Dustin Poirier is at the peak of his powers at the moment. One of the front-runners for 2018’s Fighter of the Year award, Poirier currently finds himself ranked 3rd in the UFC’s lightweight rankings- an all-time high in his 21-fight UFC career. I spoke with the Louisiana native ahead of the highest-profile fight of his life.
Has training camp officially started now Dustin?
DP: Yeah, I got here about a week early just to kind of get in the groove a little bit and get used to being in South Florida with the guys in the gym. I always come out a little bit early but yeah, training camp started this week.
I saw you tweet a picture of you and Edson Barboza today, is that a permanent move for Edson?
DP: Yeah, him and his family moved down from Jersey and they’re back here. He lived in Florida years ago and decided to go to Jersey but he’s back and part of American Top Team now so it’s exciting to have him in the room. He’s an incredible athlete and there’s lots to learn from each other.
Speaking of tweets, Nate tweeted after the press conference that he wasn’t fighting at UFC 230 and that received almost as much attention as the presser itself. Did you have to reach out to the UFC afterwards just to make sure that the fight was definitely happening on this card?
DP: No, I didn’t. They would let me know, they wouldn’t let me do a training camp if the fight wasn’t going to happen. I spoke with some other people and the bout agreements are signed. We’re fighting November 3rd.
So that tweet didn’t worry you, you didn’t take it too seriously?
DP: No, I know I’m fighting Nate Diaz and some crazy things are going to be said throughout the lead-up to this fight.
You could have probably waited for the title shot without fighting at all, but going into a title shot after a win over Diaz would generate another level of excitement all together. Do you see this fight a gamble, but a gamble worth taking?
DP: You know, I do. Every fight is a gamble; you never know what’s going to happen. But I’m not the kind of guy to sit around and wait, you know? Even if I would have done that, there’s no telling when the winner of Conor-Khabib would be ready to defend the belt again. And even if they did make a quick turnaround, if Tony Ferguson beats Anthony Pettis, he was the interim champ so I believe he’s probably ahead of me. I’m not just going to sit around and wait a year for a title shot.
I enjoy fighting and I enjoy training. I still enjoy it, so I don’t want to sit around for a year. I like to be in training camp, pushing myself, learning, getting better and this kind of fight right here is a fight that made a lot of sense to me. It’s a fun fight, a guy that I’ve been watching for a long time, a guy that I’m a fan of- him and his brother- and it’s a legacy fight for me.
You have won 9 fight night bonuses in your career, whilst Diaz is tied at the top of the all-time list with 15. He specifically has the most Fight of the Night bonuses in UFC history. Is this going to be another Fight of the Year contender for you?
DP: You know, I hope not, ‘cause that means we’re both taking a lot of damage. But we’ll see, I have that in me. If the fight goes to that, then of course, it’s going to be that. But I’m trying to be clean and sharp in there, I’m not trying to have a brawl.
I don’t expect you to give me any names, but have you heard any updates about the UFC 230 main event?
DP: I’ve heard nothing at all. Nothing.
Do you think the UFC shot themselves in the foot by announcing your fight as the co-main? It seems like they’ve brought pressure on themselves where they already had a worthy main event in your fight.
DP: You know, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to that. I’ve got so much stuff to worry about on my end, so many bases to cover, getting prepared. That stuff’s all up to them. It’s hard to keep up with all the stuff that happens and all the crazy things going on in the UFC all the time.
You’ve said you keep going back-and-forth on who’s going to win the Conor-Khabib title fight, which is obviously a fight you’ll be keeping an eye on. Who are you leaning towards at the moment?
DP: If it happens under two rounds, I think Conor. If it goes past two, I think Khabib.
And personally, do you have any preference? Either guy you’d prefer to win that fight?
DP: It doesn’t really matter to me, I’m not rooting for either guy. I would love to fight either guy, I have no dog in that fight, I don’t care who wins.
Anthony Pettis was on the Helwani Show last week and there was some talk about Pettis becoming the number one contender at lightweight if he were to defeat Tony. Is that frustrating to hear as someone who holds a TKO win over Pettis less than a year ago?
DP: I didn’t hear that. There’s no way that’s going to happen. If he beats Ferguson, he’s not fighting for a belt before me. I’m next in line, if he beats Ferguson, I’m next.
Would you say Ferguson is the one guy you’d accept getting a title shot before you?
DP: Yeah, ‘cause he was the interim champ. I understand that and I kind of expect that, that’s why I didn’t want to wait.
In 2018 you’ll have fought Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez and Nate Diaz. Do you think, going by your last few fights, that your game improves when you face a higher standard of opposition?
DP: Definitely. I rise to the occasion. We push each other to see who’s going to come out on top. That’s what I love about fighting, that’s why I want these big fights. I’ve been fighting for a long time, this is my 40th fight man- Nate Diaz is my 40th fight. I want exciting fights, not that I have a lack of motivation, but I just want to be excited about these fights.
