He hopes a win in the UFC on ESPN 12 main event against Dan Hooker will put him one fight away from another shot at the belt but Poirier has also faced both men previously.
Back in 2018. Poirier engaged in a “Fight of the Year” candidate with Gaethje before finishing him by TKO in the fourth round. After becoming interim champion, Poirier suffered only his second loss at lightweight in the UFC when he fell to Nurmagomedov by submission this past September.
In theory, Poirier would have an easier path back to the belt should Gaethje win against the undefeated Russian but he’s not going out of his way to root for one fighter over the other.
“Let the best fighter win,” Poirier told MMA Fighting when asked about the fight during the UFC on ESPN 12 virtual media day. “Whoever performs the best that night, whoever prepared the best that night, get their hand raised. Whoever that is.
“Let the better fighter win. That’s all I’ve got to say. I’m not really rooting for anybody in that fight.”
That said, Poirier does believe Gaethje presents some interesting problems for Nurmagomedov in that particular matchup.
As a former NCAA All-American wrestler, Gaethje has some of the best grappling credentials to ever go up against Nurmagomedov.
Add to that, Gaethje is a punishing brute with an offensive output that has earned him knockouts or TKO’s in all six of his UFC victories.
Even in defeat, Gaethje damages his opponents to the point where Poirier has said it felt like going through a car crash after spending 15 plus minutes in the cage with him.
That’s why Poirier believes Gaethje has the necessary weapons to give Nurmagomedov problems but he knows from personal experience that it’s easier said than done.
“I do think that if Gaethje can keep the fight in the middle of the octagon, he can give Khabib some trouble,” Poirier said. “I think it’s going to be hard to get him down in the open space. Definitely hard to hold him down in the open space.
“But will Justin be able to keep his back off the fence and land those shots and make Khabib work for takedowns in the open? That’s the big question.”
Nurmagomedov has only lost one round during his entire UFC career so Gaethje certainly has a tough test ahead of him when they meet later this year.
Assuming Poirier gets past Hooker on Saturday night, he’ll certainly be watching that fight with hopes of challenging the winner for the title somewhere down the line.