Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole interviews Dustin Poirier ahead of the former UFC interim lightweight champion's co-main event fight at UFC 281 versus Michael Chandler on Nov. 12.
KEVIN IOLE: What is up, everybody. I am Kevin Iole. I will be in New York for UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden. And of course, one of the fights I am looking forward to most is the co-main event between Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler. Dustin is joining me right now. Dustin, I was mentioning to you, over the last 66 months, so 5 and 1/2 years, this is going to be the ninth person that you fought that has had a title of some sort. But all nine of the previous ones have been UFC champions. 9 out of 10 fights. That is pretty crazy.
DUSTIN POIRIER: Yeah, that's a pretty crazy track record right there. But hey, this guy's a former world champion but has wins over former UFC world champions as well.
KEVIN IOLE: Right. So I mean, former Bellator champion, so he knows how to win at a high level. I guess the question I wanted to ask you about that is, what is the toll that that takes? It's different than just fighting guys maybe you face on a fight night, right, because mentally and physically, I imagine it's harder to fight guys who are at the very top echelon, as opposed to maybe more in the middle of the division.
DUSTIN POIRIER: I think it speaks to my skill set and the caliber of fighter I am, you know. Somebody might make their way up to that opportunity, but to be 10 fights in a row fighting the best of the best says something. You don't fall into those spots. You put yourself into those spots by working and winning fights, and being exciting and grinding. And that's what I've done my whole career.
KEVIN IOLE: When you came into the UFC, you had a lot of hype behind you. People had a lot of expectations for you. Is this kind of what you envisioned when you first came here, this kind of presence? You know, you've held a belt. You've fought-- some people think Khabib is the greatest fighter ever. You fought all the big names. There's nobody you have ducked. Is this sort of what you envisioned back, what is it, 2011 now?
DUSTIN POIRIER: Yeah, January 1. New Year's Day 2011 is when I debuted in the UFC.
KEVIN IOLE: Crazy. So this what you thought it'd be?
DUSTIN POIRIER: I didn't really-- I had no idea what was going to happen. I just wanted to be the best that I could be. But man, it's been a fun ride for sure. And next week, we got another big one on the resume. We're about to handle business. So I didn't think that far. I didn't think like, am I going to be fighting champion after champion. I was just trying to get my hand raised by any means, especially as a young kid.
KEVIN IOLE: What has it been like? So given that track record I said you had, the last little while has been tough to get a fight. Like, it was hard for you for a while to get a fight. You know, you're looking for people to fight you and everything. Given what you've done in the sport, were you surprised it was this hard to get somebody in the Octagon?
DUSTIN POIRIER: I'm surprised it took this long. It's been 10, 11 months since my last-- yeah, 10 months since my last fight. But I don't know. I don't even know what took so long to get this thing booked. I guess that just wasn't-- UFC didn't see things lining up certain ways. I'm not sure. But I'm glad I have a fight.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, and this is a big one now. You and Michael, two of the nicest guys in the UFC. But you guys haven't been getting along all that much. It seems like there was a little bit of heat between you. And I guess if I ever thought there would be a fight where everybody gets along, and it's all touchy-feely before the fight, it would be this one. You know, what kind of led to the-- I don't want to say bad blood, but you know, sharp words between you guys?
DUSTIN POIRIER: I think it started maybe in Abu Dhabi whenever they asked me about fighting him, And I just kind of brushed it off. He took that like I was disrespecting him. And then since then, it's just we're in the same division. We're on a collision course. This is fighting. That's just what it is.
KEVIN IOLE: Right. He is a guy who goes 90 million miles an hour, right. I mean, he gets out there and gets after it. Does that have to change your mindset going into the fight when you know a guy is not going to get to feel the fight for the first couple of minutes or even the first round, but is going to storm out and really fight at an extraordinarily high pace? Does that affect the way you game plan?
DUSTIN POIRIER: I mean, every opponent brings something different to the table. But when a guy like Mike comes out guns blazing, you know, I have to take that into account in game in training camp, and how we approach the fight. I have to keep myself protected early. You know, he's a very explosive, powerful, athletic fighter, big puncher. And if I didn't pay attention to that, especially early, you know, it could be huge consequences. So of course we do.
KEVIN IOLE: Is this a must win from a standpoint? Like, we know how deep this division is, right? And whoever loses is going to have lost a couple in a row at minimum, right, and put you back. You know, so you're that much further away from the champion if you lose the fight. So to me, it feels almost like it's a must-win for both of you guys. Do you look at it that way?
DUSTIN POIRIER: I look at every fight that way. Every fight is a must win.
KEVIN IOLE: Interesting. So there's no more significance on this one because of sort of what's going on?
DUSTIN POIRIER: The division is always changing. You know, lightweight has been top heavy for a while. We have a new champion now that opens things up, new matchups, new opportunities. But I've always put pressure on myself every fight, especially coming off of a loss. You know, I've been fighting for 15 years, and I've never lost two fights in a row. And I don't plan on starting now. I've always tried to put together my game and learn from losses, go back to the drawing board.
And I've had plenty of time after this last fight in December to work on things to try to get better, to focus. And it's more about proving it to myself. I want to go out there and show growth, show new wrinkles and tighten up things that I thought I was doing sloppy. So it's always personal pressure. You know, it's not about the division to me. It's about me being able to look in the mirror after the fight.
