'More mature, more patient' Dustin Poirier ready to set record straight against Conor McGregor at UFC 257

American fighter lost to the Irishman inside a round in their first bout and came agonisingly close to beating Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi at UFC 242

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Still able to recall the hurt from a difficult flight back from Abu Dhabi last time, Dustin Poirier is intent on leaving with an altogether different feeling having secured a milestone victory against Conor McGregor.

The popular American goes up against the sport’s biggest draw at UFC 257 on Sunday, in the headline lightweight bout at Etihad Arena to close out Fight Island. The clash is a rematch of their 2014 match-up, when McGregor triumphed by first-round TKO.

Unlike the Irishman, Poirier has competed in Abu Dhabi before – defeated as then-interim champion by Khabib Nurmagomedov in their unification fight at UFC 242 in September 2019.

Poirier was agonisingly close to becoming unified champion then. In the third round, he had Nurmagomedov in a potentially definitive guillotine choke, but the champion survived to triumph by fourth-round submission and extend his unbeaten record.

"It's tough to say how close I was," Poirier tells The National days out from his second Abu Dhabi appearance. "I might've been close but still so far away. You take that loss with you, it doesn't just stay there that night. It carries with you for the rest of your life. That was long flight home.

“It doesn’t motivate me; I’m as motivated as can be. But I think about it. I want to come to Abu Dhabi and get on that long flight home with victory.”

Poirier knows well what that will take. In McGregor, he stands across the octagon from someone he believes remains “one of the most dangerous fighters in the world,” even if he hasn’t competed for more than a year.

They met at UFC 178 in 2014, the tussle taking place at featherweight, when master-of-mind-games McGregor got underneath Poirier’s skin throughout a heated build-up. Many thought Poirier lost the fight before it had even begun.

Now, though, he is convinced vast improvements have been made, both physically and mentally.

“I just think I’m more mature, more patient,” Poirier says. “And a more well-rounded fighter. At this point in my career I can do it all, I’ve done it all, and that’s just it. We’ll see.

“I just care less. I cared way too much the first time. I cared what you thought; I cared what they thought. And now I know who I am. I’m happy with the man I’m looking at, that I see in the mirror.

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Gallery: Poirier loses to Nurmagomedov

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“I’m just confident in the person I am. I think before I cared too much about this whole thing. This is just something I do.”

How that translates to the octagon early Sunday, against the man who stopped him previously inside two minutes, represents an intriguing plotline heading into the rematch.

“I fight more freely,” Poirier says. “I’m not as intense, and as worried about the outcome, about the performance. I’ve done everything I can, I’ve put myself in position to perform at the top level. I know what I’m capable of, and that’s just it.”

Get past McGregor and Poirier’s in pole position to contest the title once more, no matter if that’s Round 2 against the currently retired current champion Nurmagomedov, or someone else.

“Everybody knows what comes next, which is world championship,” he says. “That is the reason I’m fighting: I want to be the undisputed world champion. That’s what’s driving me. That’s my goal.

“I’ve been so close to it, I got a piece of it. I had one hand on that belt; I want to get both of them.”

Avenging that loss, leaving Abu Dhabi with “arm raised and ship righted”, especially against someone of McGregor’s calibre, is the perfect pathway to realising that dream.

“Getting past Conor is what it takes to get to the world title, I believe,” Poirier says. “I think everyone knows that. Like I said, this is the No 1 contender fight. Whoever wins this fight fights for gold next.

“But I can’t get ahead of this fight. I have 25 minutes with one of the best fighters and one of the most dangerous fighters in the world, Sunday morning. That’s where the focus is.”

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Gallery: Poirier loses to McGregor