Dustin Poirier and Islam Makhachev Reflect on UFC 302

“Every time I got off the stool, I remember thinking, ‘I am going to be the world champion’”

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Dustin Poirier accomplished nearly every single objective he set out to do at UFC 302.

Unlike his bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019, Poirier unleashed a noticeably improved takedown defense and ability to get back up from the bottom in his lightweight title bout against Islam Makhachev.

A sign of mutual respect between the UFC 302 headliners
A sign of mutual respect between the UFC 302 headliners / UFC

And despite a quick turnaround after fighting in March, Poirier entered the bout at full strength. He withstood a vicious ground attack from Makhachev in the opening round–and then started the second, third, fourth, and fifth with a renewed zest that he was going to overcome the champ and win the undisputed lightweight title.

“Every time I got off the stool, I remember thinking, ‘I am going to be the world champion,’” said Poirier. “I was fighting to be world champion.”

Dustin Poirier was able to keep Islam Makhachev on his feet for extends portions of the fight
Dustin Poirier was able to keep Islam Makhachev on his feet for extends portions of the fight / UFC

Poirier worked exceptionally hard to keep up with Makhachev’s peculiar timing and unusual cadence in the cage. He forced him into fighting on his feet, landing some lasting shots on the champ.

Ultimately, Poirier did everything he wanted–except win the fight.

“I couldn’t control the outcome,” said Poirier. “I focused on the process. I enjoyed it. I did. But I wanted to be world champion, and I came up short.”

That sense of regret over losing–Poirier tapped out in the fifth round once Makhachev locked in a choke too tight to break–will forever nag him. Yet he can take solace in knowing that he forced Makhachev into deep water, testing him in an altogether different manner.

“Dustin gave me a hard time,” admitted Makhachev. “That guy, he is one the best in the world. I respect Dustin.”

Makhachev on top of Poirier
Makhachev on top of Poirier / UFC

It looked like Poirier had opportunities to hit Makhachev with his knee, but he was wary of it because that would have left him vulnerable to another takedown. Both men landed good shots, bloodying one another–and Poirier, once again, busted his nose–and both were desperately seeking a finish.

“When you don’t finish an opponent, there are a lot of questions,” said Makhachev. “I needed the finish.

“Poirier improved his wrestling defense. My mistake in this fight, I needed to believe more in my striking. I landed a lot of good punches. If I believed more, I think I could knock him out. But it’s OK. I’m happy to finish him.”

The two fighters now move in different directions. Next for Makhachev is a title defense against Arman Tsarukyan, as well as making a move to welterweight in pursuit of becoming a double champion.

“Who doesn’t want to be double champion?” said Makhachev. “This is a dream for all fighters. Making history, especially if I can do it in Madison Square Garden, that is my dream.”

Makhachev extended his winning streak to 14 in a row with the victory on Saturday
Makhachev extended his winning streak to 14 in a row with the victory on Saturday / UFC

As for Poirier, even if he is not finished yet, retirement is looming. After remaining disciplined to the craft for so long–he 35-year-old had his first cage fight 17 years ago–Poirier is in the twilight of his career. He will decide in the next few months whether he will ever fight again.

“What am I fighting for?” said Poirier. “To be the champion? Will I ever get that shot again? At some point, this is going to catch up to me. I’ve seen this sport retire people. I don’t want that. I honor and respect it too much.

“This could be my last fight. I just need to digest everything. I’ll talk with my family, talk with coaches. I’ll get home and I’ll see what I’m fighting for.”


Published
Justin Barrasso

JUSTIN BARRASSO

Justin Barrasso has been writing for Sports Illustrated since 2014. While his primary focus is pro wrestling and MMA, he has also covered MLB, NBA, and the NFL. He can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.