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Dustin Poirier breaks down epic UFC 236 battle with Max Holloway, ‘That’s the purest feeling of fighting to me’

Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier at UFC 236 on Saturday in Atlanta
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Even for a man who has been in countless in-cage classics, Dustin Poirier sounded as if he was in awe of his latest five-round war.

How else to react to one of the most action-packed lightweight bouts in recent memory? In a rematch of a 2012 featherweight encounter that ended in Poirier winning by first-round submission, Poirier and Max Holloway fought tooth-and-nail for 25 minutes on Saturday at UFC 236 in Atlanta to determine who would become the new interim lightweight champion. What looked to be a blowout early on for Poirier instead turned into a back-and-forth clash that saw both men eating shots and asking for more.

Poirier came out on top again, this time by unanimous decision, and at the evening’s post-fight press conference he described in detail how the fight unfolded from his perspective.

“I was throwing power shots a lot — every punch was almost a power shot — and brawled a little bit more than I wanted to, but when you fight a guy who throws volume like that and you try to match his volume and disrupt his timing, I knew that the workload was gonna be a lot,” Poirier said. “I knew that mentally coming into this fight, we prepared for it in the gym, and I knew it was gonna be a gun-slinging match.”

Besides the cornucopia of fists and feet and knees and elbows that was served up, Poirier also found time to exchange words with Holloway mid-fight, though he explained that it was nothing personal.

“One time my mouth was bleeding and I spit, and I spit on him and he said, like he knew that I did it on accident, I didn’t aim at him but it just might have hit him,” Poirier said. “Man, this is a fistfight, you might get some spit on you. When I hit him with a good shot he would say, ‘That was good’ or start clapping.

“When I kneed him in the face, before he started bleeding, when he picked his head up from the knee, I saw the gash and I said, ‘Gotcha.’ It was just — it was a battle.”

Poirier emphasized the mental aspects of the fight and his ability to overcome doubt, which was key during the third and fourth rounds when it looked like Holloway’s trademark fighting spirit would carry him to yet another victory.

But Poirier was able to overcome the hurt and the fatigue, to silence the creeping doubts in his brain, and he continued to match Holloway blow-for-blow even as the volume was turned up in the championship rounds. Nicknamed “The Diamond”, Poirier knows a thing or two about being resilient, but he was impressed by Holloway’s toughness and said only Justin Gaethje and Holloway have left him feeling like his hands will be swollen and sore the next day.

As for adjustments, Poirier said he had to stop wasting energy and trying to match the raw aggression of Holloway. Once he was able to figure out Holloway’s timing, it allowed him to re-establish his own rhythm and take the final round.

“I think I made [an adjustment] towards the end of the fight,” Poirier said. “I realized that I’m wasting a lot of energy and making this fight a lot closer than it needs to be, brawling. So I just got behind my jab and started to throw my cross a little straighter, tried to pump the jab. He started using less head movement towards the end of the fight and the jab was finding its home very easy.

“He’s kind of tricky. His speed and timing, his cadence that he uses is a little different. He’ll loop shots to the body, throw slow jabs with a fast cross behind it. It keeps you off. A lot of his jabs didn’t land, but the cross did. The guy’s a good striker.”

The more difficult the task of defeating Holloway became, the more Poirier’s appreciation of the fight grew. He’s been in deep waters with warriors like Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis, and now Holloway, and the way he explains it there is nothing like that experience.

“That’s what fighting is to me,” Poirier said. “That’s the purest feeling of fighting to me. I’m hurt, I’m busted up, he’s hurt, he’s busted up, we’re both digging down, who wants it more?

“That grit of fighting is addictive, I’m scared of it. It’s a very weird thing.”

And though all of the glory will be heaped upon Poirier and Holloway for their superhuman effort, the new interim lightweight champion wanted to put some shine on his supporting cast for being with him every step of the way.

In particular, he singled out his wife Jolie and how if it wasn’t for her, he may have given up on his dreams a long time ago.

“She’s been there with me since the first fight,” Poirier said. “It’s been a long journey and like I’ve said before, she believed in me at times when I was ready to stop fighting and I wouldn’t be here with this belt if it wasn’t for her. So it’s just as much hers, this whole journey, and I’m just appreciative to be able to share it with her.

“And I’ve been saying it all week to her, to my management, to my team, that in the words of Teddy Atlas, I knew I had 25 minutes to make life fair tonight. Nothing mattered. When I’ve been overlooked, knocked out, dropped fights in the past and had to climb back up. Nothing mattered but 25 minutes tonight to make life fair and be a world champion and that’s all I cared about is showing up for 25 minutes, staying focused, and my wife knew that I was gonna go out there and I was willing to leave a piece of myself in there, and I was, and I might have.”

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