KEVIN IOLE: You know, you brought up another amazing thing. Like I mean, all these crazy things about you, so 90 of your previous 10 fights were against champions. Now, you just mentioned-- and I should have known this, but I didn't off the top of my head-- you've never lost back-to-back fights given the caliber of guys you're fighting.
I mean, that's extraordinary consistency. How do you maintain that level every fight? Like what is the secret to-- sports are up and down. We all know that. Some people have highs, some people have lows. You've been pretty even keel at a high level. What's the key to maintaining that kind of success over a long period of time?
DUSTIN POIRIER: Consistency. You know, like don't get complacent. I've always wanted more, whether it was climbing the division or my skill set. To remain a student-- that's what I tell these young guys whenever we talk about longevity in the sport. It's one thing to get to the top level. It's another thing to stay there for a decade like I have in the UFC.
And the mindset of being a student, like I'm always trying to learn. I'm always trying to pick people's brains, ask questions, watching things, how guys are setting stuff up on the mats, just remaining a student, not acting like I know too much. If I stay in that mindset, then I'm excited to go into the gym. I'm excited to talk and hit the mats and learn and push myself.
KEVIN IOLE: Now, I guess I got to ask you about what you learned. A video came out on social media yesterday or today that I saw that was about from a year ago, but you and Brian Shaw were grappling. And Brian Shaw, the fourth-time World's Strongest Man, I think he weighed, what, 480 pounds. And for people who haven't seen the video, it's fun to watch, but Dustin chokes him out. Like, what is that like when you're in there with a behemoth like that?
DUSTIN POIRIER: That's not the full video. He taps me out later on by just putting his weight on top of me.
KEVIN IOLE: Oh really?
DUSTIN POIRIER: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. He's one of the nicest guys I've ever met, but a huge individual, man. He's a giant. It was fun. It was fun. You know, he has no grappling experience, but just his strength and size, just to get my legs around him to take his back, to try to hang on to him, he's just such a huge human being. It was fun. It was a good experience.
KEVIN IOLE: I looked at it when I was watching it, and I saw you trying to get your arm around his neck. And I'm going, he may not be able to wrap all the way around.
DUSTIN POIRIER: Just getting my arms around his neck is like trying to grab someone's waist. You know, that's how big his neck is.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, that was-- what is the effect of strength in a fight? So obviously, that's crazy strength, right? You're not going to see that in a UFC fight. But I know technique is the most important thing. But what is the effect of like huge physical strength? If you fight somebody that's like maybe stronger than average, is there anything you have to do to compensate for that?
DUSTIN POIRIER: Technique, usually, but strength is a big thing in fights that can make up for technique. Like, if you're trying to get up off the mat or build back up on the fence, and you're technically doing it a little wrong, but you have the strength and explosiveness, it kind of fills some of the gaps and makes guys be able to do more than their skill set would allow them to do.
KEVIN IOLE: Right.
DUSTIN POIRIER: But it has to be sustainable. You know, when you're fighting the best guys in the world, it's not one explosion, unless you knock them out or something. It's not one explosion that happens, and checkmate, it wins the fight, unless it's like a big punch or something like that. So if you have the strength, you have to be able to sustain it, because the guys at this level, they're going to keep coming, keep walking forward and stay in your face.
KEVIN IOLE: That was quite a video. I think people need to see that just for fun. That's a really good one. Two other things I want to ask you about. You know, we referenced Islam Makhachev winning the championship. You know, you fought Charles Oliveira. What did you see in that fight, and how impressed were you by Islam's performance?
DUSTIN POIRIER: Man, very impressed. Very impressed. He went in there and did it as smooth as you can possibly go in there and do it. You know, no marks, no cuts, no bruises, and he's a world champion. That's a sweet night, man. I'm very impressed with him.
KEVIN IOLE: As a potential opponent for you, right-- we know he has this great wrestling and that's something that's really tough for anybody to overcome. But I felt like his striking was so important in that fight, where he hurt him right off the bat with it. And his hands were good. And maybe his hands aren't as good as some other guys, but when you combine it with that wrestling, that makes him a problem. So you know, when you look at that striking, how much of a benefit is that to him to have something like that to go along with the wrestling?
DUSTIN POIRIER: I mean, it's huge. You know, you can't be-- in this day and age in Mixed Martial Arts, you can't be a fighter who has one thing. You know, you have to be able to do it all. You have to be a mixed martial artist, and he showed that. He went out there and hurt Charles and then put him away at his own game. You know, that's the highest level.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. So make the case for yourself. So if you beat Mike Chandler, who Mike, his record is not, I think, indicative of how good of a fighter he is since he's been in the UFC. He's been in unbelievable fights since he's been in the UFC. You beat Mike Chandler. Given what else I said you did, make the case for yourself being the next challenger for Makhachev.
DUSTIN POIRIER: I mean, I feel like my track record and my work speaks for itself. I don't need to get on a platform and beg for a title shot. I'm going to go out there. I'm going to fight next weekend, and let the cards fall where they may.
KEVIN IOLE: New York, Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of the fight game. Dustin Poirier and Mike Chandler will be fighting there. Dustin, I appreciate you, brother. Wish you good luck. Look forward to seeing you next week.
DUSTIN POIRIER: Thank you, man.
KEVIN IOLE: See you.