THE ONLY TIME Dustin Poirier wanted to fight an opponent out of the cage during the week of UFC 178.
Poirier remembers standing behind a curtain at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas in September 2014, waiting to get on the scales. He remembers seeing a few brawls in the crowd, which was full of Irish fans. He remembers that he was dehydrated and anxious to weigh himself. And he recalls tension after weeks of being the target of Conor McGregor’s trash talk.
“I wanted to make the guy pay, you know? I was mad,” says Poirier. “I remember trying to fight him at the weigh-in, which is crazy when I look back. I was just in such a strange place in my head.”
Poirier was the UFC’s No. 5 featherweight in that fight, but some viewed him as the litmus test for McGregor who had proven he could agitate, dominate headlines, attract a hell of a crowd and win fights in the UFC. McGregor hadn’t proven he could beat the best in the world, however – and that’s where Poirier came in.
“You got Conor going through them all and giving his shots, that big mouth Irish guy,” says Thomas Webb, a friend and training partner of Poirier since 2009. “And then you have Dustin who was well known. He had him had been through wars and everyone knew he could bring it. And it was just … could he derail the hype? “
That scene at the weigh-in, the day before the fight, captured the situation perfectly. Poirier was outnumbered. Not only did he fight Conor McGregor, but the swarm of fans who had crossed the Atlantic to see him fall, the UFC executives who discussed it with McGregor in his presidential suite that week, and the Media that hung on McGregor’s every word.
“I felt like everyone wanted them to win,” says Poirier. “The UFC wanted him to win. The media wanted this new star. I felt like it was a setup, you know? I felt like the fans in the crowd were there to see me lose. “
And as it turned out, that weigh-in – two men briefly stepping on a scale and looking for cameras – took longer than the fight. McGregor did well on his first-round knockout prediction, knocking Poirier down with his left hand in less than two minutes. It was the first time Poirier was ever knocked out.
“It was awful,” says Poirier’s wife Jolie, who was present. “It was hard to be there. Just the crowd, the energy – it was scary. It was hard to see him go through that.”
What made it worse was everything that had upset Poirier before the fight broke out after his defeat. The sport did seem to be celebrating McGregor’s victory. And at least at first it didn’t matter too much where Poirier was left behind. He won his next four, but none was a major event. McGregor, meanwhile, would win an intermediate belt within a year and unify it in December 2015.
But as Poirier prepares for his rematch against McGregor on Saturday at UFC 257, the situation changed drastically. It’s not a stepping stone for McGregor. He is a former interim champion and one of the most respected men in the sport.
Those close to Poirier have seen a change from a high school dropout who loved to fight to a professional fighter who found his passion and purpose. You’ve seen him overcome the doubts of those who didn’t think he would make a difference, and you’ve seen him hold out after that defeat to McGregor. Once again the focus leading up to Saturday’s fight was on McGregor – so much is the same – but what is different is the person McGregor will be looking at over the cage.
“After the outcome of that fight – honestly, Dustin was kind of forgotten until his next fight,” says Webb. “He was just another victim of the Conor McGregor train.
“He was for everyone else, but under it all we saw the rebuilding of ‘The Diamond’.”
POIRIER, 31, GREW up in Lafayette, Louisiana. His parents separated when he was 5 years old. At that time, he grew up mainly with his mother, Jere Chaisson and two brothers.
“It’s a touchy subject for me to say love fight, “says Poirier.” It scares me, but I love the emotional ride and the feeling it can only get from it. And from a young age I knew the people I saw on TV … I knew whatever they had, I had it. “
According to Chaisson, he was a fun kid. “So much fun” to be precise. The kind of kid who hid plastic guns and swords under every sofa cushion, so was “ready for anything”. Once he climbed a brick pillar attached to the house and made it to the roof to reach a bird he had seen from the back yard.
“He was everyone’s favorite, but no one would babysit him,” says Chaisson. “We had to protect the backyard from dust so he couldn’t get hurt. We put locks on everything, but he could probably open a lock when he was three. True story. He wasn’t mild like most.” Children. He was adventurous and curious. “
When Poirier was 5 years old, Chaisson recalls riding his bike around the neighborhood with boxing gloves on so he and his friends could box.
Jolie, who first met Poirier when they were in eighth grade, admits that she first saw him when he was fighting another boy in the school hallway.
When he was in middle school, Poirier was arrested for knocking out the teeth of an older child in a makeshift boxing ring in his father’s neighborhood. Aside from this incident, Poirier and his family say that there was nothing malignant about his attraction to fighting. He just loved boxing and was always a willing participant.
“If someone goes down, you don’t hit them again, you know?” Says Poirier. “I’m not trying to paint the picture that I’m out here like Mad Max – two men come in, one man goes. It’s not that. It was just a fight.”
No, if Poirier had a problem as a teenager, he didn’t fight. It was school. He despised it and kept going out, despite his mother’s best efforts.
“He was in first grade, maybe kindergarten, and he snuck out of school and walked four blocks to a grocery store and called 911 just to tell them he didn’t want to go,” recalls Chaisson. “When he was in eighth grade, I delivered medicines and had two vans in case one of them broke down. One day I came home early from work and drove home and I see my van across the street. And it was Dustin! He would just leave school and drive around. “
Chaisson tried everything to keep her son at school. When he was in middle school, she even asked a mediator for help and enrolled Poirier on a program that would send him to a juvenile detention center if he continued with classes. He did, and spent a month in a detention center and three more in a military-style boot camp. Even this experience had no bearing. And after Poirier attended high school long enough to play soccer in his freshman year, he dropped out completely.
