Dustin Poirier expects to take care of business vs. Dan Hooker, stay in title hunt

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS — The UFC may have the best schedule over an extended period that it’s ever had in the next three months.

In nearly every division, the champion is fighting the No. 1 contender who is, in several cases, the ex-champion. At heavyweight, former champion Daniel Cormier takes on champion Stipe Miocic in a rubber match in the main event of UFC 252 on Aug. 15.

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At welterweight, champion Kamaru Usman defends against No. 1 Gilbert Burns next month in the main event of UFC 251 on July 11. On that card, featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski will face former champion and No. 1 contender Max Holloway.

Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend against interim champion Justin Gaethje, though that’s not been scheduled yet. And UFC president Dana White said middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will face No. 2 Paolo Costa in a fight that still doesn’t have a date.

There are not only high stakes in each of those matches, but they figure to be highly explosive, entertaining fights.

On Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+) in Las Vegas, though, might be the one bout that turns out to be the best of all those bouts which have White so excited. Former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier, who is ranked third in the division, will face No. 5 Dan Hooker in the main event at UFC Apex.

It’s the kind of a fight that could easily headline a pay-per-view, and it comes at great risk to both men, particularly Poirier. The division is stacked and the competition is fierce for spots at or near the top of the rankings.

An impressive win makes anyone near the top an instant title contender, but an unexpected loss pushes a title fight way into the future.

Dustin Poirier has proven repeatedly that he's a winner. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Dustin Poirier has proven repeatedly that he's a winner. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Poirier, who is coming off a second-round loss to Nurmagomedov in September, expects to be in the title hunt again after the Hooker fight. But despite the fact that Hooker is ranked below him, he expressed the utmost respect for the New Zealander.

“That’s silly to think anyone would look past a guy like this,” Poirier said. “Anyone looking past him, man, I can’t even imagine that. My focus is on him and solely on Dan Hooker. He’s a quality opponent and he has two arms, two knees, two legs and he’ll be looking to take my head off. It wouldn’t be too wise of me to look past anyone, let alone a guy like that. If you think that, you probably have never prepared for a competition before.”

Poirier is ranked 11th on the UFC’s pound-for-pound list and has an impressive list of victories to his credit. Prior to losing to Nurmagomedov, he’d defeated Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Gaethje and Anthony Pettis in succession.

Holloway, Alvarez and Pettis were full UFC champions and Gaethje is the reigning interim lightweight champion after he defeated Tony Ferguson at UFC 248 on May 9.

That’s an impressive string of victories and shows Poirier’s greatness extends far beyond his extraordinary charitable works. 

One of the keys to his success is that he’s self-motivated and enjoys what he does.

“I do this because I want to do it and because I love it and not because I need the money or anything else,” he said. “This is a passion and it’s what I love to do.”

More than anything, he’s a winner, though, and he’s proven that repeatedly. 

He’s been around long enough to keep himself from playing the “if this then that game.” He doesn’t know how things will play out and he’s not trying to expend any energy trying to figure it out.

All he knows is that a win over Hooker, one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport, will keep him where he wants to be and where he has been for a long time now:

Right at or near the top of arguably the UFC’s finest division.

“There are a lot of moving pieces,” he said. “That’s really looking far, far ahead. … The thing is, if you take care of business, you never have to worry. Things will eventually happen.”

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