The only time Dustin Poirier wanted to fight an opponent outside the cage was during the week of UFC 178.

Mr. Poirier recalls waiting behind the curtain at the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas in September 2014 to step on the scale. He recalls seeing several skirmishes in the crowd, which was full of Irish fans. He remembers being dehydrated and desperate to weigh himself. And he remembers the tension after Conor McGregor was the target of trash talk for weeks.

Conor McGregor will return to the Octagon for the first time in a year as part of the main event at UFC 257. The former UFC two-division champion takes on Dustin Poirier in a fight that could determine the next challenger for the lightweight title. This fight is a rematch of their meeting at UFC 178 in 2014, where McGregor won by TKO in the first round.

Buy UFC 257 here

CFU 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2
– Saturday 23. January, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Main card: 10 p.m. AND on ESPN+ PPV- Preliminaries: 8pm AND on ESPN/ESPN+- Early preliminaries: 6:15pm. AND on ESPN/ESPN+

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I wanted him to pay, you know? I was angry, Mr. Poirier said. I remember wanting to fight him at the weigh-in, which in retrospect is crazy. I was in such a weird state of mind.

Poirier was the UFC’s number five featherweight, but some saw him as a litmus test for McGregor, who proved he could fight in the UFC, dominate headlines, draw crowds and win fights. However, McGregor has yet to prove that he can beat the best in the world – and that’s where Poirier comes in.

You have Conor through everyone, that loud Irishman, says Thomas Webb, a friend and training partner of Poirier’s since 2009. And then there’s Dustin, who you know. He has earned custody. He had been in the wars and everyone knew he could bring it. And it was just… could he be confused?

The scene of the scale, the day before the fight, portrayed the situation perfectly. Poirier was outnumbered. He fought not only Conor McGregor, but also the crowds of fans who crossed the Atlantic to see him fall, the UFC executives who befriended McGregor in his presidential suite this week, and the media who clung to every word McGregor said.

I thought everyone wanted him to win, says Mr. Poirier. The UFC wanted him to win. The media wanted this new star. I felt like it was a trap, you know? I felt like the fans in the crowd were there to see me lose.

Conor McGregor’s intimidation prior to their 2014 fight infuriated Dustin Poirier, who was scheduled to fight the Irishman at the weigh-in the day before. Things are different now. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

And it turned out that at the weigh-in… two men just stepped on the scales and entered the cell… lasted longer than the fight. McGregor fulfilled his prediction of a knockout in the first round by putting Poirier down with a left hand less than two minutes into the bout. It was the first time Poirier had been knocked out.

It was awful, said Poirier’s wife, Jolie, who was in attendance. It was hard to be there. Just the crowd, the energy – it was scary. It was hard to watch him go through that.

The worst part is that everything that annoyed Poirier before the fight came to fruition after his defeat. The sport seemed to celebrate McGregor’s victory. And at first, he didn’t care where Poirier stayed. He won the next four, but none of them were major events. McGregor, on the other hand, will win the provisional belt later this year and unify in December 2015.

But as Poirier prepares for his revenge against McGregor on Saturday at UFC 257, things have changed dramatically. He’s not a stepping stone for McGregor. He is a former interim champion and one of the most respected men in the sport.

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Mr. Poirier’s family and friends saw the transformation of a college dropout who loved to fight into a professional fighter who found his passion and purpose. They saw him overcome the doubts of those who didn’t give him much credit, and they saw him hang on after McGregor’s defeat. Much of the attention leading up to Saturday’s fight was also focused on McGregor, who is one and the same person. But the difference is who McGregor will be looking at through the cage.

After the result of that fight – honestly, until the next fight, Dustin kind of forgot, Webb says. He was another victim of Conor McGregor’s move.

For everyone else, he was, but underneath that we saw Diamond’s recovery.

PUARIER, age 31, GREIVE in Lafayette, Louisiana. His parents split up when he was five. At the time, he was raised mostly with his mother, Jérôme Chesson, and his two brothers.

It’s a delicate subject to say I like to fight, says Poirier. It scares me, but I love the emotional journey and the feeling that you can get out. And from a young age, I knew the guys I saw on television…. I knew what they had, I had it too.

