Poirier prepares for UFC on FOX

BY foxsports • November 9, 2011

Down in Louisiana, folks aren’t thinking about much outside of LSU football these days.

This is a normal occurrence, of course, with a perennial national championship contending football team and one of the more rabid fan bases in any sport, college or not. The nice people of Baton Rouge are hoping this year ends like 1958 or 2003 or even 2007, when Les Miles led the Bayou Bengals to a BCS title. Miles is currently angling the Tigers towards yet another trophy, and last Saturday’s 9-6 defeat of rival SEC powerhouse Alabama, while not the prettiest thing, was enough to send the entire state into a frenzy.

Dustin Poirier feels none of this.

The UFC featherweight will admit that he’s a long-time fan of the New Orleans Saints and spends Sunday afternoons cheering on the team. But college football just isn’t his gig, and Poirier has too much on his mind to get wrapped up in the purple and gold at the moment, anyway. He’s got a fight coming up, and 45 minutes away from the LSU campus, in a sleepy town called Lafayette, Poirier goes about the business of preparing to face Pablo Garza at UFC on FOX this weekend.

Poirier will be stepping in the cage for the first time since June’s UFC 131, when he faced British striker Jason Young. Poirier was hoping to capitalize on a January upset of former top featherweight contender Josh Grispi, but things didn’t go as planned. When Poirier landed in Las Vegas on the Tuesday before the fight, he was 163 pounds, and the weight just wouldn't come off. He’d had zero problems against Grispi in his first featherweight cut – a strange occurrence when you consider that he started that particular cut at 174 pounds – but this time around was different, and it affected him in the cage.

“I was off. I don’t know what it was. I’m not blaming it on the weight cut, but I had a really horrible weight cut. I felt like I was going to die,” Poirier says. “Sometimes you have those nights. That’s not taking away from Jason, because he’s an excellent kick boxer.”

The fight, simply put, was a dud, and Poirier is eager to show fans around the world that he’s capable of putting on a thrilling fight. As for the weight cut, well, he’s confident he’ll have no issues this time around. In fact, he currently weighs 158 pounds, a full five pounds less than he did for the Young fight.

“It will make a huge difference. I feel better. I re-did my diet and I’m not cutting any corners,” he says. “I’m not cutting any corners this time around. It’s not that I slacked before, but I’m just tightening everything up. I’m just learning my body.”

Garza represents a nearly perfect opponent for Poirier. Garza has turned his career around since dropping to featherweight and joining the UFC after the merger with World Extreme Cagefighting in January, and his flying triangle win over Yves Jabouin at UFC 129 put him on the map at featherweight. It was a moment of sweet redemption for Garza, who tried and failed to get into the UFC via The Ultimate Fighter. With two dynamic finishes in two UFC appearances, Garza is earning a name for himself as an exciting fighter, and Poirier believes we'll see fireworks on Saturday night.

“Somebody has to want it more. Somebody has to be the better fighter. He’s a fun fighter and I am too, I think,” Poirier says. “So it’s going to be a crazy fight. I’m going to try and finish him and he’s going to try to do the same. I think it’s a good matchmaking call by Sean Shelby to put two guys like that together.

“It all comes down to who wants it more. I’m very confident in my skills and I do believe I am a better fighter than he is.”

A win for Poirier would mean the world in a featherweight division that finds its title picture in constant limbo. The UFC has faced the difficult task of creating meaningful title fights that can also capture the imagination of fans, but with a division full of fighters who’ve yet to attain superstar status, they’ve been forced to turn towards the lightweight division and its roster of more familiar names. Longtime lightweight stalwart Kenny Florian secured a title shot after one underwhelming victory at featherweight, and other, more familiar lightweight names would almost certainly be given more consideration for championship opportunities if they decided to make the cut.

This might offend fighters who have toiled in the lower weight classes for years without getting their shot, but Poirier doesn’t mind. Not one bit, actually. He understands the game, understands that pay per view revenue and marketable stars are what drives his employer onward towards the goal of mainstream acceptance.

“I have respect for all of these guys. I don’t even look at it as a weight class with barriers. Top guys are top guys, whether they are 170 who drop to 155 or 155 to 145,” Poirier says. “Kenny Florian has been putting in work for years. He’s been around a long time and he deserved that title shot. I’m coming from the WEC, where I was 1-1. I’ve picked up two wins in the UFC, so that gives me four fights in Zuffa. Kenny probably has 20 fights. He definitely deserves it.”

Discussions of title shots, even with a win over Garza, are immediately deflected by Poirier. This is the usual fighter response to a standard boilerplate question leading into a fight. They’re focused on their opponent. They don’t care about what’s happening after this fight or the next fight. All they can think about is the guy standing in front of them.

For Poirier, though, it’s more than simply showing the usual respect for his opponent. He’s a young and immensely talented prospect with the smarts to realize that he’s not at the top of the division just yet, and he’s fine with that. Even if he defeats Aldo, he’s not looking to jump into championship contention. Not yet, anyway.

“I’m definitely looking for more fights. Definitely. But is that the reality? I don’t know. If I get my hand raised on Saturday night, I’m sure they’ll put another top guy in front of me, and we’ll see where it goes from there,” he says. “I would say I’m roughly in the middle of the ladder in the featherweight division.”

And so Poirier’s long journey up the featherweight ladder leads him to Anaheim, where he and Garza square off on the preliminary card for UFC on FOX. In a normal situation, his fight would be televised, but the unique circumstances surrounding the UFC’s debut on network television leave Poirier relegated to the preliminary card, with viewers forced to spend an afternoon on Facebook in order to see his fight. This doesn’t trouble Poirier, not one bit. He recognizes the historic nature of the card and is honored just to take part.

“It’s huge, man. It doesn’t give me any added pressure. It’s just another fight in the UFC, and there’s already enough pressure. I’m not looking at it any differently just because it’s the first fight on FOX. But it is a huge opportunity,” Poirier says. “Nobody will ever be able to take that away from me, you know? It’s like being a WEC veteran. Nobody can say that from now on. These new guys coming in won’t ever be able to say that, and I take pride in that. I’m glad that I am a WEC veteran.

“And now I’m going to be one of the guys to fight on FOX, on the first show,” Poirier continues. “In 20 years, looking back on it and talking to upcoming fighters, I’ll be able to tell them that I fought on the first FOX card. I’ll be able to tell them that. It’s just a good opportunity.”

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