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The Making of a Good Fight: How Dustin Poirier’s humanitarian revolution is changing lives

UFC 257: Poirier v McGregor
Dustin Poirier
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

The world’s best active lightweight is holding court outside of a sports bar in south Louisiana. It’s a muggy afternoon in early May, nine weeks out from the most important fight of his life, and with the smell of boiled crawfish thick in the air, Dustin Poirier is in his element. These are his people. In moments, Taylr Murphy, the mother of three standing behind the UFC fighter, will bury her head into her husband’s chest, crying. Tears have been a constant in the Murphy household over the last few years, but today’s are different. Today’s are because Lafayette’s champion is about to surprise Taylr’s son, 21-year-old Peyton, with a gift the family once couldn’t have begun to fathom.

“He’s in my corner and I’m in his — and we both know that,” Dustin tells the crowd.

Everywhere around the UFC fighter are bright red t-shirts emblazoned with the same mantra: No Fight Too Big Or Small Should Be Fought Alone.

“I’m very inspired by him,” Dustin says.

Peyton was 17 years old when he was diagnosed in 2017 with osteosarcoma, a rare but devastating form of bone cancer. The four years since have been an emotional tsunami for the whole family. On five separate occasions, Peyton pushed into remission only to be dragged back into the jaws of the disease. He’s completed over 100 sessions of chemotherapy. Doctors early on sawed off 15 inches of his femur and replaced the bone with a titanium rod, rendering him disabled for the rest of his life. When the cancer eventually reappeared like two corrosive golf balls in his lungs, doctors cut Peyton open from his chest all the way around his side and through to his back, their slow and agonizing game of whack-a-mole never seeming to lead anywhere further than one step forward for every two steps back. “Hell on earth,” says his father, Treg. “Buddy, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Dustin first learned of the Murphys through a friend and former sparring partner. South Louisiana is a tight-knit community, and stories like these tend to find the fighter nowadays. The family was on its last legs. “Our finances over the past four years, bud — put it to you like this, we don’t have a savings account anymore,” says Treg. “The treatment at St. Jude’s was free, but people don’t talk about everything else that goes into this, everything involved with getting a patient in [for treatment], missing work. We’ve got two other kids, too, and their lives, they still need to be kids.

“So man, the timing of all of this — it was amazing.”

Dustin and Jolie Poirier at the benefit for the Murphy family
Photo via Jolie Poirier

When Dustin and his wife Jolie first reached out, the Murphys couldn’t believe their ears. The UFC star is a legend of the area. The hardscrabble local kid who went to juvie by his freshman year only to find salvation in the martial arts — why would he ever take an interest in them? Especially with one of the biggest fights in history staring him straight in the eyes, a trilogy match with Conor McGregor at UFC 264 that could come to define the legacies of both men. Yet there he was, their neighborhood folk hero ready to drop everything and help. “He made himself accessible to us like he was one of our close relatives,” Treg marvels.

“They were like, ‘Absolutely. We felt like the good Lord put this put us on earth for this.’”

In the end, the crawfish boil fundraiser the Poiriers helped throw at 501 Sports Bar in nearby Youngsville raised nearly $30,000 for the Murphy family. And best of all? The look on Peyton’s face. He was dumbstruck. “He didn’t think Dustin had that kind of time,” Treg says. “When you when you’re about to prepare for a fight with Conor McGregor, like on the biggest platform in the fight game…”

The proud dad trails off, then stops to collect himself. It’s months later and still none of this feels real.

“They are just — they’re angels. They’re heaven-sent, man. Angels on earth.”

By now, the extracurricular activities of the Poiriers have nearly become synonymous with Dustin’s fights. You rarely hear about one without hearing about the other, which is impressive considering the fickle nature of the MMA news cycle. When the spark that ignited their nonprofit, The Good Fight Foundation, first flickered in 2017, they saw their idea mostly just as a small way to inject a little positivity into a sport that too often reveled in the negative. Dustin’s closet was bursting with bloody UFC uniforms from his fights, so Jolie suggested an eBay auction to donate the returns to a worthy cause.

