Gaethje’s recent prediction that Poirier would retire rather than rematch him was Fight Promotion 101.
“It’s enticing, it makes people interested, it’s a hook, he’s hoping I bite onto it and beat [Charles] Oliveira and, ‘Ah, Gaethje, I’ve got to give it to him now because he’s the one running his mouth,’” Poirier said Monday on The MMA Hour. “That’s the way this game is. People talk and try to set things up. Play the hands that they have, and that’s what he’s doing.
“Good on him. I’m a fan of him. I have nothing bad to say about the guy, but I beat him that night in his home town. What else can I say?”
There’s at least one thing: Poirier refutes the claim that he’s going to walk away if he takes the title from Oliveira at UFC 269.
“Nah, man – I’m a fighter,” he said. “I’m fortune enough now, with this year that I’ve had, I could walk away. It’s a great position to be in, but these guys need ass-whoopings, and I’m the guy to give it to them. And we can’t walk away like that.”
Poirier may have had a limp when he exited the arena following a 2018 meeting with Gaethje that was awarded “Fight of the Night.” It was a brutal encounter with serious repercussions; Poirier said of all the leg kicks he’s endured, the after-effects of Gaethje’s were the most painful.
The thing is, it was also a very successful night – in the fourth round, Poirier knocked out the MMA veteran with a flurry of punches.
“I was back at the big Airbnb, we did like a house party, I’m drinking Modelos and I was fine,” he said. “[Gaethje] doesn’t have any memories of going back and looking at the fight, because I knocked him out...probably kind of cloudy. I remember the night – it was a great night.”
Earlier this month, Gaethje had one of the greatest nights of his career in a UFC 268 win over Michael Chandler. The intense slugfest left the MMA community breathless and went on the short list for “Fight of the Year.” Poirier was of course watching, and while he was blown away by what he was watching, he also had other thoughts.
“Damn, this is bad for you — is what I’m thinking,” he said. “These guys are crazy, man, for taking damage like that. But I think I beat both of those guys if they fight me the way they fought that night.”
“Paid in full” has been a calling card for Poirier, and one of the reasons for that is an extended career that’s encompassed multiple weight divisions and multiple wars. One of the main pieces of wisdom he’s acquired on the way is that fighters should avoid slugfests at all costs.
“You have to tighten it up, be more technical,” he said. “You have me a thinking man in there, not just a brute, not just a wrecking ball — or you go in there and you get matadored, and that’s what I would do to those guys if they fought me that way.”
Gaethje’s main pitch during his interview with MMA Fighting was that he should be the next challenger for the title. Despite falling short in a title eliminator against Khabib Nurmagomedov 13 months ago, he believes he has the strongest case for another title shot, and the win over Chandler only bolstered that.
Poirier isn’t quite ready to crown him the next challenger, though.
“I honestly don’t think that far ahead into it, because I have my hands full,” he said. “But Gaethje, this is one fight since the title fight, so obviously he’s still the No. 2 ranked guy. Islam [Makhachev] is on a huge streak. It’s not my call. Maybe Islam needs to fight one more top contender, and then he’s next. Maybe Gaethje should fight Islam, that way they settle it. That’s the beautiful thing about fighting.”
Another one is that you’re your own boss. And right now, Poirier sees no reason to close the shop with a title win.
“I’m not walking away,” he said. “I’m a young man in his prime.”