It’s November 16, and there’s no rest for Dustin Poirier. In less than a month, he will fight Charles Oliveira for the lightweight title in the main event of UFC 269, and while most people in his position will start thinking about what winning that belt would feel like, he’s not allowing himself that luxury.
“I've been drowning myself in work,” Poirier said. “It would be nice to sit back and think about those things, but I have so much work to be done before that's a possibility. There's so many battles to win along the way.”
The 22-year-old version of “The Diamond” might have felt differently. Back then, it was all about chasing gold and doing whatever it took to get there. If it meant short-notice fights, he was in; if it meant fighting three or four times a year against killers every night, he wouldn’t blink an eye.
I mention middleweight great Harry Greb to the boxing fan and how in 1919 he fought 45 times. That’s not a typo. I tell him how Loopy Godinez reacted to that factoid, that she laughed and said she’d love to make a run at that record. The 32-year-old Poirier had a different take.
“At the beginning of my fighting journey and even at the beginning of my pro career, I would have for sure,” he said. “But then you have a family, and you realize how much time that will take away from your family. Preparing for these fights you have to be so selfish; it would just be a strain on my daughter and my wife, my relationships with them. Being home, being around my mother and my father and things like that, it would just be very selfish of me to try to do something like that. Along with the damage - you can never tell what's gonna happen in fights.”
That’s the difference between the two versions of Poirier. Once reckless, now responsible, Poirier fights for his family, not necessarily for the glory. Some would read that and think that the Louisiana native lost a bit of the edge that put him one win away from a world title, but that’s not the case. And all it takes is a look at any of his fights, then or now, to see that once the Octagon door shuts, Poirier still fights with the belief that he is fighting for the last time.
“It's not hard because I have an agreement with myself,” he said. “When I get in that locker room, what's gonna happen that night is gonna happen, and for better or worse, I'm okay with it.”
Is his wife, Jolie, okay with it?
A long pause follows, and that answers the question.
“I don't know,” Poirier finally says. I remind him that his bride didn’t show up last week. She’s been there from the start.
“She drove me to my first fight,” he laughs.
So is every fight torture for Mrs. Poirier?
“For sure,” he said. “It definitely is.”
“But it's so nice when you get your hand raised.”
That’s the drug, isn’t it? All the work, all the sacrifice, all the blood, sweat, and tears, can all be justified with a win.
In 35 professional fights, Poirier has felt that joy 28 times. Some were bigger than others, but for those few seconds of victory, they all felt glorious. None would be more important than getting one this Saturday, though. Because while Poirier once held the interim title at 155 pounds, it wasn’t the undisputed crown. And that’s the one he’s after.
“I'm definitely proud of the interim title, but if I got injured and could never fight again or if I decided to stop fighting one day without that accolade of being the undisputed world champion, it doesn't feel complete to me,” he said. “I'll be 50 years old, sitting back, thinking about the interim title, but thinking about not being the undisputed world champion. I'm very proud of that moment, but that was just a piece of it.”
He wants the whole thing. And he always has. So this weekend, it’s a chance to make a career-long dream a reality.
“For me, it's to be the undisputed world champion, to put a candle on this journey, this cake,” he said.
Sounds like someone who may just get his belt and walk away.
“We'll see, I don't know,” Poirier admits. “The goal is to be a world champion and I'll see what happens after that. It's tough to look that far ahead.”
Poirier has been around this sport long enough to know what happens to those who don’t focus on what’s ahead of him. So even though he is looking a little past December 11th, it’s not what you think.
“I don't look past fights or to other matchups or anything like that,” he said. “I'm definitely excited to fight before Christmas and be back home with my daughter and my wife. My daughter can celebrate Christmas with the family, and I appreciate that. Over the years there's been so many holidays missed, but it's gonna be nice to spend Christmas back home as the undisputed world champion with my family.”
See, he can’t help but note that when Santa Claus arrives to the Poirier home, he will encounter a championship belt along with milk and cookies. It’s the mindset of a winner, something Poirier has long had. And when you have that, there’s no need to tell the world about it. The same goes for the champion, Brazil’s Oliveira, and the result is that this fight is free of the wild back-and-forth attached to Poirier’s last fight against Conor McGregor. That’s good for the sanity of both men, and it’s a throwback to an era where a fight between the two best fighters in their weight class was more than enough to sell the event.
“Hopefully people respect the sport like back in the day, the honor and the true grit and fighting spirit of the sport and want to tune in to see the two best guys in the world fight for the belt - two guys who had a long journey to get to this point,” said Poirier. “It's an incredible fight that I'm proud to be part of. And there's definitely a lot smoother sailing when it comes to social media stuff and all that crap.”
Two fighters fighting to be called the best in the world. That’s old school.
“No running, no hiding, no step-aside money, you gotta fight,” said Poirier, whose respect for Oliveira and his journey to the top runs deep.
“His whole career, whether it was striking or obviously his submission game, he's always shown flashes of being something more than just another guy on the roster,” said the challenger. “And his perseverance and being around as long as he has, fighting everybody, paid off. He took those lessons from the losses and from the wins and put it all together and now he's the champ.”
So he wasn’t surprised when Oliveira beat Michael Chandler to become the king of the lightweight division?
“No, I'm not surprised.”
That means Poirier knows he’s going to be in a fight on Saturday, and he’s welcoming it, because if it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s almost as if the kid from Lafayette and the kid from Sao Paulo have taken the same road to T-Mobile Arena, and that means something more for Poirier if he can get his undisputed title by beating Oliveira.
“I have so much respect for him,” said Poirier. “He kept chipping away, never lost hope, kept climbing the mountain, picking himself up, dusting himself off. It's not easy to do. That says a lot about his character and his will to keep pushing forward. This game breaks and chews guys up and spits them out. And he's a guy who's resilient and stood the test of time and the lessons it took and put it all together. It's impressive. There's a few guys on that list like (Michael) Bisping, Robbie Lawler, Charles Oliveira.”
And Dustin Poirier.
“I'm trying to add my name to that list,” he responds.
“You’re already on it.” I say.
“Those guys were undisputed champions.”
Fair enough. But Saturday is just a few days away.