A little more than a year ago, Dustin Poirier was an unproven commodity in the Ultimate Fighting Championship -- a diamond in the rough, so to speak.
Now, four victories and 16 months later, Poirier is regarded as one of the Top 10 featherweights in the world, as he prepares for his first main event fight in the Octagon: a high-stakes showdown with Chan Sung Jung in the UFC on Fuel TV 3 headliner on Tuesday in Fairfax, Va.
“Training camp has gone really well,” said Poirier, who has won five straight fights since August 2010. “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in and I’ve had the chance to have a good, long camp. Plus, there’s been no change in my opponent. In my first four fights in the UFC, I’ve never fought the guy I was originally scheduled to fight, so I’ve been able to prepare for [Jung] the entire time. I’m excited and I’m ready to put on a good performance.”
Poirier started his hot streak with a first-round knockout of Zachary Micklewright at WEC 52 in November 2010 and followed that with an eye-catching unanimous decision over Josh Grispi at UFC 125 two months later. Another unanimous decision over Jason Young at UFC 131, a second-round tapout of Pablo Garza at UFC on Fox 1 and a first-round submission of Max Holloway at UFC 143 have brought Poirier to a 12-1 record that includes 10 finishes, five of them knockouts, five of them submissions.
Now, he finds himself in a UFC main event for the first time.
“It’s amazing,” said Poirier, who trains with UFC veteran Tim Credeur at the Gladiators Training Academy in Lafayette, La. “It feels incredible. It’s the fruits of all my labor and shows I’ve been putting in the work. I feel lucky to be where I’m at. I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Poirier entered the mixed martial arts field in 2007 and holds the rank of purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Credeur, who believes his protégés strongest assets are those that cannot be measured.
“I think some of the things that are his best attributes are intangibles, not necessarily things like striking or grappling,” said Credeur, who has posted three wins of his own inside the Octagon. “With Dustin, it’s things you can’t see that make him great. I’ve been around this business for 15-16 years and I’ve seen a lot of talented guys. I just tried to work hard because I didn’t have a lot of talent. Dustin works hard and is talented, focused and disciplined and wants to improve himself. He’s a phenomenal student who dedicates himself to improving every single day in every part of the process.”
Part of what makes the Jung-Poirier matchup so interesting is that fact that the two fighters asked to face each other. Poirier claims his desire to fight Jung arose from a need to up his level of opposition while at the same time putting on an exciting bout for fans.
“He is an exciting fighter and has a high-profile name,” said Poirier. “I knew my next fight would be in the spotlight since I’ve won four straight, and I wanted it to be against a good fighter. He’s fun to watch and it should be a fun fight. I want this to be a ‘Fight of the Night’ and for it to be a war.”
Jung will enter the cage on the strength of the most significant win of his career, as he knocked out former featherweight title challenger Mark Hominick in just seven seconds in December. The victory marked the second straight finish for Jung, who submitted Leonard Garcia with a twister in March 2011. Known for his aggressive style, the Korean Top Team member has been stopped just once in four years as a professional and has knocked out or submitted all but two of his fallen foes.
“He has a kickboxing background, and you see flashes of that in his brawls,” said Poirier. “He’s got a good chin, but he fights emotionally sometimes and I might be able to take advantage of that. Still, he's got a good ground game and is well-rounded. I’m going to have to go in ready for a battle and beat him to the punch. I have to fight like a professional and not rush things and that will be a big key for me. I don’t want it to be a brawl. I want to stay calm.”
Jung’s standup ability, along with his submission skills, have Credeur preparing Poirier for a fight that could take place anywhere in the Octagon.
“We’re in the sport of mixed martial arts and our game plan is to win the fight wherever the fight goes,” said Credeur. “Whether it’s in the standup, in the clinch or if a takedown happens, we’re planning for it. If the fight goes to the ground, we’re working on ways to submit him. It’d be foolhardy to go in without a game plan that has everything covered. Our job is to win the fight everywhere the fight goes. If they stand up, we want a KO. If it goes to the ground, we want to submit him. Our game plan is to beat him anywhere the fight goes, and that’s how you approach the MMA problem.”
Beating Jung would give Poirier five straight wins in the UFC and six overall dating back to his days in the WEC, but he is not beating down the doors asking for a shot at 145-pound champion Jose Aldo. In fact, he does not sound like a man opposed to waiting for such an opportunity. Poirier will not turn 24 until January.
“I feel like if I beat Jung I’ll be maybe one more win away,” he said. “I’m not sure, and it really depends on other people. I’ve only been in the UFC for a year, but I feel like I’d be really close. Still, I’m growing every day. After this fight, I want to go back and do some gi training and have some fun. Whenever I take a fight, I get tunnel vision. I’m needing to take some time between my fights.”
Credeur is not worried about a title shot for his fighter. His concern centers on defeating the man they call “The Korean Zombie.”
“To be honest, we don’t talk about [a title shot] or concern ourselves with it,” said Credeur. “That’s Sean Shelby’s job. He’s the one who makes the matches for the lighter weight guys [in the UFC]. If we win and our next fight is Aldo, it’s Aldo. If it’s someone else, then it’s someone else.
“Dustin is dedicated to the process of being the best he can be,” he added. “Our focus is 100 percent on Jung. We’re dedicating ourselves to everything he does and doing what we need to do to beat him. What we do after that is out of our control. We focus on the things that matter and where our focus is at is on ‘The Korean Zombie.’ It’s not useful or worth anything to worry about title shots and things when other challenges are still ahead.”