, but the way he prepares in advance of stepping into the Octagon has been refined and reconstructed as well.
Like a lot of fighters, the proud new father used to become fixated on his opponents, studying them meticulously and letting his thoughts wander to where he stood in the title chase and what a victory would do for him.
“Before, in other camps, I would overwhelm myself,” admitted Poirier, who credits maturing as person, working with a mental coach and battling the best fighters in the world in two weight classes with helping him find his new pre-fight approach. “With breakfast, I would watch footage on the guy I’m fighting and cared too much about what was going on. Now I’m at the point where I’ve won a lot of fights and lost a few and I’m just enjoying what I do every day and worrying about me.
“If I sit here and think about what Eddie’s doing and what he thinks I’m going to do and this and that, I get so worked up,” he said of UFC 211’s featured preliminary card fight, the first since Alvarez dropped the lightweight title to Conor McGregor last year in New York City. “These last couple training camps, these guys are out of sight and out of mind. That’s the way I’m living my life.
“I’m pushing as hard as I can, doing everything in my power to show up in the best shape and the most prepared I can be. That’s all I can control. Everything that I can do is being done, plus I’m going the extra mile, so I don’t know what more preparation I can do.”
While he’s no longer worried about where a victory puts him in the crowded title picture or studying film of the man he’ll face in Dallas, Poirier does have a healthy amount of respect for what Alvarez brings to the table and sees this as an opportunity to elevate his standing in the pantheon of prizefighting greats.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” he said of Alvarez, whom he referred to as a legend in this sport. “He was a former champ; he did what I’m trying to do my whole career and he’s done it in a few different organizations. He’s a pioneer of this sport. I appreciate everything Eddie has done in his career.
“It’s an honor to fight him, it really is, because I’m going to go out there, beat Eddie Alvarez handily and I’m going to become a legend.”