Following a disheartening third-round submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a lightweight championship bout at UFC 242, Dustin Poirier endured the longest layoff of his professional MMA career.
“The Diamond” returned to the Octagon in emphatic fashion on Saturday, taking part in a “Fight of the Year” contender against Dan Hooker in the UFC on ESPN 12 headliner at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The American Top Team product endured some adversity early on but ultimately prevailed to win a unanimous decision and bounce back from that September defeat.
Poirier had no interest in being a steppingstone for Hooker’s title aspirations.
“It was a tough one, man. Dan came to fight. He’s a tough guy. He’s on the rise and really thought he was going to get past me,” Poirier said. “He talked a lot of trash, like he was going to move forward and fight the champ -- but I’m the champ. This is what I love to do. I put all the work in. I trust in my team, skill and work ethic. I came here, pulled another one out and had a few more rounds in me.”
The Louisiana native appeared to be in danger toward the end of Round 2, as Hooker rocked him with a knee and unloaded with a flurry of punches before the horn. From that point on, Poirier turn the tables, battering Hooker with powerful punches to the head and either stuffing takedowns or threatening with submissions and quickly scrambling back up to his feet.
“The only time I was hurt in the fight was when Dan got me against the fence and slid a knee in there. Even when I was standing with good posture, he lifts them up higher than my head. It was impressive how high and quick he got his hips up without telegraphing. He hit me square with a knee and I flashed out for a second,” Poirier said. “When I came to, he was throwing hooks at me. I saw the ref and didn’t know how much time was left.
“We regrouped and came back stronger. That’s fighting. A fight isn’t a fight until there’s something to overcome. We fought tonight.”
Especially in those harrowing first 10 minutes, both Poirier and his opponent showcased tremendous durability as both men had no issues absorbing a blow to give one in return. Poirier, who along with Hooker was transported to a hospital shortly after their fight, admitted that he might’ve been a little too easy to hit on Saturday.
“I could have been a little bit sharper,” he said. “I didn’t move out of the way of a few shots. It’s not that I disrespected Dan’s power, but I stayed in the pocket too long. I should have been sharper. At the end, I started getting in my range and countering off his lazy shots. I landed some good ones and made his head snap back. I was stealing the rounds with shots like that, but I can do better.”
Regardless, Poirier remains one of the top lightweight talents in the sport – a fact that he proved once again against Hooker. There were no lingering effects from the loss to Nurmagomedov, and Poirier wants to make sure that when he makes his next Octagon appearance, he’s still giving 100 percent of himself. That’s how “Fight of the Year” candidates are made.
“Maybe I’ll fight at the end of the year. Maybe I’ll fight next year. I just want to go home to my daughter. I’m a winner and it was a long time off. It was the longest break in my career. I had to take nine months off and sit on the sidelines. I had to overcome some stuff,” Poirier said.
“Now that I’m a victor again, I want to get back to the drawing board. I want to keep getting better. I want to stay in love with this sport. I don’t want to push myself so much to where I hate this. I’ve been doing this a long time and pushing myself to the limits every day. So I just want to do it right.”
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