He was a funny kid, according to Chason. It’s so much fun, that’s for sure. The kind of guy who hides guns and plastic swords under every couch cushion so he’s ready for anything. One day he climbed a brick post attached to the house and went to the roof to reach a bird he had seen from the yard.

He was everyone’s favorite, but no one wanted to watch him, Chason says. We had to protect Dustin in the backyard so he wouldn’t get hurt. They put locks on everything, but at three o’clock he could probably pick the lock. It’s a true story. He was not gentle like most children. He was adventurous and curious.

When Poirier was 5 years old, Chaisson recalled driving around the neighborhood with boxing gloves on the handlebars so he could box with his friends.

The first time Poirier’s wife, Jolie, saw her future husband was when she was in eighth grade, and yes, he fought. Jere Chaisson polished.

Jolie, who first met Poirier when she was in eighth grade, admits the first time she saw him was when he fought with another boy in the school hallway.

When he was in high school, Poirier was arrested for breaking an older child’s teeth in an impromptu boxing ring alongside his father. But aside from this incident, Poirier and his family say there was nothing wrong with his attraction to wrestling. He loved boxing and was always willing to participate.

When someone’s down, you don’t hit them anymore, you know? Poirier said. I’m not trying to pretend I’m like Mad Max. Two men go in, one man comes out. That’s not the point. It was just a fight.

No, if Poirier got into trouble when he was young, it wasn’t because of fighting. It was a school. He despised him and kept getting away with it – despite his mother’s efforts.

He was in first grade, maybe kindergarten, and he snuck out of school, walked four blocks to the grocery store and called 911, only to say he didn’t want to go, Chason recalled. When he was in eighth grade, I delivered medicine and had two vans in case one broke down. One day I got up early from work and on my way home I saw my van crossing the street. And it was Dustin! He had just come from school and was driving around.

Chaisson tried everything to keep his son in school. When he was in high school, she even used a mediator and enrolled Poirier in a program that would send him to a juvenile detention center if he continued to drop out of school. He did and ended up spending a month in pre-trial detention and another three months in a military camp. Even that experience had no impact. And after being in high school long enough to play football his freshman year, Poirier quit school altogether.

He said it looked like a prison, Chaisson said. He said: Why do you want to send your child to prison? You don’t know what it’s like. And I would say: I went to school for 12 years.

But public education is not for everyone, and that’s a hard lesson I learned.

After leaving school, Poirier mostly did nothing. He smoked and drank with his friends and sometimes still argued. More than anything, he was just a 16-year-old high school dropout with no plans or ambitions. He has a job at McDonald’s.

He was just trying to find himself, you could say, Jolie says.

After defeating Max Holloway for the Lightweight interim title in 2019, Poirier hugged his brother Casey and talked about the reaction from critics who didn’t think he would accomplish much. He said he wanted to be an example to children in similar situations. Thanks to Jere Chaisson.

But around Poirier’s 18th birthday. A switch went off. He started to go to the boxing gym. Daily. He always believed he could succeed in boxing, but his mother discouraged him from an early age. But when Poirier entered the workforce at the age of 18, he never looked back. He lost weight, left a group of friends and booked his first MMA fight within six months.

I wasn’t trying to fill a void in my life, but I found something that really helped me fill a void that I didn’t know I had, Poirier says. I was very happy. I fell asleep thinking about it. I woke up thinking about it. I’ve been thinking about it all day. I was. I would cut off anyone to continue. I’d do anything to keep going.

I liked it. And I felt that he loved me at that moment in my life.

Poyrer was 25 years old – seven years after his love affair with fighting – when he suffered the first knockout loss of McGregor’s career. He will eventually fight for – and win – a UFC interim championship, as McGregor did shortly after their fight. But it would take Mr Poirier nearly five years and eight hard-earned victories to achieve this.

His time finally came in April 2019, when he fought then-heavyweight champion Max Holloway for the 155-pound interim championship. Despite an excellent resume with wins over Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez, Poirier went into the fight against Holloway as an outsider – a position not unfamiliar to him, but one that he will emerge victorious thanks to a unanimous decision.