Four years later, The Good Fight Foundation has become Jolie’s full-time job, a thousand-emails-a-month endeavor that’s mushroomed into something farther reaching than either of them ever expected. “I mean, it’s incredible,” says Jolie. “It really is. Sometimes I’m just like, oh my God, how much are we donating? Like, this is crazy.”

The couple started small. Their first donation of Dustin’s UFC 211 fight kit in 2017 netted $5,100 for Second Harvest Food Bank, providing nearly 3,000 meals for families in need. Their second donation, for UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Pettis, netted $7,500 for the family of Michael Middlebrook, a nine-year veteran of the Lafayette Police Department who was shot and killed in the line of duty. From there, the movement took on a life of its own: $4,000 to the local Acadiana Outreach Center to support women and children struggling with homelessness; $7,950 to sponsor the Poiriers’ alma mater, Acadian Middle School, with 500 backpacks filled with school supplies; a whopping $50,000 to honor the dying wish of 7-year-old Aaron Hill and fund a playground for special needs children at Prairie Elementary School in Lafayette.

“That was the first big one,” says Jolie. “That’s when Dustin was like, ‘Well, if it doesn’t [work out], then we’re going to pay the difference.’ Like, we’re going to make it happen regardless.”

Donations of newborn supplies to the Women’s & Children’s Hospital in Lafayette for families in need after being relocated by the hurricanes of 2020
Photo via Jolie Poirier

That was only a few years ago. Today, the size and scope of their efforts are somewhat staggering. Earlier this year, for Dustin’s rematch with McGregor at UFC 257, The Good Fight Foundation raised $107,000 to donate to the local Boys and Girls Club of Acadiana. “It was a game changer,” says the organization’s CEO, Missy Bienvenu. “And I just did not anticipate how front and center they were going to make this. Like when people were calling me and saying, ‘Hey, I just watched a press conference from Abu Dhabi and Dustin Poirier is talking about Boys and Girls Clubs of Acadiana,’ we’re like, oh…wow. This is crazy.’

“Not only the monetary support they rallied, but it goes a long way when someone like Dustin stands on stage and says, ‘I support our local Boys and Girls Club — and this is why.’ It’s huge.”

The strange saga of UFC 257 even led to a second major donation, the largest Bienvenu’s organization has ever received: A $500,000 bounty from McGregor which was interpreted by many to be a slight — the Irishman had previously vowed to donate directly to the Good Fight Foundation — but one that in reality accomplished the very goals Dustin and Jolie set out to achieve. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Acadiana have since been able to have their most successful year in the organization’s history, Bienvenu says, a super-sized push to help the struggling youth of Louisiana find a semblance of respite after a pandemic-induced year of fear and uncertainty that rocked the community.

“They allowed us to run our summer program at six locations this summer, literally completely cost-free for every single family,” Bienvenu says. “That’s really powerful. And it’s not just about the money, I think it’s also about what that represents.

“Because look, someone at that level who has worked so hard and has been so successful, they have every reason to talk about themselves and that success. But there’s just so much to be said for someone like him, for that type of an athlete, that caliber of an athlete who works hard, does well, and still finds time to give back to the community that’s given him so much. It’s really heartwarming. And I know for sure that people turned around and supported Boys and Girls Clubs because he was saying, ‘I’m in their corner. I’m fighting for them.’”

The Poirier’s most ambitious feat of all, though, may have come over 8,000 miles away in Uganda. Ahead of their 2019 title bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov, Dustin and Jolie leapt into a partnership with Fight for the Forgotten, a nonprofit led by ex-UFC fighter Justin Wren committed to aiding and protecting the distressed Pygmy peoples of Africa. Wren’s goal was a modest one: He hoped to garner $25,000 in donations to provide clean water to the struggling Ugandan tribe. But with Dustin cheerleading the cause ahead of a major UFC 242 event, “all of a sudden like 3,000 people from around the world gave,” Wren says.

