Over the course of their career, adversity becomes a constant for a mixed martial artist. They must learn to adapt, adjust, and persevere through every circumstance and obstacle. The most common of which comes from the opposition standing across from them in the cage as another talented, highly-skilled combatant prepares to halt their progress in any way imaginable.
For 23-year-old Dustin Poirier, every fight is a lesson learned. While he may not always have the answer at the ready, he'll do whatever it takes to ensure mistakes made once in the fire of competition will never happen again.
Following the merger of the WEC roster into the UFC, "The Diamond" strung together four impressive victories. On the strength of those performances, Poirier quickly climbed the ladder of a featherweight division still taking shape.
With momentum at his back, he squared off with Chan Sung Jung in the main event at UFC on Fuel TV 3. After an action packed, four-round scrap which earned both men Fight of the Night honors, Poirier was submitted and suffered his first loss in nearly two years.
Eager to get back on track, the Louisiana native set about finding the answers to what went wrong. In order to make this happen, Poirier realized he needed to change his training environment and put himself in a place where he would be challenged in every aspect of the fight game. While this meant leaving his long-time trainer Tim Creduer and his team in Louisiana, once he landed at American Top Team in Coconut Creek FL., Poirier knew he had found a new home.
"I've been with Tim Creduer for along time," Poirier told Bleacher Report. "When I met Tim Creduer I had maybe five or six amateur fights, then I fought a couple more under Tim and went pro. Even in the documentary (Fightville) a lot of those were amateur fights.
"I've fought 14 professional fights with Tim Creduer in my corner, and training with the same guys in Louisiana. I just started to realize a few things and it's not because of my loss to Korean Zombie. I realized I needed to be around other top level fighters, getting beat up and pushed.
"I've said this in other interviews but I felt I was a big fish in a small pond. I needed to get beaten up, taken down and put on my back. I needed to get knocked down a couple of times and that's what happened here in Florida at American Top Team.
"I came here for three weeks, the coaches were all great and everybody was fun to work with. On top of that, it's south Florida and I love it here. I just felt it was the right move. After three weeks of being here I really clicked with the guys and the coaches were top notch. It was the right move."
For a young fighter like Poirier, the change of scenery comes at a crucial time in his development. In three years as a professional fighter he has gone from dominating the regional circuit in Louisiana to being a prospect on the verge of title contention in the sport's most successful organization.
In addition to natural talent, Poirier brings a well-rounded skill set, complete with a slick submission game and proven knockout power. All the pieces to the puzzle are there for him to become one of the world's best featherweights.
He has never doubted his abilities, but it took a victory inside the Octagon for him to feel he belonged in competition with the sport's top fighters.
"When I won my first fight in the WEC, then we switched over to the UFC and I beat Josh Grispi, I really felt like I belonged competing with the top guys in the world," Poirier said. "I knew I was good—I never lacked confidence, but that made me realize I belonged fighting with the best guys. When I realized that, things finally started to come together for me and I felt really comfortable."
As the momentum began to build, Poirier began to feel as if everything was finally starting to click. He earned victories in his next three outings, but dominant performances against Pablo Garza and Max Holloway solidified Poirier as one the best in the 145-pound weight class.
"In the Pablo Garza fight, I felt like I could have done anything I wanted to him," Poirier said. "I felt like I could have hit him with anything and I was a step ahead of him. The same thing in the fight with Max Holloway.
"He was throwing a lot of crazy stuff. He was trying to be too explosive in the first round, trying to be crazy, and making a highlight reel out of the fight. I think that caught up with him and I felt I had a huge advantage on the ground so I took it there. Being able to see that in a fight and make it happen is where you want to be. I definitely was a step ahead in that fight as well."
Following his first-round victory submission victory over Holloway at UFC 143, Poirier's name began to appear in title contention talk. He was slated to face Chan Sung Jung in Fairfax VA., and from the opening bell, the two men set a frenetic pace. Each looked to impose their respective wills as the action spilled to all corners of the Octagon.
As the fight carried on, "The Korean Zombie" swung the momentum in his favor, and in the fourth round, locked in a fight-ending d'arce choke. The loss took Poirier out of contention for the time being but it's a negative experience he has since found positives within.
"That was a battle," Poirier said about his fight with Chan Sung Jung. "I learn from every loss and I learn from every win. That was four tough rounds we fought. I was in a lot of bad positions and I got out to put myself in good positions. I just didn't do what I was supposed to do in that fight.
"When I had him hurt I needed to finish him and I felt as if I didn't pull the trigger. I don't know what it was. I just didn't feel like myself in that fight and I'm definitely going to make it up in my next one.
"It was a battle and I was prepared for a 25-minute fight. Now a 15-minute fight looks different. Of course a 15-minute fight against the top guys in the world is going to be hard but after preparing for a five-round fight, I feel I'm ready for any 15-minute fight that comes my way."
Poirier will not have to wait long for his chance to get back on track as he faces Jonathan Brookins at the The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale on Dec. 15th in Las Vegas. In the bout with the former TUF alum, Poirier will face a tough opponent who will be looking to bring the fight directly to him. It is a challenge he's looking forward to and plans on making a statement when the cage door closes.
"[Brookins] is a grinder man," Poirier said. "He has a great chin and hard to break. You don't break that guy. He's in there for the long run. You have to go in there and finish him. He does a great job of wearing guys down, making guys carry his weight, beating them up against the fence, and fighting his type of fight. I'm excited about this fight and feel I can really shine in a matchup like this against another southpaw.
"My killer instinct is going to be on full blast. I'm going in there to finish Jonathan Brookins. I'm not trying to have a kickboxing or wrestling match with him. I want to make it a nasty fight and finish him. I want to show fans that I'm still here and I belong with the top guys in the division."
While he may only be in the early stages of a promising career, Poirier has learned plenty of lessons along the way. In a growing sport filled with rising stars and personalities, he is fully aware of the importance of making the most out of every opportunity.
The talent in the featherweight division is on the rise and the time to establish himself as one of the division's elite has arrived. There is urgency in the matter, but in Poirier's mind, it has been there since the moment he decided to forge a career in mixed martial arts.
Simply being a name in the sport isn't enough. He wants to be the best. He knows every step is crucial on his way up the ladder and keeping his foot on the gas pedal is the only way to get to the top.
"I'm always looking to do that," Poirier explained about staying on the fast track. "I've been trying to do that since the first time I put a pair of mixed martial arts gloves on. That's the name of the game. You lose a couple of fights you're gone.
"That's the truth of mixed martial arts and fighting in the UFC. You are trying to stay relevant and every fight matters. If you are on a 10-fight win streak or lost two in a row; every fight matters. I'm just trying to put wins together, keep evolving my skills, and remain relevant in this sport."