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Dustin Poirier says cutting back on sparring has helped in his resurgence

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Esther Lin, Sportsfile

On Oct. 25, Dustin Poirier will once again brush up against the Irish. Only, this time instead of fighting a superstar Irishman in Las Vegas he’ll be fighting the guy who last beat the superstar in Dublin.

Poirier will face Joseph Duffy in the main event of UFC Fight Night 77 at the 3Arena. Duffy, who is 2-0 since debuting in the UFC at UFC 185 against Jake Lindsey, has become a cult figure in the fight game for being the last man to defeat McGregor. That happened in November of 2010, back when both men competed under the Cage Warriors banner.

Yet even if the plot is thick with parallels, Poirier himself doesn’t see a victory over Duffy as exorcising the McGregor demons. He appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour and said you can’t avenge a loss vicariously.

"It’s cool man, but to anybody who’s been in the sport a long time, MMA mathematics don’t really make sense," Poirier told Ariel Helwani. "This guy could have beat Conor and it doesn’t really matter to me. Conor might beat him now. It’s just match-ups, styles and all that, where the guys were in their career and in their mindset going into that fight. So I don’t really care that he beat Conor, this is a whole different fight."

After winning three in a row, Poirier lost to McGregor at UFC 178 last September via a first-round knockout. The loss prompted him to once again try his hand as a lightweight, a weight class he hadn’t fought in since his WEC days in 2010. Since making the move Poirier has looked terrific, scoring first round finishes of Carlos Diego Ferreira and Yancy Medeiros.

Poirier says that he has grown as a fighter since that McGregor loss, though he went through some tough introspection.

"When stuff like that happens, and you get close…if I had beat Conor that night I would have probably fought for the featherweight championship of the world, I’m sure," he said. "So sitting back and thinking about it like that, that really hurt. I took a huge step back after that loss as far as title dreams. But I was confident going into those fights as well man. When you get back to the locker room after a fight like you get back there and say how is this happening? The way I feel, I’m the best in the world. How does this happen? But, that’s just part of growing."

Asked why he has looked so good at 155 pounds, Poirier said it’s more than just doing away with the harsh weight cut.

"It’s because I’m a great fighter man, I’m a warrior," he said. "And I’ve a lot through the ups and downs, through the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows in this sport. I’ve been in the UFC for a while now. I think I fought my first fight in Zuffa in 2010. I’m 26 years old now, this will be my second main event. I’ve just been in a lot of big fights, and I’ve been in some good spots and some bad spots. I’m the kind of guy that grows, and that’s what I do everyday in the gym. Work on new stuff and stay relevant."

Poirier trains at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., alongside a celebrity cast of accomplished fighters. One of them is welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, who has had a career resurgence in the UFC since coming over from Strikeforce. One of the things that Lawler attributes to his turnaround is his drastic rethinking of the way he trains. Most notably, Lawler, who for so long was part Pat Miletich’s crew in Bettendorf, Iowa, cut down on sparring in training.

Poirier says he’s done the exact same thing.

"Yes, I have, after the Conor fight. You know, I’ve come from pretty tough and rugged MMA gyms back in Louisiana when I started, so that was kind of taught to us at the beginning – that the harder you train, the harder you’ll fight. It’s just what we thought was right. And that’s not true. You’ve only got one brain and you’ve got to protect it. I’ve been doing this for awhile and I’ve got a lot of years left, and I’ve really got to protect it. That’s what I’m doing now. Don’t shy away from buying the expensive headgear and stuff like that and good equipment. And I’m not out there banging with these guys trying to show them who’s a real fighter. Before that’s what we used to do -- who’s tougher, let’s go. But that doesn’t go on your record man.

"So now I look at it as training sessions to get better. I’m not sparring unless I have a fight coming up, and even right now I’m not sparring. I won’t start sparring for another three or four weeks. That comes along with growing in the fight game. I understand now that I don’t have to do that to be a better fighter. Taking days off is okay. I used to be crazy. I used to be a little bit mental and over-train and over think things, but now I’m finding the right way to do it."

UFC Fight Night 77 will mark the second time Poirier has headlined a UFC card. Against Duffy, an undefeated boxer with a bit of a sheen to his name in the world of MMA, Poirier looks at it as an opportunity to break into the top ten.

Asked how he planned to beat the Irishman, Poirier said he could get it done in multiple ways.

"I really feel like I could submit him or knock him out," he said. "I think I’m a better wrestler than him and for being a boxer, it’s not like he’s been knocking guys out. Even in his boxing. I’m not the kind of guy to talk trash or anything, but he looks like he fought all bums when he was boxing, so that’s not all that impressive to me as a fighter. As a fan maybe people will say, wow, he’s an undefeated boxer. But nobody he fought had a winning record I think, and, like I said, I’m not talking trash…I would have beat all those guys as well. I’ve been working on my boxing a lot. If he wants to box, we’ll box, and I’ll put on a show for the fans."