UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is coming off one of the biggest fights in mixed martial arts history when he beat Conor McGregor at T-Mobile Arena last October.
Now interim champ Dustin Poirier wants his moment.
“How many times in our lives or in our careers do we have a chance to really do something great?” Poirier asked on a conference call ahead of his title bout against Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 242 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. “I have an opportunity for greatness, and I’m approaching it that way, and I’m very excited about all of this. I can’t wait, honestly.
“I’m traveling across the world in the biggest fight that I can possibly get and going out there to do something that’s never been done.”
The main card, which also features a lightweight bout between Edson Barboza and Paul Felder, streams live on ESPN-Plus pay-per-view at 11 a.m.
Nurmagomedov has been a wrecking ball in the lightweight division, going 27-0 as a pro with the last 11 victories coming in the UFC.
Poirier, a plus-350 underdog, knows the odds are stacked against him.
“You know, 27 have tried and 27 have failed,” Poirier said. “He’s been able to dominate them on top with his wrestling pressure, his weight distribution, his understanding of techniques. But I feel confident in my grappling as well, and my goal is to make this a fight and not a grappling match.
“I have a real opportunity to be great with everyone watching, and do something that’s never been done, and I will not let this slip through my fingers.”
Poirier, a 30-year-old Louisiana native, has been on a run of his own. He is 9-1 since a 2014 loss to McGregor, with the only defeat coming on a quick knockout against Michael Johnson. Poirier has rebounded with four straight wins since that setback, finally harnessing the raw talent and athleticism he has always exhibited in flashes.
“It’s a constant evolution,” Poirier said. “My whole career, the ups, the downs, the victories, the defeats, the lessons I’ve learned and kept rolling, that’s what’s made me the fighter I am today.
“I think the biggest thing is consistency and self-belief, honestly. Showing up every day, whether the day before was good or bad, staying true to the path of being the best fighter that I can push myself and evolve into.”
That evolution was never on display more than in a showcase victory over featherweight champ Max Holloway in April that earned Poirier the interim lightweight title. The performance vaulted Poirier into a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter and snapped Holloway’s 13-fight winning streak.
Now he hopes to end Nurmagomedov’s run as well.
“I’m going to go out there and do what hasn’t been done and put a loss on Khabib’s record for all the underdogs across the world,” he said. “I’m going to show everyone that if you believe, if you work hard enough, if you’re focused enough, if you’re determined enough, in that 25 minutes you can be great.”
White: Penn done in UFC
The UFC will not offer BJ Penn any more fights after two videos surfaced online this week of street fights involving the 40-year-old Hall of Famer, UFC president Dana White told ESPN on Thursday.
“It’s not even that this was the last straw,” White said. “I didn’t love him continuing to fight anyway. But with the relationship that he and I have — he gets me on the phone, begging me for another fight — it’s hard to turn him down.
“I don’t want to sit here and pick BJ Penn apart. I think we all know what BJ Penn needs to do and hopefully BJ Penn knows what BJ Penn needs to do. What I saw in that video was sad and I love the kid. I hope he gets his life together. If BJ Penn needs me, all he has to do is pick up the phone and ask.”
White said he has not spoken to Penn, but the Hawaiian has been made aware of the decision.
Penn, a former lightweight and welterweight champion who has lost seven straight fights and last won in 2010, has said he was attempting to diffuse a situation.
There had been talk of Penn fighting lightweight Nik Lentz before the end of the year.