You’ve had great performances against guys like Ferreira, Green, Duffy… but it seems like when the level of competition went up, you found another gear. Is that strength and conditioning, is it Phil Daru, moving to lightweight? What would you attribute that to?
DP: I’m sure all of things come together and help, but it’s just maturity man. It’s just growth and being a fighter in the toughest, best organization in the world for 20-something fights. You either sink or swim and my mindset is what’s got me to the next level. It’s learning from mistakes, making adjustments, keeping a level head and just being more mature, being smarter and growing up in the sport. I was a kid when I started fighting in Zuffa.
You congratulated Jim Miller last weekend for becoming the first fighter to reach 30 UFC fights. Is he a former opponent you have a lot of respect for?
DP: Definitely, I mean most of my opponents I have a lot of respect for, but definitely Jim. He’s been around a long time, I’ve been watching him for a long time and I’m really happy for him.
When Miller was your age, 29, he’d had 14 UFC fights. You’ve had 21, so you’re actually considerably ahead of where Miller was at your age. Do you think you will one day set those kinds of records?
DP: I do. I don’t think I’m going anywhere, I have staying power, I’m only getting better and I’m going to be the world champion. It’s just one day at a time but I think that’s all on the horizon.
On the same card, Darren Till lost for the first time in his career in a pretty emphatic fashion. He’s obviously a very large welterweight. As someone who moved up a weight class and found great success, what were the main advantages of fighting at a heavier weight and would you recommend it to someone like Till?
DP: Yeah, I’d recommend that to pretty much everybody. You’re just happier with training camp, you know? You can enjoy it more, you enjoy fight week more, it’s better for your body, your mind. It’s just better for everything. There’s a point when you do this long enough where you’re going to hate the process of starving yourself and being low on calories and nutrients all through camp and then having to sacrifice two or three months of hardcore dieting and then show up and still have 20 pounds to go, it just makes it not fun.
You should enjoy your job, you should enjoy the process of preparing for fights and being at your best and I just think that’s the way the sport should be moving. Diego Sanchez just did it this weekend and I hope things continue to go that way. I know I feel a lot better.
So far in 2018, your fight with Justin Gaethje in April is one of the frontrunners for the Fight of the Year award. You had another Fight of the Year candidate against the Korean Zombie back in 2012, does that accolade mean anything to you?
DP: You know, I don’t look for it, but it’s great to have. It’s a great feather in the cap. If that did win, they’ll make articles in magazines and I’ll frame it and have that forever- a piece of history. When I’m done fighting, I could look back and show my kid that in 2018 I had the fight of the year. I honor this sport and these things so it means a lot to me, but I don’t go out looking for them, it just happens. That’s just the nature of what we do.
You now hold wins over 3 former UFC champions. How important is winning a UFC title to you?
DP: It is huge, man. It is huge. I’m fighting for my family, but when it comes to me, I’m fighting to be a world champion. I want to say I did it, I want to have that belt. All of this, everything I do is not being done in vain. I’m going to be the world champion. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, I don’t know how long it’s going to take but I believe I will be and that’s why I’m fighting.
Speaking about the things you fight for, I saw on The Good Fight Foundation’s twitter [the nonprofit Poirier is the President of] last week that they’d delivered 500 backpacks, school supplies and computers to children. In the past, the foundation has also provided necessity kits for homeless women and new furniture for shelters in Louisiana. Your efforts were rewarded at a charity recognition gala last month and it seems the foundation has developed from auctioning off your worn fight-kits to something really impactful. Is it simply a coincidence that your foundation seems to be gathering force at the same time that your in-cage career is probably at its peak or was this a conscious effort to give something back?
DP: Yeah, they kind of go hand in hand. The bigger the fights get, the bigger the platform I have to raise money for my community and things like that. It was an honor to be recognized by the American Cancer Society last month. I’m very proud of that, I had no clue that I was even in the running for something like that, to even be voted for, or for that to happen. It’s amazing, man, I really appreciate that people are noticing things that I’m trying to do in my community.
Is it something that’s ran by your wife and yourself?
DP: Yes, and we have another guy named Chris Kesel, he’s a director. He helps get ideas together, what we’re going to do next, helps with ordering stuff, putting things together, backpacks or anything. But it’s just me, my wife and him, yeah.
You know how you hear ‘Sea-Level Cain’ or ‘Motivated B.J. Penn’ memes (often on Twitter or Reddit MMA), are you aware of the ‘Salon Quality Poirier’ meme in reference to your haircut?
DP: -Laughs- I’ve heard ‘Poirier with hair,’ but I haven’t heard the ‘Salon Quality’ one, but I’ll take it, I’ll take it man. That’s awesome, they’re probably saying that because in one of the countdown shows I said I had salon quality hair so they’re running with it!
Dustin Poirier will face Nate Diaz at UFC 230 on November 3rd in Madison Square Garden, New York.
You can visit The Good Fight Foundation’s website for more information on Dustin’s nonprofit.