Contrsuction underway in Uganda following the Good Fight Foundation’s partnership with Fight for the Forgotten
Photos via Jolie Poirier

“Like, this is a gift that Dustin’s given me and the Good Fight Foundation has provided. I don’t know how to say it except that I truly believe the work they’re doing isn’t just life-changing — it’s life-saving. I already know lives have been saved, because that’s what the chief is saying, his elders are saying. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the Poirier family.” The overnight windfall of $172,686 allowed Fight for the Forgotten to purchase 48 acres of protected land for the Pygmies to call their own, and even enact a slew of Wren’s wish-list initiatives: The construction of multiple clean water systems, a pharmacy, a hospital clinic, homes equipped with anti-malarial measures plus much more.

“If you saw the size the homes they [had before] — I mean, I’m one guy and I’m sleeping in the Pygmy huts, and my feet sometimes would be out of them,” Wren says. “They’re 4-foot-tall, 5-foot-tall at most, and they’d sleep with a whole family inside there. The dirt is their bed. The fire is their blanket. It’s no bricks, it’s no shingles. It’s twig and leaf homes. So to be able to come in there and give them minimum two-bedroom homes that have a dining room, that have a living room, that have a kitchen, that have a patio — a covered patio — and piped water, I mean, it’s just something that the chief said, like, ‘We never imagined we could have this.’ And it’s like, well, you can because of some really good-hearted people like Dustin and his fans and his supporters.

“He’s just a role model to me. He’s an inspiration.”

Wren says he’ll be in Las Vegas this week to support the Poiriers for UFC 264. It’s the least he could do. In early April, Dustin and Jolie phoned him to propose another go-round of fundraising for the McGregor rubber match. Wren was shocked, but the Good Fight Foundation made good like they always do: They’ve already donated $50,000 for his next round of projects to help the Pygmies, and more is expected to come. Wren can’t repeat it enough. He thinks there’s something in every fighter, at their core, that wants to be a defender, that wants to be a protector. That wants their struggles to have meaning. That wants to have a good fight to fight. And Dustin? “He gets it,” Wren says.

“I’ve been doing this 10 years, he’s been doing it for a couple years — but he’s not just teaching me stuff about the nonprofit world, he’s teaching others.”

Jolie still gets emotional to hear that kind of feedback. She says she hopes all of this can be generational, that the Good Fight Foundation can be something that outlasts and outlives Dustin’s fighting career. Their dream project remains the same as it’s always been: A boxing gym that could serve as a safe haven for the struggling youth of Lafayette, with free membership for all who get good grades and stay out of trouble. After all, few better know the value of a youthful distraction. “It’s something Dustin always wanted,” Jolie says.

“I think with how he was raised and where he grew up and not really coming from much, and being able to be in a position to help out so many people, and knowing that he has bettered their lives, and he’s going to do so much more — it’s just mind-blowing. We’re just so thankful to be able to do this for people.”

Wren isn’t the only one who made the trip to Las Vegas, by the way. The Murphys are also hitting the Strip this week. That was the second surprise from Dustin’s gift at the crawfish boil — an all-expenses-paid trip to stay at the MGM Grand, along with the hottest tickets in town for Peyton to see his first UFC fight. Jolie even surprised Peyton’s mother, Taylr, with a spa getaway to escape her boys for an afternoon of luxury. Treg calls it a bucket list adventure. Peyton was overwhelmed. None of them saw it coming — and it may just turn into a celebration. The two golf ball tumors in Peyton’s lungs? Reduced to the size of corn kernels in his most recent scan. Treg says doctors are optimistic to officially declare his son in remission after the trip to UFC 264, and, at long last, take Peyton off his chemotherapy.

There’s a special note still sitting at home for Peyton too. Taylr says Dustin wrote it to remind her son of one simple fact if life’s hardships ever grew too tough. Its message?

“You are the true fighter.”

It’s true. It has to be. Who would know better than the champion of south Louisiana?

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