“He said it felt like a prison,” says Chaisson. “He would say, ‘Why do you want to send your child to jail? You don’t know how it feels.’ And I would say, “I went to school for 12 years.”
“But public education is not for everyone, and that’s a tough lesson I’ve learned.”
After dropping out of school, Poirier spent most of his time doing nothing at all. He smoked and drank with friends and still got into occasional fights. Most of all, he was just a 16 year old high school dropout with no plans and no ambition. He took a job at McDonald’s.
“He just had a little trouble finding himself, you might say,” says Jolie.
But around Poirier’s 18th birthday a switch was thrown. He went to a boxing hall. Every day. He had always believed he could excel at boxing, but his mother stopped him from pursuing it as a kid. After Poirier committed to it at the age of 18, he never looked back. He lost weight, left his group of friends, and booked his first MMA fight within six months.
“I didn’t want to try to fill a void in my life, but I found something that really made me want to fill a void that I didn’t know I had,” says Poirier. “I was head over heels in a fight. I went to sleep and thought about it. I woke up and thought about it. I thought about it all day. It was who I was. I would have cut everyone off to continue. Me would have done it. ” done everything possible to continue.
“I loved it. And I felt like it loved me in this moment of my life.”
POIRIER WAS 25 – seven years after his love affair with combat – when he suffered the first knockout loss of his career to McGregor. Eventually, he would fight for and win an intermediate UFC championship, just as McGregor did shortly after the fight. It would take Poirier nearly five years and eight hard-earned victories to get there, however.
His moment finally came in April 2019 when he battled then featherweight champion Max Holloway for the preliminary 155 pound championship. Despite an excellent résumé with wins against Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez, Poirier competed as an outsider against Holloway – not an unfamiliar position for him – but he would prevail unanimously.
In his post-fight interview that evening, Poirier said, “I’ve been told all my life [I’m not good enough]and now I am the world champion. “
The words had an immediate impact on Chaisson.
“He told me, ‘Nobody can ever tell me I’m a loser again,'” says Chaisson. “And that cuts me just as much today as it did that night. I didn’t know he felt this way.
“He put his arms around me and said, ‘I’m not a nobody because I’m someone tonight.’ Maybe it was because his father wasn’t in the picture. Maybe it had something to do with it. I don’t know. “
To hear Poirier about it, his words that evening had to do with many things in his life – personally and professionally.
“I heard it again and again from a young age,” says Poirier. “Teachers, cops, law enforcement officers. I was just one of those guys who got in trouble. I wouldn’t turn into anything. I wouldn’t end up being anything great. Even if I went back to the Conor fight, like I said, In this one Fight me fight and tell everyone I was going to lose.
“I said it that night too because I know a lot of kids were watching. I want to give people a reason to cheer and be happy and to root someone. I did it so everyone could do it. Me am these people watching, I work this. Maybe I don’t have the best physical qualities. Maybe Conor can jump higher than me. Maybe he can run faster than me. Maybe he can hit harder. But I’ll find a way Man. “
In the last six years of losing to Master Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019 to unify the title, Poirier has never actually had a rematch with McGregor. His focus was on becoming a champion, and it still is. He understands that a win over McGregor would likely get him another shot in the undisputed lightweight championship. And to go into this fight, that is the motivation. This is not a story of revenge, and unlike six years ago, Poirier is not driven by anger.
When asked what he thinks the story behind this rematch is, Poirier pauses before responding. “Growth,” he says.
Six years ago Poirier had done just so well that sport could use him to build another man’s name. At least that’s how he saw it – and in fact, he still sees it that way. Maybe that first fight against McGregor was a setup. The difference today is he doesn’t care.
“All of these things that I thought were probably true – but I’m not in a fight with these guys,” says Poirier. “Maturity has taught me that these guys are not my friends. The UFC are not my people. They provide an arena for me to perform. It’s up to me. It’s in my hands. I write the book page by page and that I understand now. “
This time around, whether you win or lose, Poirier will still be a former UFC champion. He doesn’t mind if most of the headlines are devoted to his opponent. He has a daughter, Parker Noelle, and he is the founder of a charity to which recent opponents – like Nurmagomedov – contributed after fighting. McGregor is also planning a donation.
“I’m those people who watch, work between nine and five and barely make ends meet. I am. I’ve done it. Maybe I don’t have the best physical qualities. Maybe Conor can jump higher than me. Maybe he can it.” run faster than me Maybe he can hit harder. But I’ll find a way man ”
Poirier’s current goal for The Good Fight Foundation is to open a gym in the neighborhood he grew up in so kids can have the kind of outlet that has helped him change his life. There will be boxing and mixed martial arts, and classes will be tied to improved grades. “Just something to get the kids off the street and go somewhere after school,” says Poirier.
Poirier knows the life-changing effects his sport can have on children trying to find their way around. And now he also appreciates how important it is to put the sport in context.
“I was from the beginning of my career,” says Poirier. “It fought, and that’s it. That’s all I care. Now let’s talk and my daughter is in the other room. I’m a father, a husband, the charity makes it great. Fighting is just something I do I’ve done everything … but that’s just something I do. One day I won’t be able to do this. And then what? I’m used up and thrown away? No, I’m still a father, husband, son, Brother, businessman.
“It’s just something I’m into in my life and I love it. I ride the wave, have fun and make the most of it.”
Poirier has come a long way from that day in Las Vegas when he was about to fight McGregor at the weigh-in. He’s no longer consumed by his sport, but he’s just as competitive. If he wins, he could get another shot at a world title. But either way, it is not defined by what happens in the octagon.