Dustin Poirier starts his mornings like most fathers with a four-year-old daughter: scrambling to get her up and ready school. For the seasoned fighter, it’s a match up he looks forward to, especially after a few weeks of being halfway around the world for his UFC 257 bout against Conor McGregor.
“This experience was a new kind of challenge,” Poirier says about the trip to Abu Dhabi, the location of UFC’s Fight Island. The journey was brutally difficult, but the desired result was achieved: Poirier scored a second-round knockout against the notorious Irishman. It could be considered payback for their last meeting in 2014, when things went the other way around, and now all signs are pointing to a trilogy between the fierce competitors.
Poirier is an MMA veteran, but he’s not done building his legacy. The interim lightweight belt sits on a shelf in his living room, where he gets his daughter ready, but the goal remains to become the undisputed champion. Men’s Journal spoke with the Louisiana southpaw about his workouts on Fight Island, his camp for the rematch, and how it feels to enter The Octagon.
Men’s Journal: How has COVID-19 affected how you prepare for fights?
Dustin Poirier: This is the second fight I’ve done during the pandemic and lockdown. Getting to Abu Dhabi required a lot of moving parts. I did my training camp in South Florida, like I always do, but I had to go to Vegas for quarantine before flying internationally. I stayed there for two days, getting tested all the time, before I got on a plane again to Fight Island. Once I landed, there was another quarantine process for two weeks. The whole area was very secure. They had guards everywhere, and we were tested every day. I’ve been fighting for a long time, and this was more mentally challenging—no question.
Any issues getting into the gym?
The challenge for a lot of fighters is getting sparring partners and people to work with regularly, given the situation. The gym I work out of is American Top Team, and they’ve figured out a number of protocols to keep us all safe. They’re closed to the public, temperatures are being checked at the door, there are only a certain amount of people allowed on the mats, and the trainers are tested regularly. I’m lucky the gym also has a solid stable of fighters who live in South Florida. We didn’t have to reach beyond the crew we know.
Walk us through training camp. How varied is training through the week?
We go through different phases during training as the camp progresses. I’d say a typical week is a mix of wrestling, drills, strength, conditioning, grappling, jiu jitsu, kickboxing, and I hold sparring until the last five weeks. All of these elements are self-regulated, if we feel like we more or less of something, then we’ll adjust. Saturday we dedicate purely to mixed martial arts, doing five, five-minute rounds, with small gloves. Keeping a good pace, but not trying to wear ourselves out. Sundays are an active recovery day, where I’ll run five miles.
Who programs your strength and conditioning workouts?
Phil Daru has done all of my strength and conditioning for my last 10 fights, and he’s a student of the game. He does a lot of research and I’m confident in his methods. So I leave all the workout planning to him. I try not to get too bogged down in the science or reasoning behind everything we’re doing. I just try to show up in the best condition and execute the regimes he brings the best I can.
How are you recovering?
I go to the chiropractor once a week, and we do cold laser therapy. I have a Hyperice Hypervolt massage gun. It’s good because it has interchangeable heads to get different areas. My daughter loves to use it on me; she beats me up with it. On top of that, I try to get two massages a week. Stretching every day is an important part of my recovery. I also occasionally do cryotherapy to help encourage healing. When I was younger, I thought the more I suffered the stronger I’d be, but I’ve learned that’s not the case. The body needs to heal to feel right.
How do you keep your energy up during weight cuts?
My nutritionist and I worked out a few ways to keep my energy up, switching to more fats to use for fuel. I try to eat as clean as possible. It’s also good to have a caffeine kick around. I was lucky that Celsius sent a few cases to me and the team. The kick helped me get through our nighttime workouts, and it comes without the jitters. Those last couple pounds are always tough. I’m not going to do another weight cut without it.
Any tips on staying mentality sharp?
I try to focus on staying in every moment the best I can. I don’t like to predict outcomes or fates. I try to dial into every element of being in the Octagon. The smell of the leather, the touch of the mat, the feel of the lights, and the sound of it all.
What was your strategy for squaring off against McGregor at UFC 257? Your leg kicks mangled him.
We look to exploit any potential weakness, if possible, then incorporate it into every element of training. There’s always footage to watch—to look for things an opponent might do, or not do, that we can capitalize on. Or if they do something we need to prepare for, then our drill sessions will be planned around that. Whenever I’m sparring, grappling, or drilling I’ll see where a kick may be possible during those interactions. Those game plans become a part of the training across the board. That’s because we want it to become second nature, so I’m not looking for it or thinking about it…the kicks are just happening. That’ how I’m operating during the fight.
Who was in your corner during UFC 257?
Mike Brown, who’s pretty much my head coach at American Top Team. Dyah Davis is my boxing coach. I usually have my fight coordinator, Robert Roveta, who’s been helping me get fights since I was 18 years old. And I have Thiago Alves there, UFC veteran and now a bare-knuckle fighter. He’s been around combat sports since he was 14, kickboxing in Brazil. He’s like me…took the hard road and earned everything. I was a fan of his before I even met him, enjoyed his technique and his personality, so he’s just the kind of guy you want to have around.
What does it feel like to walk into the Octagon in a high-pressure situation like that?
There’s a heightened sensory feeling that comes from spending a good part of your year preparing for a 25-minute window. There’s a smell you only know if you’ve been in the Octagon—a mix of leather, metal, canvas, and that rusty-copper smell if there’s blood on the ground. It smells like a battle field. I could put an old pair of gloves to my nose and it’ll take me there. I can hear Bruce Buffer’s voice calling out my name even.
I could put an old pair of gloves to my nose and it’ll take me there. I can hear Bruce Buffer’s voice calling my name.
Describe how it felt to land the knockout against McGregor?
There isn’t a whole lot of thinking that happens in that moment. It’s all a reaction, a conditioning you’ve built up. You’re doing what you’ve been trained to do. There’s a feeling of relief that comes once you score that hit and the fight is over. There’s so much weight on your shoulders until that moment. You just think, “I did it.”
You’ve scored victories against some of the biggest names in the fight game. Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
I believe in myself. I’ve put in the time, work ethic, and focus. This is years of work and years of sacrifice. There are lessons I learned 10 years ago that follow me to this day. There are guys I’ve been doing this with for a decade. It’s been a journey—not just learning the fight game, but learning about myself.
How are eating once you’re on the other side of a big bout?
I’ve always had a passion for cooking and food. I love to be in the kitchen. During the beginning of last year, I was playing chef a lot. I wanted to dive deeper into my Louisiana roots, so I decided to create my own hot sauce, Poirier’s. I enjoyed doing the research. Vinegar-based cayenne pepper sauce is familiar territory for me. I cook with it a lot. I made a gumbo with chicken and sausage for the Super Bowl. I’m very proud of the flavor. It’s not just a topper, it’s great to cook with. It hits for sure, but it won’t make you run for the faucet.
There are a lot of people who think you deserve the title. There is a lot of anticipation and people who want to see you fighting again soon. What kind of fights are you personally looking for?
I think the UFC needs to sit down and have a meeting where they figure everything out. I personally am never out of the gym. I always have friends who are prepping for their own fights. I try to stay in decent shape so I’m ready to turnaround and be prepared for a big match quickly. No question, I want to be the undisputed world champion.
Poirier is also putting admirable work in outside of The Octagon with The Good Fight Foundation, which McGregor donated $500K ahead of their UFC 257 match.