Dustin Poirier starts his morning like most fathers with a four-year-old daughter: he tries to get her to school. For the seasoned fighter, it’s a match to look forward to, especially after a couple of weeks halfway around the world for his UFC 257 bout against Conor McGregor.
“That experience was a new kind of challenge,” says Poirier of the trip to Abu Dhabi, the location of UFC’s Fight Island. The trip was brutally difficult, but the desired result was achieved: Poirier scored a knockout against the infamous Irishman in the second round. It could be seen as amortization for their last meeting in 2014 when things went the other way round and now all signs point to a trilogy between the fierce competitors.
Poirier is an MMA veteran, but he hasn’t built his legacy yet. The temporary lightweight belt sits on a shelf in his living room where he kills his daughter, but the goal remains to become the undisputed champion. Men’s Journal spoke to the South Paw of Louisiana about his workouts on Fight Island, his camp for the rematch, and what it feels like to step inside The Octagon.
Men’s Journal: How has COVID-19 affected your preparation for fights?
Dustin Poirier: This is the second fight I fought 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 did, but I had to go to Vegas for quarantine before I could fly internationally. I stayed there for two days and got tested all the time before getting back on a plane to Fight Island. There was another quarantine process for two weeks after I landed. The whole area was very safe. They had guards everywhere and we were tested every day. I fought for a long time and it was more mentally challenging – no question about it.
Having trouble entering the gym?
The challenge for many fighters is to get sparring partners and people to work with them on a regular basis given the situation. The gym I train at is the American Top Team, and they have developed a number of protocols to keep us all safe. They are closed to the public, temperatures are checked at the door, only a certain number of people are allowed on the mats, and the trainers are tested regularly. I’m lucky that the gym also has a solid stable of fighters who live in South Florida. We didn’t have to go beyond the crew we know.
Accompany us through the training camp. How varied is the training during the week?
During training, we go through different phases of training. I would say a typical week is a mix of wrestling, drills, strength, conditioning, grappling, jiu jitsu, kickboxing and I keep sparring until the last five weeks. All of these elements are self-regulated. When we feel like we are more or less of something, we will adjust. On Saturday we devote ourselves exclusively to mixed martial arts and do five or five minutes with small gloves. Maintain a good pace but don’t try to wear us out. Sunday is an active recreational day where I’ll run five miles.
Who programs your strength and conditioning training?
Phil Daru has used all my strength and stamina for my last 10 fights and he is a student of the game. He does a lot of research and I am confident in his methods. So I leave all training planning to him. I try not to get too caught up in the science or the reasoning behind everything we do. I’m just trying to show up in the best of shape and carry out the regimes he brings as best I can.
How do you recover
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. I also try to get two massages a week. Stretching every day is an important part of my recovery. I also occasionally do cryotherapy to aid healing. When I was younger I thought the more I suffered, the stronger I would be, but I’ve learned that it isn’t. The body has to heal in order to feel right.
How do you keep your energies up while losing weight?
My dietitian and I worked out a few ways to keep my energy levels up and switched to more fats for fuel. I try to eat as cleanly as possible. It’s also good to have a caffeine hit. I was lucky that Celsius sent a few cases to me and the team. The kick helped me get through our nightly workouts and it doesn’t jitter. Those last few pounds are always tough. I will not do any further weight loss without her.
Any tips to keep the mentality sharp?
I try to focus on staying the best I can in every moment. I don’t like to predict outcomes or fates. I try to dial into every element of the octagon. The smell of the leather, the touch of the mat, the feel of the lights and the sound of everything.
What was your strategy for going up against McGregor at UFC 257? Your kicks mutilated him.
We try to exploit possible weaknesses as much as possible and then include them in every training element. There’s always footage to watch – to look for things that an opponent can or can’t do, that we can benefit from. Or if they are doing something that we need to prepare for, our drilling sessions will be scheduled around them. Whenever I do sparring, grappling, or drilling, I’ll see where a kick can be possible during those interactions. These fixtures become part of the training across the board. That’s because we want it to be second nature, so I don’t look for it or think about it … the kicks just happen. That’s how I work during the fight.
Who was in your corner during UFC 257?
Mike Brown, who’s pretty much my head coach on the American Top Team. Dyah Davis is my boxing trainer. I usually have my fight coordinator Robert Roveta, who has been helping me fight fights since I was 18 years old. And I have Thiago Alves there, UFC veteran and now a fighter with bare fingers. He has been involved in martial arts since he was 14 and has played kickboxing in Brazil. He’s like me … took the hard road and earned everything. I was a fan of him before I even met him, enjoyed his technique and personality, so he’s exactly the guy you want.
How does it feel to go into the octagon in such a high pressure situation?
There is an heightened sensory feeling when you spend much of your year preparing for a 25 minute window. There’s one smell you only know if you’ve been to the octagon – a mix of leather, metal, canvas, and that rusty copper smell when there’s blood on the floor. It smells like a battlefield. I could put an old pair of gloves on my nose and it will take me there. I can even hear Bruce Buffer’s voice calling my name.
I could put an old pair of gloves on my nose and it will take me there. I can hear Bruce Buffer’s voice calling my name.
Can you describe how it felt to land the knockout against McGregor?
Not much thinking is happening at this moment. It’s all a reaction, a conditioning that you’ve built up. You do what you were trained to do. There is a sense of relief when you score that hit and the fight is over. Up to this point, you have so much weight on your shoulders. They just think, “I did it.”
You have won victories against some of the biggest names in the fighting game. Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
I believe in myself. I’ve invested time, work ethic, and focus. These are years of labor and years of sacrifice. There are lessons I learned 10 years ago that follow me to this day. There are people I’ve been doing this with for a decade. It’s been a journey – not just learning the fighting game, but learning about myself.
How do you eat when you’re on the other side of a big fight?
I’ve always had a passion for cooking and food. I love being in the kitchen. At the beginning of last year I played a lot of cooks. I wanted to delve deeper into my Louisiana roots and decided to create my own hot sauce, Poirier’s. I enjoyed the research. Vinegar-based cayenne pepper sauce is a familiar area to me. I cook with it a lot. I made a chicken and sausage gumbo for the Super Bowl. I am very proud of the taste. Not only is it a topper, it’s great to cook with. It’s sure to hit, but it won’t make you run to the tap.
There are many people who think you deserve the title. There is a lot of anticipation and people who want to see you fight 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 find out everything. Personally, I’m never out of the gym. I always have friends who are preparing for their own struggles. I try to stay in decent shape so I’m ready to turn around and be quick to prepare for a big match. No question about it, I want to be the undisputed world champion.
Poirier also does admirable work outside of The Octagon with The Good Fight Foundation, which McGregor donated $ 500,000 ahead of their UFC 257 game.
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