Lightweight star Dustin Poirier rattles off a list of some of his favorite champions in UFC history.
It’s not the traditional who’s who of megastars.
Michael Bisping. Robbie Lawler. Even Charles Oliveira.
The common thread between them is their journeys to the top were filled with potholes and detours.
“There is a list of guys that for me it was very special when they won the belt,” Poirier said. “Underdogs. Of course, everyone battles adversity. But the guys who were counted out a couple times and still made it happen. I’m trying to add my name to that list this weekend.”
Poirier will challenge Oliveira for the lightweight belt in the main event of UFC 269 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
“Some guys come in and burst on the scene,” UFC president Dana White said. “These two have been grinding and working hard for a very long time. They’re two blue-collar guys.”
Both fighters had been in the UFC for more than a decade before their first title shots. Oliveira’s run included a stretch of four losses in six bouts before a current nine-fight winning streak, capped by a knockout of Michael Chandler in May that secured his first belt.
Poirier’s first shot at a belt came in his 22nd UFC fight when he won the interim crown in 2019 only to lose the unification bout to Khabib Nurmagomedov later that year.
The 32-year-old has reeled off three straight victories since, including two wins over Conor McGregor that secured his legacy and financial future.
Now he wants more.
“If I can become the world champion on Saturday night, then I’ve done it all in the sport,” Poirier said. “Everything I’ve set out to do. I’ve set my family up in a good position financially. I have other businesses outside of fighting. But I have to check that box. That’s forever. … None of this was done in vain regardless of what happens Saturday night, but it just cements everything that we thought when I first put on the gloves and started this journey.”
That journey began when he was 18 with his then-girlfriend and now wife Jolie driving him up Interstate 49 from his native Lafayette, Louisiana, to an amateur show in Arkansas.
They might not have chatted about one day winning a UFC title on that drive, but that dream started coming more and more into focus as he tore through the amateur ranks and turned pro at age 20.
Poirier steadily climbed the ranks only to experience a setback each time he started to get close to title contention.
He thinks those losses shaped not only who he is as a competitor but also a person. Poirier, who dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, has several successful business ventures and runs a charity that has made a major impact in his community. He hopes an auction of his fight gear from Saturday will provide 300,000 meals for underserved people in Louisiana.
“It’s been a beautiful journey,” he said. “A learning experience that helped me become the fighter I am but also the person I am. I just hope I can pass on these lessons learned to my daughter and other fighters in the future. It’s more than fighting; it’s life lessons, and I’m happy with the person I’ve become.”
Jolie, the vice president and director of the Good Fight Foundation, has been there since that first road trip. He credits her for talking him out of quitting on several occasions.
It’s one of the reasons Poirier is looking forward to Sunday even more than Saturday.
“When I do think about it, I think about the next day,” he said of the fight. “Not the moment, but the next day when I can exhale. I’ll win the fight, do media, go back to the hotel still in the rush of madness. But when I get on the plane with my wife and daughter and I can exhale, nobody is asking questions, I can hold the belt and my family. That’s what I think about. And I can’t wait to see what it feels like.”
The fight headlines a 7 p.m. pay-per-view card that also features a women’s bantamweight title bout between Julianna Pena and champion Amanda Nunes. Preliminary bouts begin at 3:15.
Main card bouts for Saturday’s pay-per-view card at T-Mobile Arena:
— Charles Oliveira (31-8, 1 No Contest) vs. Dustin Poirier (28-6, 1 No Contest), for Oliveira’s lightweight title
— Amanda Nunes (21-4) vs. Julianna Pena (11-4), for Nunes’ women’s bantamweight title
— Geoff Neal (13-4) vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio (29-4), welterweights
— Kai Kara-France (22-9, 1 No Contest) vs. Cody Garbrandt (12-4), flyweights
— Raulian Paiva (21-3) vs. Sean O’Malley (14-1), bantamweights