Featherweight prospect a product of hard work and determination
Dustin Poirier is not an overnight success story, though some people may look at his quick climb into the featherweight rankings as such.
To a certain extent, you can see why they'd think that way.
Prior to making his UFC debut in January, Poirier split a pair of fights in the WEC's lightweight division, losing to Danny Castillo and earning a TKO win over Zack Micklewright. But like many young talents fighting in the WEC, Poirier went relatively unnoticed.
When featherweight champion Jose Aldo was forced out of his fight with Josh Grispi at UFC 125, Poirier accepted the opportunity to make his debut in the 145 pound ranks against the division's #1 contender. Though it would prove to be his coming out party and the fight that first put him on the MMA map, Poirier's rise to the UFC and top 10 status took much more than a single victory.
"I definitely didn't just win a couple fights and end up here; I made this happen, step-by-step, punch-by-punch. I put myself where I'm at through hard work, dedication and believing in myself, and I'm going to continue to do that," said the 22-year-old Louisiana native in advance of his fight this week at UFC 131.
Poirier's hard work and fight-by-fight climb to the WEC became one of the central narratives of the critically acclaimed documentary Fightville.
Hearing a fighter talk about the effort they put into achieving their goals is one thing, but getting to see the fruits of their labor play out on film definitely makes a greater impact. Not only is Poirier taken aback by the film's success, but he's also proud that other aspiring fighters can look at his story and see what it takes to reach the biggest stages in the sport.
"I knew it was going to be a great film, but I didn't know how good it was going to be and where it would be. I knew the film was going to come out and that was going to be nice, but I didn't know I would be going to Canada, and going to film festivals, reading reviews that people love it and stuff like that. I didn't have any idea it was going to be this big, but when I first watched it, I knew it captured my rise.
"Young fighters need to know that even when I was doing all this stuff, (filming Fightville, making my way to the WEC), I just hoped; I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be able to make a living doing this, to live off of fighting. It was a dream and I made it happen. There are guys who have been fighting for 15 years who still haven't made it to this point.
"Tim Credeur said it the best in the movie; there's a part where he says, `This isn't a career, this isn't a job, this is a lifestyle.' You have to live this life and really believe this and not be waiting around for things to happen for you. You have to be in the gym training and make them happen. Stuff doesn't come to guys sitting around talking about it and waiting for it to happen; it comes to guys who are in the gym trying, and making the right things happen. I want people to know that."
Poirier made the most of his biggest opportunity to date in January, dominating Grispi over three rounds to earn a unanimous decision victory. This time around, the roles have been reversed; at UFC 131, Poirier stands as the favorite, the proven fighter facing a late replacement.
Originally scheduled to face Brazilian jiu jitsu standout Rani Yahya, Poirier will instead meet debuting British kickboxer Jason Young. Though he was looking forward to the opportunity to add another recognized and respected name to his list of defeated opponents, Poirier knows the danger Young presents this weekend in Vancouver, having walked in his shoes just six months ago.
"It's a totally different fight. Both are very dangerous guys, just in opposite parts of the game. I wanted to fight Yahya because of his name and because of the guys he's beaten. If I'd have fought him and beaten him, that would have been two guys in a row that have beat Mark Hominick; that's a big notch on my belt right there. But Jason Young is dangerous; he's been doing very well and will continue to do very well in this sport, just not June 11. June 11 is going to be my night.
"Just a couple months ago, I took the walk he's about to take to the cage; as the underdog, as nobody knows who you are, and it made me hungry. It made me drive and practice for the chance for people to see who I am, to spoil somebody who has a name's fight. I know what he's going through right now, and I'm ready for that.
"I'm the best fighter I've ever been, and I'm ready to fight anybody right now. I know he's hungry and he's going to push as hard as he can, and I'm ready for that. I want the best Jason Young there has ever been. I want a good fight, and I don't expect to go in there and run over this guy. This guy is a professional fighter who trains, and has a kid on the way, a fiancee or a girlfriend, a family to take care of, and he's going in there to feed his family, but so am I."
Poirier believes this fight has Fight of the Night potential, saying that both he and Young never take a backwards step inside the cage and that it's unlikely the fight will last the full 15 minutes.
"I think somebody is going to get finished, and he fights from bell-to-bell and I fight from bell-to-bell. When you've got two guys that fight like this, it's going to be ridiculous; the fans are gonna love it.
Though he admits he's not much for detailed game plans and systematic approaches to winning his fights, the scrappy Poirier also wants it to be known that he's much more than just a striker, and feels this fight will be his chance to showcase some of his other skills.
"I see a lot of guys doing write-ups for this fight, striker vs. striker, but that's not the case here, man. This is a striker versus a complete mixed martial artist and I'm going to show that. I've got decent wrestling. I'm a purple belt in jiu jitsu; I've competed in jiu jitsu for years. I used to wrestle when I was younger, and now I think you'll see all that in this fight, plus my stand-up. It's a win-win for me too; now I get to show all of skills in this fight."
Over the years and across various sports, we've seen countless athletes burst onto the scene, seemingly out of nowhere, and get overwhelmed by success and fame. That hasn't been the case with Poirier thus far, and he suggests that those expecting an equally rapid fall better not hold their breath.
"If I'd have won a couple of fluke fights and ended up where I'm at it might have been different; I might have a big head and think that I deserve all this for no reason. I think me fighting my way up to where I'm at now helps me to stay humble because I know where I came from and I know what it took to get here.
"I'm 22-years-old and this is my 20th fight. It's been a long, rough road. I didn't have it easy. I didn't have it easy growing up, I don't have it easy now; just because I'm in the UFC, it's still not easy. I'm working hard out here trying to pay bills, trying to be the best fighter. That upbringing, that road is what keeps me so humble."
Though he could be classified as a documentary film star or a rising UFC prospect, neither of those titles fit Poirier as well as the one he used to describe himself.
"I'm just an average guy who works hard and found his calling. I found something I'm good at, something I really enjoy doing and something I want to be the best at."
It hasn't been an easy journey, but Poirier is certainly on his way.