Dustin Poirier has always asked the UFC to give him the toughest competition possible.
From his first days competing in the WEC all the way to his recent run up the rankings in the lightweight division, Poirier has faced the best of the best at all times in his career for one reason.
Poirier wanted to become UFC champion.
Dustin Poirier’s Latest Challenge: Former Champion Justin Gaethje
This weekend, Poirier will headline UFC on FOX 29 in a barnburner match-up against former World Series of Fighting champion Justin Gaethje in a fight that will undoubtedly put him into title contention with a win.
Gaethje has been an impossibly tough opponent for everybody he’s faced throughout his career thanks to his aggressive style where he’s happy to take a punch to give a punch. That helped him advance to an 18-0 record to start his career.
While he did suffer a setback in his last fight, Poirier knows that doesn’t make Gaethje any less dangerous when they step into the cage together on Saturday night.
“I’m a fan,” Poirier said about Gaethje when speaking to MMAWeekly. “He’s been in some exciting fights; he’s fun to watch. But as a fighter myself, you can’t have a long career fighting like that against the top guys in the world and once it starts to go downhill; it’s going to go fast, I believe.
“But that being said, I think he’s one of the most mentally tough guys in the 155-pound division. He walks forward. He believes in himself and he goes out there to finish guys. Very dangerous fighter.”
Ahead of his UFC debut last year, Gaethje said that it was only a matter of time before he eventually suffered a loss in his career and it would probably come by knockout considering how he approaches all of his fights with a kill-or-be-killed attitude. It finally happened when he fell to former champion Eddie Alvarez last December in a “Fight of the Night” performance at UFC 218.
Poirier has faced those types of devastating defeats in his career as well, but how he’s been able to bounce back is what has defined his career as one of the best fighters in the world. He expects Gaethje to return with that same kind of fire when they clash this weekend, but the reality is no one can predict what will happen until they step into the cage together.
“Time will tell. He might be more motivated than ever and he’s getting better every day or he might be doubting himself. Who knows?” Poirier said. “When it comes to me personally, I’ve had some setbacks, but I’ve bobbed and weaved through the tough times and I keep on fighting. I believe he’s one of those guys that’s going to do the same. I think he’s still going to walk forward and throw shots with 100-percent belief in himself.”
Dustin Poirier Not in Search of a War with Justin Gaethje
While the main event at UFC on FOX 29 has already been earmarked as a firefight that will probably earn both athletes a $50,000 bonus, Poirier would much prefer to get in and get out without taking nearly as much damage as required to earn a “Fight of the Night” award.
Instead, Poirier has worked tirelessly over the past couple of years to hone his skills so he can be the hammer far more than he ever has to be the nail in his fights.
“That’s the goal for each camp. We get better, we tighten up, and being more patient. I think me maturing not only as a person but as a fighter, being a father, is playing into that. I’m just taking my time now. Listen, I’m the superior technical fighter. I’m the better fighter all-around and I know that. But if I just plant my feet and start throwing, then it’s 50/50. That’s what he likes to do,” Poirier said.
“I’m going to show my skills. I’m going to touch him when he needs to be touched, I’m going to hurt him and I’m going to keep my cool. I think you’re going to see the most complete fighter I’ve ever been in this fight.”
If the end result is what Poirier predicts, he’ll finish Gaethje inside the distance and send a strong message to the rest of the lightweight division that he’s ready for his shot at the title.
Does Dustin Poirier Get a UFC Lightweight Title Shot with a Win?
Of course, the 155-pound title situation is still a bit of a mess right now even after Khabib Nurmagomedov became the undisputed champion last weekend at UFC 223.
Tony Ferguson is still lingering after becoming interim champion in 2017 and Conor McGregor casts a large shadow over the division, considering he never lost the title he won by knocking out Eddie Alvarez, but rather had his belt stripped due to inactivity.
Still, Poirier believes that a statement win over Gaethje should put him on a very short list of the fighters being considered for a title shot when Nurmagomedov returns to action later this year.
“I believe I will be the No. 1 contender when I finish Justin Gaethje,” Poirier said. “Nothing’s deserved out there, but on April 14, I’m going to earn it.”