UFC 242: Dustin Poirier ready to 'shock the world' against Khabib Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi

Mystery surrounds the unbeaten lightweight champion who shunned media obligations as speculation mounted over his weight ahead of Friday's weigh-in

Not one for trash-talking, Dustin Poirier preferred instead to talk up his chances of creating history in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

The interim lightweight champion, experiencing the UAE for the first time, faced the media on Thursday at Yas Hotel, grilled for 45 minutes from everything surrounding UFC 242 and Saturday’s headline bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov, the promotion's return to the capital after a five-year hiatus, his journey to this point, and which animal he would compare himself to.

As the time dragged so did the questions, yet much as his track record in mixed martial arts conveys, Poirier remained resolute throughout. Facing an undefeated lightweight champion, who boasts 27 professional victories from 27, the upcoming unification bout represents the grandest moment in Poirier's storied fight career thus far.

Being underdog doesn’t deter him. In fact, it fuels him.

“Of course, I love that story,” the American said. “I’ve said all week, we’re strumming the same strings. That’s my whole life story. I know a lot of fighters say that - it’s very clichéd - but I’ve been the underdog this whole time and I keep coming through.

“This is champion versus champion, the two best in the world, with 25 minutes to see who is the best. That’s it, that’s exciting to see it. If you’re a fight fan, this is the kind of fight that you’re out there looking for. This is the pinnacle of mixed martial arts."

The pinnacle for Poirier, too.

“It’s an historic night not only in mixed martial arts, but in my career," he said. "I’m the most in-the-moment, well-rounded and focused fighter and athlete I’ve ever been in my life.”

It’s just as well, considering the calibre of opponent who’ll be across the Octagon come Saturday. On Thursday, though, there was no retort from Nurmagomedov, no coldly delivered declarations or predictions of what might transpire upon his return to action following almost one year away.

The Russian arrived at the hotel ballroom, strode across stage, faced off with Poirier and then departed, leaving UFC president Dana White to explain the event’s star attraction would not be fulfilling media duties. Soon, speculation suggested Nurmagomedov was off to focus on cutting his weight. The official weigh-in was scheduled for the following day.

In contrast, Poirier reckoned he was about 10 pounds off, a non-issue with plenty of time before he hits the scales, once more in front of the press. On a six-fight unbeaten streak, including April's win against Max Holloway for the interim belt, he is concentrated solely on treading a path no one else has: taking out Nurmagomedov.

“My experience makes me different to anyone he has faced,” said Poirier, who has had to climb back from five defeats in a 31-fight pro career. “The lessons I’ve learned through trial and error; my commitment to my craft. This is my life’s work.

“I’ve dedicated my life to this, to making this happen. It’s very important for me, it’s important for my family, and for my legacy. It means a lot.”

Physically set, he’s clearly where he wants to be emotionally, as well.

“I’m mentally ready for 25 minutes of bleeding and sweating and being uncomfortable,” Poirier said. “The fans can expect me to put Khabib in positions you haven’t see him in. And to hurt him.”

One of the most anticipated fights of the year, if not the most, Poirier seems to be revelling in unfamiliar territory, both figuratively and literally. UFC 242 marks the first event in a five-year partnership between the promotion and Abu Dhabi, a commitment evidenced by the recent construction of The Arena, a purpose-built venue that on Saturday will be full to capacity. Upwards of 13,000 will be there to witness a genuine moment for sport in the Emirates.

To that, Poirier is intent on making it one to remember. History beckons.

“It’s huge,” he said. “The buzz and the feeling I’ve been getting from the city, people are excited. And it’s obviously sold out. Maybe next year they build a bigger arena and the year after that a bigger arena.

“But I would love to come back and defend this belt here again. I didn’t know what to expect. It really is incredible here.”

"Incredible" would describe a Poirier victory, against the odds, against a robust and ruthless rival and the significant support Nurmagomedov will no doubt have for the fight. It’s a long way from when Poirier was starting out in the pro game a decade ago, back in his home state of Louisiana.

Asked what he would tell his young self if he could now, sitting in front of the gathered media ahead of Nurmagomedov and UFC 242, he replied: “To stay true to the path. You’re going to be the world champion. You’re going to shock the world, September 7.”

Updated: September 5, 2019 07:37 PM

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