Dustin Poirier is on a mission to get to the top of the featherweight division, and he's certainly not taking any short cuts to reach that goal.
The 24-year-old American Top Team fighter has established himself as one of the most talented young prospects in a division which has become increasingly more competitive over the past year, and while his journey has come with setbacks in recent outings, the potential Poirier possesses has continued to shine through.
Nevertheless, if the "Diamond" hopes to keep stride with his peers at 145-pounds, he is going to have to right the ship—and do so in quick fashion.
After a pair of high profile losses to current No. 1 contender Chan Sung Jung and resurgent wrecking machine Cub Swanson, the Louisiana native is sliding dangerously close to being reshuffled into the stacked deck in the featherweight division. But where adversity of this sort is enough to force other fighters to rethink their level of competition and lag back for favorable matchups to pad their record, Poirier has chosen to stay the course and has his sights locked on redemption.
He will have the perfect opportunity to reestablish his footing in the weight class when he squares-off with fellow young talent Erik Koch at UFC 164 in Milwaukee. It wasn't long ago when Koch was considered "the next big thing" at 145-pounds, and with both men gunning for the same spot in the fray, their dust up is guaranteed to be a "can't miss" affair.
"I'm excited about it," Poirier told Bleacher Report. "It's a great matchup for me and it's going to be exciting for the fans. It's going to be a big win for me and it will put me right back at the top of the division. I need a 'W' and I'm ready to get it.
"[Koch] is a young, flashy fighter and in the same weight class as I am so we've been on each other's radar for some time. We both came over from the WEC so we've always been staring at each other through the cage. We were originally supposed to fight at the Mandalay Bay for UFC 143 and now our paths are finally going to cross.
"I'm going to be in the best shape of my life," Poirier added. "I'm going to be ready to fight and coming off the best camp I've ever had. I'm going to be the most focused and mentally prepared I've ever been. I'm going to be a more mature fighter. This will be my eighth fight in the UFC and tenth with Zuffa overall. I feel like I'm coming into my own now."
While the bout with Koch carries heavy implications on his status as a top featherweight, Poirier is taking the pressure in stride. Where those circumstances have caused him to become excitable and make hasty decisions in the past, the current version of Poirier is working on showing a measured maturity.
To this he gives credit to his decision to uproot from Louisiana and move his training to the American Top Team facility in Coconut Creek, Fla.
"I moved everything to Florida," Poirier said. "My wife is there, has started school there and that is where we are at now. I'm working on my tan everyday after the gym and I'm enjoying it. I feel there is a great group of guys there and they are taking me to the next level."
While he has admittedly made hasty decisions in the past which have ultimately cost him ground in his quest to become a title contender, Poirier is confident his new home at ATT will provide the proper atmosphere for growth—both physical and mental—to continue.
"[Swanson] was on a three or four fight win streak and was finishing everybody," Poirier recalled about his decision to face Swanson on short notice. "He was knocking everyone out and getting 'Knockout of the Night' bonuses in pretty much every fight leading up to ours. I went 15 minutes with him and wasn't in the best shape. I had to cut a lot of weight, travel overseas, and had a lot of stuff stacked against me. Yet, I feel I fought a pretty good fight and feel I could have won if I had an eight week camp or longer to prepare.
"It showed I belong with the best guys in the world but maybe I need to make better decisions for my career. I can't just jump into fights because they are exciting to me. I have to be ready to go in there and not looking to fight for the sake of fighting, but fighting to win. I have to look at things differently. It may be a fun fight to be involved in but I have to ask myself if it is the best thing for my career.
"But hindsight is 20-20," he added. "Saying that now would be different had I gone in there and knocked Cub out in the first round. I might be fighting for the belt right now. Everything has to balance out and there is good and bad with everything."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.