All eyes will be on Conor McGregor this weekend as he makes his return to the Octagon after another year out of the game. The Irishman, as always, will have a giant following (perhaps virtually in this case) as he looks to climb his way back to the top of the UFC game. With only two fights since 2016, many people will be tuning in to see if the Notorious still has what it takes at the age of 32.
But what about the man facing him, the man who already fought him seven years ago, and the man who will be hoping to cause an upset at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night? Who is Dustin Poirier?
Let us start with the fighter. The American is the same age as McGregor and, like his rival, he’s grown and gone up a weight class since that first fight back in 2014, which resulted in a knockout defeat for the man they call ‘The Diamond’. At featherweight (145lb), Poirier always seemed to be limiting himself, but at lightweight (155lb), with extra muscle around his neck and shoulders, he seems much more comfortable and perhaps less likely to be stopped by ‘Notorious’ this time around.
Now ranked number two in the lightweight rankings, behind only Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje, and having been in the game since 2009, Poirier is a talented and tough fighter who can cause anybody problems on his day. McGregor is expected to come out quick and put the pressure on Poirier in an attempt to repeat his early knockout of 2014, but if Poirier can get through those first two minutes without being caught by that left hand, he has a real chance of winning this fight. The longer it goes on, the more chance Poirier has of asserting his own game onto McGregor.
Poirier’s career has been admirable, but perhaps one criticism has been that he has tended to come up just short when at the top of the mountain, metaphorically speaking. Earlier in his career when momentum was building, having beaten Josh Grispi and Max Holloway, he lost to Chan Sung Jung. Then after rebuilding himself at lightweight, winning four fights in a row, he was knocked out in under two minutes by underdog Michael Johnson. In the past few years though, few can deny he has made huge progress.
He has once again climbed the mountain, beating Max Holloway (again), Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje to become interim champion, which set up a bout against possibly the greatest of all time, Khabib Nurmagomedov. He lost that one in round three but his career to date, and his follow-up win against Dan Hooker means he knows he has what it takes to take down McGregor.
This isn’t a revenge situation. We won’t see the childish remarks, aggressive insults and baiting of one another that we saw in the build-up to the first fight. Instead, both fighters are now into their thirties and are fathers, which seems to have mellowed them. The key is that both fighters have earned the other’s respect, something that was clearly lacking in 2014, with McGregor even donating to Poirier’s charity ahead of the rematch.
That charity, and Poirier’s work outside the ring is truly admirable. He auctioned off his kit after a no-contest with Alvarez to provide 3,000 meals for a food bank back in 2017 before changing things around his hometown of Louisiana. Along with his wife, Jolie, he launched ‘The Good Fight’ which provides care, assistance, and resources to those under-served in his local area. In fact, ahead of every fight, he announces a charity goal and became the inaugural winner of UFC’s Forrest Griffin Community Award due to his brilliant work away from the octagon.
His charity has also shown how generous the UFC community can be. Khabib donated £73,000 after their bout in 2019 while McGregor has announced he will donate £367,000 to the same foundation. This fight with McGregor will allow a boxing and MMA gym to be built in Lafayette, paving the way for a possible future star.
“Life is a fight, and we have to stay positive during the good and bad times," said Poirier. "The foundation will not lose sight of the goal, no matter what is happening.
"I fight for a lot of things, but nothing is more important to me than fighting for change and giving back. The generosity of Conor McGregor will help countless in need."
There is no animosity here, just two of the top lightweights in the world taking each other on. No matter who wins on Saturday night, thanks to Poirier, charity will come out on top.