Poirier's road back to the top of the UFC after Khabib heartache
Dustin Poirier was left ‘beaten up and heartbroken’ after his 2019 loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov and feared he would NEVER fight for the UFC title again… but wins over Conor McGregor have put him on the cusp of glory and he knows not to waste his shot
- Dustin Poirier believed his shot at UFC stardom was over in September 2019
- The Diamond, 32, suffered defeat by the all-conquering Khabib Nurmagomedov
- Poirier says he was ‘beat up and heartbroken’ after that sobering defeat
- Victories over Conor McGregor have seen him work his way back to the summit
Two years ago, Dustin Poirier was a man asking himself deep, probing questions.
‘I’m familiar with adversity,’ he said after his defeat by Khabib Nurmagomedov.
‘It’s just I have to live the rest of my life asking myself if I could have done more, if I could have maybe escaped some of those takedowns. If I could have pushed harder when I had my underhooks against the fence. Those are the questions that will haunt me.’
The American, 32, fresh off a sobering loss to Nurmagomedov, was pondering whether his title shot on Fight Island would be his one and only opportunity to strike gold, a chance spurned that he will never grasp again.
Dustin Poirier has put himself back on the cusp of UFC glory when all hope had appeared lost
‘After the Khabib fight, I was beat up and heartbroken,’ the Diamond told The MMA Hour. ‘Like a reality that hit me – this could have been it, this could have been the chance, and I just blew it.
‘When all the cameras go away, when all the music stops playing, when you’re by yourself and you look in the mirror after a fight like that, or you go take a shower and reality sets in, it’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes.’
With a champion as dominant as Nurmagomedov at the lightweight division summit, it would be understandable if Poirier wallowed away in a state of self pity, bemoaning the outcome of his failed tilt at history, fearing that he will never usurp the relentless Dagestani to clinch UFC gold.
Poirier had a shot at the lightweight title against Khabib Nurmagomedov two years ago
The 32-year-old showed glimpses of quality but was ultimately beaten by the Dagestani
Poirier reflected that the defeat to Nurmagomedov left him ‘beat up and heartbroken’
Yet lurching is not in Poirier’s nature, and after a nine-month hiatus, the Diamond returned to the base of the mountain once more, determined that this escapade would result in triumph.
Stood in his way was Dan Hooker. The gritty Kiwi has long lingered around the top five in the rankings, and is widely regarded as the gatekeeper to No 1 contender shootouts and beyond.
And Hooker certainly made life difficult for Poirier. The Hangman took the opening two rounds at the UFC Apex, before Poirier rallied to finish the final three rounds the stronger fighter and snatch a narrow unanimous points victory.
Both men required a visit to the hospital after the striking-heavy bout, and Poirier vowed to ‘give it his all’ on his redemption journey.
After a nine-month hiatus, Poirier returned to the foot of the mountain against Dan Hooker
The pair slugged out a gruelling five-round contest which Poirier won by unanimous decision
Both men ended up in hospital and Poirier vowed to give it his all to put on a winning run
‘It was a tough one,’ he said, ‘Dan came to fight. He’s a tough guy. He’s on the rise. He really thought he was going to get past me. I trusted in my team, in my skill and my work ethic.
‘Now that I’m a victor again, I want to get back to the drawing board. I just want to do it right and give it my all the right way.’
Fighters tend to try and book their next fight in the immediate aftermath of victory or defeat, typically launching an X-rated rant down a camera lens in a bid to rally interest behind whichever clash they are pursuing.
For Poirier, he booked his next lightweight bout with a one-word tweet.
2020 was a frustrating year for Conor McGregor. The Irishman had been targeting an active 12 months in the Octagon, but Covid had pushed the UFC’s plans for a return.
Responding to one of many of McGregor’s tweets bemoaning his lack of activity, Poirier managed to lure the Notorious into an agreement.
A charity exhibition bout was mooted, before the UFC decided that a re-run of the pair’s 2014 featherweight clash – this time at 155 pounds – made sense for all parties.
Poirier welcomed Conor McGregor back to the UFC with a stunning victory on Fight Island
Poirier handed the Irishman his first career defeat by knockout in a seismic triumph this year
There had been plenty of mutual respect between the pair heading into their Fight Island rematch. McGregor respected the way Poirier had bounced back from his devastating defeat seven years earlier and his philanthropic endeavours, while the American could not begrudge the Irishman his global success.
But while the pair had both grown outside of the sport, Poirier made apparent the clear gulf in quality between the two rivals in the Octagon, pummeling McGregor inside two rounds to hand him his first defeat by knockout.
It took Poirier five wins to book a title fight with Nurmagomedov in September 2019, yet the manner of his victory over McGregor resulted in calls for the American to get another tilt at the belt – which had been vacated by the Dagestani by January.
Yet rather than pursue a title fight, Poirier – lured by the riches on offer when taking on McGregor – opted to dance with the Irishman again.
The American opted to take a money fight rematch instead of a shot at the vacant belt
‘I’ve got so many a** whoopings left to handout,’ he said after his victory. ‘I feel like I’m just hitting my prime and just putting everything together. My body and my mind are finally on the same wavelength. And I just turned 32 this week. We’ll see what happens, man. I don’t know.’
Where there was cordiality between McGregor and Poirier in the build-up to their rematch, the pair’s trilogy fight was fuelled by vitriol and toxicity.
A row that began with claims over a charitable donation ended with McGregor vowing to leave his American rival ‘a corpse’ leaving the Octagon ‘on a stretcher’ after their UFC 264 clash.
Poirier handled the attempt at mind games with class and remained undeterred by the Irishman’s antics, endearing himself to the wider UFC masses as a result.
The Diamond handled McGregor’s mind games with aplomb at UFC 264 and endeared himself to the wider UFC masses
Poirier dominated a thrilling opening round before McGregor broke his leg in Las Vegas
A thrilling opening round resulted in McGregor breaking his leg at the sound of the klaxon, handing Poirier a second victory over the Notorious in the space of six months. The 32-year-old said that his triumph was ‘karma’ for McGregor’s unsavoury comments prior to the lightweight fight.
Muted calls for a fourth clash followed, but there would be no denying Poirier a title fight next. Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler had contested the vacant belt in May, with the Brazilian triumphing over the former Bellator champion, yet Poirier has long been viewed as the 155-pound champion in all but name.
The Diamond tweeted ‘Fool’s Gold’ after the announcement of Oliveira v Chandler, and believes that he will have too much for the reigning champion.
Now Poirier has his gaze firmly set on ensuring he does not fall at the final hurdle once more
‘I really think I’m going to stop this guy,’ Poirier told MMA Fighting.
‘I really think I’m going to stop this guy. 25 minutes is too long to fight with me and not get hit with a shot and not get put in a bad position. I’m feeling the best I’ve ever felt.
‘My body feels good. I’m really focused. I can’t wait.’
Having endured the pain of missing out over two years ago, Poirier will know to leave everything out there to go one step further and climb atop the lightweight mountain at the second time of asking.
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