Dustin Poirier on Islam Makhachev: ‘He Wants to Grapple–I Want to Fight’

Poirier challenges Makhachev for the undisputed lightweight championship this Saturday at UFC 302

Islam Makhachev has a history of fighting opponents on short notice–and on his terms.

The reigning UFC lightweight champion, Makhachev has been largely untouched in 12 of his last 13 bouts. One noticeable exception took place when he traveled to Perth and barely escaped Alexander Volkanovski in February of 2023.

Makhachev (25–1) is nearly unstoppable in the cage. That is only amplified when he enters with an advantage.

And he will enter with an edge on Saturday at UFC 302 in his title fight against Dustin Poirier.

Poirier last competed in March, much more recent than Makhachev–whose last fight was in October when knocked out Volkanovski in their rematch in, yes, a bout Volkanovski accepted with less than two weeks to prepare. But Makhachev is the champ and these are the champion’s advantages, and Poirier knows that as he enters the swamps of Jersey for Saturday’s fight.

“I know who he is,” said Poirier, who will be far from Louisiana when he takes center stage at UFC 302 in New Jersey. “I’m coming to fight him, round after round, for 25 minutes. That’s not what he wants. He wants to grapple. I want a fight.”

Makhachev will look to ground Poirier, who has worked extensively over the past month on his takedown defense. His best shot is to trade blows, like he did against Benoit Saint Denis in March at UFC 299.

Poirier (30-8, 1 NC) displayed his fighting spirit in that bout, knocking out Saint Denis and punching his ticket for a title shot. Despite splitting his last four fights, and with retirement knocking at the age of 35, Poirier plans to leave it all in the cage in his last shot at the belt.

“This is my chance to be called the undisputed lightweight champion,” said Poirier. “I’m doing what I love, and I’m going out there and having fun. That's when I'm really dangerous.

“And I'm the underdog. I feel comfortable in that position. People think I'm outgunned here. I want to prove the world wrong.”

Dustin Poirier was victorious at UFC 299
Dustin Poirier was victorious at UFC 299 / UFC

If Poirier can start landing shots, he will make Makhachev uncomfortable and test him in an altogether different way. Yet that rarely happens against Makhachev, and Poirier enters as the underdog for valid reasons.

This past winter, Poirier trained with Mateusz Gamrot. The two found such rhythm together that Gamrot is helping train Poirier again, and he will even be in his corner on fight night.

Poirier is paying attention to every detail. He is aware of the stakes. If he does not walk out with the gold, then it won’t be a surprise to see him leave his gloves behind in the cage.

“I'm going to get it done,” said Poirier. “Everyone is about to see something special happen.”

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.