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Mike Brown: Dustin Poirier is ‘a completely different animal’ from first fight against Conor McGregor

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UFC Fight Night: Poirier v Hooker Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Six years can seem like a lot of time, or just a little bit, depending on perspective.

For Dustin Poirier, 2014 is a lifetime ago when examining how far his career has come since suffering a first-round knockout to Conor McGregor when they first met at UFC 178.

On that night, Poirier was boiling over with vitriol towards the outspoken Irishman, who had already proclaimed himself the best featherweight in the sport without beating anybody ranked inside the top 10 at 145 pounds. The pre-fight trash talk got so heated that Poirier and McGregor had to be separated during faceoffs, out of fear that the verbal sparring might turn physical.

Inside the octagon, McGregor needed less than two minutes to dispatch Poirier before going onto eventually claim that featherweight title a few fights later. As for Poirier, that was the last time he ever competed at 145 pounds but it was also the genesis of a fighter who would eventually become one of the best lightweights in the world while amassing an impressive 10-2 record with one no-contest in his past 13 fights.

Since falling to McGregor six years ago, Poirier has become one of the most feared fighters on the feet while also displaying incredible heart and durability to survive the offensive onslaught of past opponents like Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez. He’s dominated former champions like Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis while also earning eight performance bonuses along the way.

That’s why Poirier’s head coach Mike Brown has a hard time really comparing the fighter he cornered back in 2014 to the person who is about to face McGregor for the second time at UFC 257.

“He’s a completely different animal,” Brown said about Poirier when speaking to MMA Fighting. “He got hit with a clean shot. He’s changed so much since then, just his outlook on the fight, his style, his body has changed. Just the way he approaches fights is so dramatically different than that time. We’re in a different weight class, in a different decade. A lot is different.”

The changes in Poirier’s game have been dramatic but Brown takes nothing away from McGregor or his performance on that night six years ago.

If anything, Brown commends McGregor for living up to the hype he had built with his outlandish trash talk and bold predictions after joining the UFC roster.

“I remember with Conor at that time, there was a lot of question marks,” Brown said. “I think at that point, that was the toughest fight that he had and he did really well. There was a lot of questions marks. We didn’t know some things about him. We didn’t know where his ceiling could be. We didn’t know how far he’d go and he showed he’s a world champion level fighter.

“He’s very good. But I believe Dustin is also that level and he’s also a world champion level fighter and improved greatly. I think it’s going to be a good matchup.”

Poirier has made numerous adjustments and improvements since falling to McGregor but perhaps the biggest change has been the way he approaches a fight now versus several years ago.

When he was climbing his way up the featherweight ranks, the Louisiana native was fueled by emotion and he would almost invite opponents to trade shots with him under the assumption that he’d always get the better of them.

Brown admits that attitude earned Poirier a lot of violent wins but it also got him into trouble from time to time. These days, however, the American Top Team coach says Poirier walks into his fights with a cold stoicism with a mission to simply dismantle his opponent as if none of them have names or faces.

“He fought emotionally all the time,” Brown said. “This was a big change that he made a few years back. Early in his career, he was emotional all the time. He fought on emotion and it worked quite a bit. It worked three out of four, four out of five times. When he learned to cut out the emotion and fight more strategic and was more of a thinker and more methodical on how he takes a guy out, he’s had much more success.

“He gets hit a lot less and when he does get hit, they’re not as solid shots. The problem is he has big power. When he was younger, he would let the emotion take over a little bit and he’d try to get the guy out of there as fast as he could. And it worked a lot. He got a lot of guys out of there by doing that. But he doesn’t have to do that. He’s very technical. He’s very well-rounded. He’s got a lot of weapons.”

In the lead up to the rematch at UFC 257, McGregor’s coaches have complimented Poirier’s improvements in recent years but also declared that he gets hit too often to deal with the former two-division champion’s immense power when they finally meet on Saturday night.

Brown isn’t interested in spending much time engaged in a back-and-forth war of words with anybody but he’s fully confident in matching Poirier’s skills against McGregor, especially on the feet.

“I think boxing is actually Dustin’s strongest suit,” Brown said. “That’s his best weapon. Obviously, that’s not something he will shy away from. It’s just being more strategic with what shots to throw, when to throw them and not being in a rush to get the guy out of there.”

Without getting into specifics, Brown has studied plenty of tape on McGregor to see the flaws in his game as well and he’s spent weeks getting Poirier ready to exploit those weaknesses. Whether the finish comes in the first round or it takes 25 minutes to get the job done, Brown has faith that Poirier is ready to get the job done.

“We see holes. I’ll put it at that,” Brown said about McGregor. “He’s obviously an amazing fighter. He’s a two-weight class, multiple-time world champion. He’s very good. But everybody has holes and you do your best to find ways to exploit them.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but I think we’ve done enough homework and we’re well prepared. We’re confident going into this fight.”