Dustin Poirier was an emotionally charged going into his first encounter with Conor McGregor more than six years ago, which led to a disastrous result, but he expects things will be different for the rematch at UFC 257.
Poirier hasn’t minced words about it in the years since was knocked out by McGregor just 96 seconds into their featherweight bout at UFC 178. He let the brash Irishman get into his head, and because of that he was compromised before stepping into the octagon. That was evident during their pre-fight media day faceoff, as the two sides had to be separated and Poirier told McGregor he “ain’t (expletive), boy.”
McGregor’s quick finish of Poirier validated him in a big way and set his career trajectory in an unprecedented upward direction. Poirier was the first ranked opponent he’d beaten in the UFC, and from there “The Notorious” went on to win titles in two divisions and become the face of the sport.
Reality is much different years later, though. Poirier has moved up a division and firmly entrenched himself as one of the top lightweights in UFC history, claiming an interim title and recording a number of signature wins on his resume. He’s no longer the hot head he was in his mid-20s, but rather a 31-year-old husband and father who has learned a lot about himself as both a fighter and person.
Those experiences have Poirier entering the rematch with McGregor on Jan. 23 with a healthy mindset.
“He was obviously a great fighter in finishing a bunch of guys before me in his UFC career, but at this point we’re both so much more established and have so much more experience, just more mature fighters, and I think you get a completely different fight here,” Poirier told MMA Junkie on Monday. “I was emotional in the first one. I wanted to hurt the guy. This time I just want to outsmart him, just want to beat him. This is business. This isn’t any ill will towards the guy.
“When I was younger, I used to fight with a lot of emotion. This isn’t the same thing for me. This isn’t about getting even for me. This isn’t like a revenge type of thing for me. This is about moving my career forward, about putting my family in a better spot. It’s not trying to get back a guy who got me. This is just business.”
McGregor is known for his ability to agitate opponents with his words, and Poirier succumbed to it the first time around. It would be easy to hold on to that error over the years, especially as McGregor has made his mark in the sport, but Poirier said he learned to let go a long time ago.
As their positions in the 155-pound rankings have remained close, a Poirier vs. McGregor rematch never seemed like an impossibility. Poirier has been asked about it a number of times over the years, but has never stepped out of his line to campaign for the fight or show signs of desperation.
Putting the rematch together now didn’t necessarily seem to be the UFC’s priority. McGregor made his frustration with his lack of activity in 2020 very well known, though, and after he exchanged some social media messages with Poirier, it came together somewhat naturally.
Given McGregor’s star power in the sport, he largely has the ability to pick and choose his shots in terms of matchmaking. Poirier admits he’s not entirely certain what’s behind McGregor’s motivation to pick him, but see it as a very logical booking.
“I knew it was a possibility, but I never chased it,” Poirier said. “It makes sense, I think, at this point. The rankings, the availability of fighters. We’re both coming off wins. I didn’t chase it. I didn’t think about it all the time, but I knew it was a possibility.”
The rematch with McGregor will mark the third time Poirier has encountered an opponent for a second time. His previous two rematch situations went well, with him beating Max Holloway and Eddie Alvarez the second time they fought. The difference with those bouts, however, is that Poirier didn’t suffer a loss to either man in the original meeting.
Poirier is not all that worried about the dynamics, though. He knows the progress he’s made from a mental and physical standpoint, so it’s hard to relate to anything from 2014.
“It’s kind of the same, honestly,” Poirier said. “Going into the Max fight I knew he was a different fighter. I knew I was a different fighter. I couldn’t really draw any momentum from the first fight, and kind of same here with this. This is a completely different fight. We’re both completely different fighters, and I’m not really looking back at that first fight.”
Despite losing the first one, Poirier appears to have some very real advantages for the rematch. One of those simply is activity in MMA. McGregor has fought just twice in the past four years, whereas Poirier has fought eight times during that same stretch.
The scale tips in Poirier’s favor when it comes to recent, high-level experience, too. However, he said McGregor is not to be overlooked in any way. Inactive or not, Poirier knows there’s a lot he has to be cautious of.
“We have to get in there and find out how it aligns,” Poirier said. “Watching footage and stuff like that, I can tell you the guy has one of the best counter-twos in the game. No doubt about it. His timing, his balance, his understanding of distance when guys are being too heavy on their front foot and throwing power shots. He’s a great counter puncher. He really is. I give him credit for that.
“I’m sure he’s always evolving and working to get better. I think people, because he’s been submitted, he’s such a big puncher, people underestimate his ground game. I think his jiu-jitsu and his grappling is better than people give him credit for. I really do. I’m not underestimating this guy in any aspect of mixed martial arts. I’m expecting him to come out as a mixed martial artist, not a boxer, not a one-puncher. He’s coming to fight, and so am I.”
When anyone signs on to fight McGregor, money and the thought of a “Red Panty Night” become part of the narrative. Poirier was in talks to fight Tony Ferguson at UFC 254 in October, but the fight failed to materialize because terms could not be reached with the UFC.
Poirier did not give exact figures of what the financial side of the McGregor fights looks like for him, but he confirmed he did receive a new UFC contract with plenty of incentives, and emphasized he wouldn’t be fighting McGregor at UFC 257 if he didn’t feel satisfied.
One of the stakes that remains unknown, though, is what the fight means for the lightweight division. Reigning champion Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement following a submission win over Justin Gaethje in October, but there’s since been speculation about whether that will stick. UFC president Dana White has expressed frequent confidence he’ll get Nurmagomedov back for one fight, and said the title won’t be taken off him.
Poirier is curious as to what will happen, but if Nurmagomedov sticks to his word, he said his matchup with McGregor should be designated as an undisputed title bout.
“I think if Khabib’s retired and not coming back, then I’m next in line for the title shot, and this could be the title fight,” Poirier said. “This could be for the undisputed belt. I think that’d make sense. Dana’s saying one thing, Khabib’s saying another. Who knows what the truth is? Time will tell.”
Whether the title is on the line or not, Poirier said he’s 100 percent focused on winning at UFC 257. It’s the only thing on his mind, and he hopes McGregor takes the same approach, despite his team recently coming out and discussing a boxing match with Manny Pacquiao.
“He might be (overlooking me), and that would be a huge mistake,” Poirier said. “That would be a huge mistake. I might be fighting Pacquiao.”