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Dustin Poirier: ‘I still think I can beat [Conor McGregor]’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

By the time it's all said and done, the fight week Dustin Poirier experienced at UFC 178 could very well end up being the worst of his career.

With Las Vegas swallowed in Irish green, Poirier's grudge match against Conor McGregor effectively propelled itself into the unofficial main event of the pay-per-view card. By the end of it, the cocksure Irishman took the air of a soothsayer, his prediction of a first-round knockout validated in less than two minutes, while Poirier was left shell-shocked and heartbroken, having to pick up the pieces from a largely anticlimactic performance.

"I don't know if I'm ever going to be over it," Poirier admitted on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "It's a loss on my record, and it hurt me, you know.

"I might say this often, but I didn't cut any corners. I pushed myself harder than I ever have in the gym. I was very prepared to fight and perform well, it just didn't go my way that night, man. And that's what hurt. I didn't get to show who I am. But you know, you live to fight another day and there's lots more fights coming."

Poirier, by his own admission, has always taken losses harder than most athletes. But the McGregor loss, with its high stakes and uniquely personal animosity, appeared to rattle the 25-year-old much more than similar outings against Cub Swanson and Chan Sung Jung. Poirier asserted that while he's now moved on from the experience and is eyeing a return to action in early 2015, he believes the outcome will be different if the two featherweights ever meet down the line in a rematch.

"I never thought he was going to be an easy fight, or thought that he wasn't good. I knew that he was a good fighter and he's here for a reason, but I still think I can beat him," Poirier said. "That night just wasn't my night, and I didn't get a chance to fight him. I got hurt early and he put me away quick, and it sucks because I really trained and was prepared to fight and beat him, and I still think I can.

"Of course I've moved past it," Poirier added. "But at the same time, he's still in this weight class with me and we're both still young, and we're probably going to fight again one day."

In an ongoing effort to find positives from an otherwise negative situation, Poirier also made a point to note one encounter in particular which left an impression on him as worked to dig himself out of his post-fight haze.

"On my way back to the airport after the fight, I met this lady who was like 72 years old, man," Poirier reflected. "She was in Las Vegas and she was on her way home, and she was telling me she just came to Las Vegas to celebrate life. She beat cancer. And that was kind of touching. I was like, wow, I need to do that more, man.

"I need to celebrate life because I'm in a good spot, I work hard, and I am happy with who I am and happy with what I do for a living, and sometimes I just focus and overwhelm myself so much with the fights and getting better, that I just need to slow it down and enjoy life and enjoy training. And you know, that's what I'm doing right now. I'm working on the small things in my game and tightening up and just having fun again."

For all the frustrations that come hand-in-hand with suffering such a high-profile setback, Poirier's stock took a surprisingly small hit in the fight's aftermath. He remains firmly engrained in the UFC's media-generated top-10 -- No. 6, to be exact -- and expressed a desire to jump back in the fray against a ranked opponent, telling host Ariel Helwani to "sign the papers right now" when proposed a fight against the loser of Ricardo Lamas vs. Dennis Bermudez.

McGregor, meanwhile, is scheduled to headline UFC Fight Night 59 against Dennis Siver on Jan. 18, and Poirier couldn't help but agree with critics who question the UFC's intentions in matching the Irishman against an aging striker one fight removed from a failed drug test.

"It seems Dennis Siver is getting to, I don't want to talk s**t about the guy, but his last few fights probably," Poirier said. "He's slowing down and it's a very favorable fight for Conor. I think they're just putting him in there, getting him more experience, and you know, giving him a favorable fight."

If McGregor passes his upcoming test, all assumptions are the UFC will grant him a title shot against featherweight champion Jose Aldo. And while Poirier wouldn't count McGregor out against the man considered to arguably be the greatest featherweight to ever compete, he wouldn't pick him to win either.

"You know, everybody has a chance," Poirier said. "[McGregor] can punch, he's a good puncher, and he has a weird style and a weird timing. It's a little bit different timing he has, and the angles he throws punches, he can catch anybody, I think. Will he do it? I don't think so, I don't think he'll beat Aldo. But if Aldo makes a mistake and he lands a good shot, I'm sure Aldo will go down."