It's 10 days before Dustin Poirier faces Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed lightweight championship at Saturday's UFC 242 when the UFC public relations person connects Poirier and Sporting News for an interview to preview the fight.
Before pleasantries could be exchanged, Poirier belts out to SN, "The grind is alive and well."
That sentiment couldn't have been any more accurate when Poirier got his first taste of UFC gold earlier this year. Poirier and featherweight champion Max Holloway clashed for the interim lightweight title in one of the best fights of 2019, with Poirier saddling Holloway with his first loss in nearly six years at UFC 236. Holloway threw everything and the kitchen sink at Poirier, but Poirier dug deep to come back and deliver one vile shot after another to win his first title in mixed martial arts.
"A lot of great fighters have gone down from those shots," Poirier said. "Max is a durable champion. He’s a tough guy. He’s in there to win every round and every minute.
"It was a great fight. I felt great. I was excited to finally have a chance to touch UFC gold. That was a great night for me. That arena in Atlanta is always going to mean something to me and my family."
The win allowed Poirier to make the journey across the Atlantic to Abu Dhabi and try to beat the man pundits say is virtually unbeatable. But this opportunity was an uphill climb filled with potholes that nearly derailed his journey.
Back on Sept. 27, 2014, Poirier was set to face the rising star known as Conor McGregor at UFC 178. To that point, Poirier was 16-3 and viewed as the future of the division. The knock on the product from Louisiana was his inability to win the big one; he had dropped fights against Danny Castillo, Chan Sung Jung and Cub Swanson. Opposite of Poirier was a mouthy Irishman who was on a meteoric rise and on the cusp of becoming a megastar. The opportunity was there for Poirier, but one vaunted McGregor straight left hand downed Poirier and sent him tumbling back down the rankings.
Once again, Poirier failed to shine when the lights were the brightest.
"That was just destiny, what happened that night with Conor," Poirier said. "I got hit by a good shot. It could happen in any fight. That’s the chance you take every time you step onto the canvas and get under those lights and fight another man. That could present itself. That kind of adversity can happen in a blink of an eye with these four-ounce gloves and the level of fighters I’m fighting."
After the loss, Poirier decided enough was enough and made a move that would either sink or swim his career. He decided to go back to where he started his MMA journey: the lightweight division. The path to a title shot would have been easier at featherweight because lightweight already had Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson, Eddie Alvarez, Rafael dos Anjos and eventually McGregor along with former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje.
The road to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was going to be a long one. Poirier began to chip away at the rankings with three of his first four wins as a lightweight coming by stoppage. It appeared Poirer had figured things out and that a move back to his natural weight class proved to be the recipe for success.
Just when everyone thought Poirier had it figured out, things came crashing down again courtesy of a stunning first-round knockout loss to Michael Johnson in September 2016. Undeterred, Poirier went back to the drawing board. Since then, he has gone 5-0 with one no-contest, highlighted by becoming the interim lightweight champion.
When times are tough like they were for Poirier, most people wouldn't have been able to stay positive and keep plugging away. The power of positivity and the people around him allowed Poirier to forge ahead and eventually realize his dream at UFC 236.
"I started in the WEC and the UFC at a very young age. I evolved and grew up fighting the best guys in the world, and learned the lessons, took my knots, just kept rolling, stayed true to the path and kept showing up to the gym every day. I have a great support system in my wife who always believed in me," he said.
"Losses are tough. I have down days. But I always pull it back together, get back to the drawing board and try to not make the same mistake twice."
Nurmagomedov (27-0) is regarded by MMA pundits as the most dominant fighter in the UFC and quite arguably the best in the world because of his world-class grappling and wrestling.
Poirier is nearly a 4-1 underdog to dethrone Nurmagomedov. History is there for the taking for the man who calls himself "The King of Lafayette, Lousiana." All he has to do to accomplish even a bigger dream is to find a way to beat the man who has been categorized as unbeatable.
"(A win) would mean everything to me," Poirier said. "He’s 27-0. He’s been part of the UFC for 11 fights now. He's evolving and growing in the sport. Nobody has been able to put that 'L' on his record. What he does, he does really well. I’m going to go in there and try to make him change it up and dig deep and push himself to the limit. A lot of years of blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice have been put into this. This is my life’s work for my family, my wife, my daughter.
"My entire life is because of mixed martial arts. Coming back from defeats, riding and grinding forward. It would be incredible. This is a 'Rocky' story. I’m going to go in there and beat the guy who everyone says is unbeatable in Khabib Nurmagomedov like Rocky Balboa was against Clubber Lang, Drago, and Mr. T. And then, I’m going to write a book about it.
"He’s a great fighter, as am I. I have an opportunity to show the world the level that I’m on and that I’m one of the best ever to do it."