There was no hiding Dustin Poirier’s disappointment following his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“The Diamond” entered Saturday’s UFC 242 main event in Abu Dhabi as the interim champion at 155 pounds, unbeaten in his last six fights and having recently knocked off Max Holloway. The stage was set for him to become the first man to dent Nurmagomedov’s 27-0 record, unify his belt with Nurmagomedov’s, and complete a journey to the top of the MMA world that began a decade ago.
Instead, Poirier became the latest victim of Nurmagomedov’s unearthly wrestling attack, showing flashes of competitive fire that were smothered and then completely extinguished in the third round when Poirier was forced to tap out to a rear-naked choke.
It wasn’t Poirier’s first loss, though judging by his emotional state at the evening’s post-fight press conference, it was the most devastating. The 30-year-old composed himself as best he could while speaking to the media, though his comments were etched with regret.
“I’m familiar with adversity,” Poirier said. “It’s just I have to live the rest of my life asking myself if I could have done more, if I could have maybe escaped some of those takedowns. If I could have pushed harder when I had my underhooks against the fence.
“Those are the questions that will haunt me. I’ve lost before.”
Poirier’s last fight saw him go five high-paced rounds with Holloway and his expectation was that his fight with Nurmagomedov could play out the same way, though with the possibility that he would be playing from behind on the scorecards. Saturday’s fight never made it to the championship rounds, leaving Poirier to fixate on the details that went wrong for him.
“The guy’s good, man. He’s the world champ, Poirier said. “Maybe I could have done more. You know, hindsight’s 20/20. I was very prepared for this fight, to fight 25 minutes. He did exactly what I thought he was going to do. Of course, I’m going to beat myself up and I’m the only one who has to deal with this, me and my family. I’m just wondering if maybe against the fence, when I got underhooks, if I could have tried a little bit harder to get off the fence maybe. But that’s just the questions that I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life. I thought for sure he was winning the rounds. Taking me down and dominating, but I felt like he was squeezing hard, we were getting slicker, I felt like he was getting a little weaker.
“Coming into this fight I thought later in the third, fourth, and fifth were going to be my rounds. Not that I was planning on giving up the first two, but I knew they were gonna be tough. So coming back to the stool after each of those rounds, in the beginning I wasn’t getting damaged a whole lot with shots that were hurting, he cut me. I thought the deeper we got into the fight, the more slick I was gonna be able to be. That’s fighting, man, this stuff is tough.”
It isn’t as if Poirier was completely dominated. After being neutralized in the first round, he came out fast in the second and appeared to have Nurmagomedov hurt at one point. He also had a submission attempt in the fateful third round, going for a tight-looking guillotine that Nurmagomedov calmly worked his way out of before taking Poirier’s back and setting up his own finishing maneuver.
However, the close calls in the bout only made the outcome more difficult for Poirier to swallow.
“The guillotine was really deep,” Poirier said. “But for the rest of my life I’m gonna look back and wonder why I didn’t jump full guard with it. I just threw one leg over so he couldn’t pass, to take the choke off. I should have jumped full guard. I don’t know why I went shin across the stomach with the right leg, or whatever I had, butterfly with it, I should have gone full guard so he couldn’t roll out and relieve the pressure.
“When I hurt him—maybe in the back of my head the takedown was—I felt like I couldn’t get anything going with my standup. He’s very awkward, he dips his head and throws uppercuts, he never got into an orthodox kickboxing or boxing exchange on the feet. It was all one punch at a time or him dipping and throwing a knee or him dipping and throwing an uppercut. I didn’t get a rhythm. I felt like the way he was pulling back it was hard for me to set up my combinations and get into a rhythm. I know I sound like I have a lot of excuses, but I was just so prepared for tonight. This one really hurts.”
Other than his loss, Poirier spoke glowingly of the week’s events. He said the hospitality in Abu Dhabi was top notch despite initially thinking that the city’s fans would favor Nurmagomedov, and he was grateful to hear that both Nurmagomedov and UFC president Dana White would be making large contributions for Poirier’s charity, which is currently working to build a solar-powered water well for an orphanage in Uganda.
The UFC 242 crowd roared in appreciation of Poirier’s efforts when he was interviewed in the cage after the fight, but later he still couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d let himself down. Next, he plans to head home and recuperate with his family, and leave talks of when he plans to fight again for another time.
“It’s tough to say right now. This was my 41st fight tonight. I’m only 30 years old. I’ve just been through so much in my fighting career, it’s like I don’t know what’s next, you know?” Poirier said. “I thought, honestly, the last 10 weeks of training camp and preparing for this fight, I thought the stars were aligning and I thought this was my night. I thought this was destiny. But—I don’t want to just keep crying up here in front of you guys—this just means a lot to me. To have a performance like that and in the moment I was just waiting for each round and I thought I was going to start pulling away and start out-pacing him later on in the fight. But he’s just so-his balance and weight distribution against the fence, when he’s on top, is so strong. Physically, he didn’t feel overwhelming. I’ve fought guys that are stronger than him. But skill-wise and balance-wise it felt really good.
“I just really thought tonight I was going to fly back home to the United States undisputed world champ, so this really hurts. I’m going to go back home and talk to my wife. Like I said, I have a lot of tread left on the tires.”