In the interview after the fight, Mr. Poirier said my whole life I wasn’t good enough, and now I’m world champion.

Those words had an immediate effect on Shason.

He told me: No one will ever tell me I’m a loser again, Mr Chaisson said. And it hit me today just like it did last night. I didn’t know he felt that way.

He hugged me and said I’m not a nobody because I’m a somebody now. Maybe it’s because her father wasn’t in the picture. Maybe it has something to do with that. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

As he listened to Poirier, his words touched many things in his life that night, both personally and professionally.

Poirier is not the man who lost to McGregor in 2014. He is confident in who he is, inside and outside the octagon. He is a father with a successful charity, and he will not be defined by the results of the PDU. Josh Ritchie for ESPN

I’ve heard it many times since I was young, Poirier says. Teachers, policemen, prison guards. I was one of those guys who had problems. I wouldn’t turn into anybody. I wouldn’t be any good in the end. Even going back to the fight with Conor, like I said, who I fought in that fight and everyone said I was going to lose.

I said it that night too, because I know there were a lot of kids watching. I want to give people a reason to be happy, to be cheerful and to encourage someone. I did it so that everyone can do it. I am the people watching, working 9 to 5 and struggling to make ends meet. It’s me. It’s me. I did. Maybe I don’t have the best physical attributes. Maybe Conor can jump higher than me. Maybe he can run faster than me. Maybe he can hit harder. But I will find a way.

Over the past six years, including a loss to champions Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019 in his bid to unify the title, Poirier has never really sought revenge with McGregor. His goal was to be a champion, and he still is. He knows that a win against McGregor will likely give him another chance to win the undisputed lightweight title. And the starting point of this struggle is motivation. This is not a story of revenge and, unlike six years ago, Poirier is not fueled by anger.

When asked what he thinks of the story of this revenge, Mr. Poirier pauses before answering. Growth, he says.

Six years ago, Mr. Poirier proved he was ready for the sport to use him to build someone else’s name. At least that’s the way he saw it… and he still does. Maybe the first fight with McGregor was a trap. The difference today is that he doesn’t care.

All those things that I thought were probably true, but I’m not fighting these guys, Poirier says. Maturity has taught me that these guys are not my friends. The UFC is not my people. They give me an arena to perform in. That’s for me to decide. It’s in my hands. I write the book page by page, and now I understand.

This time, whether he wins or loses, Poirier will always be a former UFC champion. He doesn’t mind if most of the headlines are about his opponent. He has a daughter, Parker Noel, and is the founder of a charity to which recent opponents like Nurmagomedov have contributed since the fights. McGregor also plans to make a donation.

I am the people watching, working 9 to 5 and struggling to make ends meet. It’s me. It’s me. I did. Maybe I don’t have the best physical attributes. Maybe Conor can jump higher than me. Maybe he can run faster than me. Maybe he can hit harder. But I will find a way.

Dustin Poirier.

Poirier’s current goal with the Good Fight Foundation is to open a gym in the area where he grew up, giving kids an outlet to help him change his life for the better. Boxing matches and mixed martial arts competitions will be held and training will be linked to performance enhancement. Just something to get the kids off the streets and somewhere after school, Poirier says.

Mr. Poirier understands the impact his sport can have on kids trying to find their way. And now he also knows how important the context of the sport is.

Since the beginning of my career, I’ve been like this, says Mr. Poirier. It was a struggle, that’s all. That’s all I cared about. Now we are talking and my daughter is in the other room. I’m a father, a husband, charity is fine. Fighting is what I do. I put everything I have into this… but it’s just what I do. One day I won’t be able to. What’s next? Am I exhausted and discarded? No, man. I am still a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a businessman.

It’s just something I do in my life and I like it. I surf the wave, have fun and make the most of it.

Poirier has come a long way since that day in Las Vegas when he wanted to fight McGregor at the weigh-in. He’s not using up his sport anymore, but he’s just as competitive. If he wins, he’ll have another chance at the world title. But at least it won’t be determined by what happens inside the Octagon.

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