Pressure makes Diamonds: Why dangerous Dustin Poirier can upset Conor McGregor in long-awaited UFC 257 rematch

The ex-interim lightweight champion takes on former two-division king McGregor in the showpiece finale of the UFC’s third tenure on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, exclusively live on BT Sport Box Office.

By George Mills Published: 26 January 2021 - 12.12pm

106 seconds.

That was all it took more than six years ago for Dustin Poirier to become just another stepping stone on Conor McGregor’s ascent to superstardom.

Their featherweight clash at UFC 178 proved to be Poirier’s last in the division before moving north to his now native lightweight class, but the differences between that man and the ice-cold title contender of today are far greater than 10 pounds.

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Looking back at that night in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, at a fresh-faced Poirier swatting McGregor’s hand away from his face in annoyance while referee Herb Dean doles out instructions, it’s clear the young firebrand walked into almost every mental trap laid out for him - even before he stepped inside the Octagon.

“He grinds my nerves a little bit, but I’m not going to jump off and pop up at everything he says,” Poirier told reporters ahead of their UFC 178 showdown.

“He does a great job at bumping his gums. I’ll let him do the talking, and if I feel like I need to reply to something, I will.

“Other than that, I’m focused on this fight, I’m focused on the performance, and when all this is said and done, it’s me and him, man-to-man, and we’re going to fight it out.”

In another video, uploaded to the UFC’s YouTube channel during fight week, the then-25-year-old Poirier admitted his hatred for McGregor after an altercation in the fighter hotel.

“I’ve never disliked somebody that much. There’s a time to be professional. I mean, in the f*ckin lobby with your crews there and you wanna be a f*ckin jackass,” he said

“He’s new to this game though. He’ll learn.”

“Six years is a long time to get better technically – and I have gotten a lot better”
- Dustin Poirier

Less than two minutes after the first bell, it would be Poirier left to contemplate the lessons of a brush with greatness.

Clipped by “the touch of death”, as Joe Rogan famously nicknamed McGregor’s left hand, a discombobulated Poirier saw his dreams of victory shattered during the ensuing melee of ground-and-pound before referee Dean would rescue him from the assault.

The defeat proved to be the catalyst behind an incredible journey through the 155lb division for Poirier.

Freed from the mental and physical anguish of cutting to featherweight, the new-look Poirier flourished at lightweight, losing just once over the next five years before earning a shot at the interim title against Max Holloway at UFC 236.

His hard-fought victory, after a performance that showcased the full repertoire of his evolution as a fighter, saw him claim the interim belt on the scorecards, achieving a version of the championship he had long dreamt of.

A shot at the undisputed title against Khabib Nurmagomedov five months later saw the American come short of unifying the division, as the Russian found a home for his irrepressible rear-naked chokehold – but Poirier’s lion-hearted performance cemented his status as a true contender among the elite.

Injuries subsequently forced Poirier to endure the longest hiatus of his career as he underwent major hip surgery during the latter end of 2019.

If there were question marks over his desire in the wake of such adversity, he answered them with aplomb during one of the most thrilling battles of 2020 against Dan Hooker last June.

13
Wins by knockout

The gritty, five-round war set the table perfectly for a returning McGregor to cherry-pick his former foe to tango once again in the main event at UFC 257 on Fight Island.

Speaking to exclusively to BT Sport’s Adam Catterall shortly before Christmas, the 32-year-old vowed to show his progression in the time that has passed since their first meeting.

“Six years is a long time to get better technically – and I have gotten a lot better,” Poirier explained.

“[Even] my fight IQ – besides giving up positions on guillotines, which I will not stop doing! – I think overall I have evolved as a fighter and a martial artist.

“Part of that evolution is the mental side of fighting.”

Will the Lafayette brawler be drawn into the same cauldron of emotions that enveloped him ahead of their first showdown?

“I save it for the fight, I’m wasting energy. I’m wasting mind space. At the end of the week, we’re going to fight. There’s no reason to get all crazy and get in my head,” he continued.

“The work is done. We just have to finish this thing and get into the Octagon healthy. I care less. I know it might sound to the casual as if I’m not as invested as I once was, this is still my main thing, fighting, but I’ve said this a hundred times before, I’m a father, a husband, a business owner, an entrepreneur, a son, a brother. 

“Poirier has got to move, he’s got to pick his shots”
- Dan Hardy

“I’ve got so many hats, fighting is just one of them. It’s the thing that takes up most of my time and the thing I’m most dedicated to because I know the benefits it has for everyone around me.

“I’m 100% invested in this, but it’s not who I am anymore. I was only fighting back then. Now this is just something I do.”

Staying composed in the moment should provide Poirier with his best chance to scratch what was the fourth loss of his career and level the scores against ‘The Notorious’.

That is the opinion of MMA analyst and BT Sport’s Open Mat host Dan Hardy, who revealed Poirier’s keys to victory on his recent fight breakdown for the Full Reptile network.

“If Poirier starts off with footwork, with a decent jab, on his toes and chops into that lead leg of McGregor, that starts to nullify McGregor’s major weapons and all the arsenal that goes with it, the supplementary stuff that he can use to bolster that left hand,” explained Hardy.

“Work that lead leg, stay on your toes and don’t really engage for the first two rounds.

“Poirier has got to move, he’s got to pick his shots, he’s got to be playful and not get caught up in [thinking] ‘I’ve got to take his head off, I hate him so much’.

“That’s the emotional side that he loses control of and that is where McGregor is so good, riling people up, forcing them to make those mistakes.”

Will Poirier fight smart and execute the biggest win of his career – or will history repeat itself at the hands of a sporting legend?

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