There aren’t many people in the world who’d happily sign up to fight Justin Gaethje twice.
The former interim UFC lightweight champion is widely hailed as one of the most violent combatants in the history of mixed martial arts. Regardless of whether he wins or loses, fans know what to expect from Gaethje’s bouts — car-crash style action, relentless pace, and a promise of mutually assured destruction that leaves few opponents truly unscathed.
So why is Dustin Poirier jumping at the chance to test Gaethje again at UFC 291?
“Because I need it,” Poirier said Monday on The MMA Hour. “That’s where I do my best. That’s where I’m the most motivated. That’s where I learn the most about myself and about combat sports. That’s where greatness is, man, in that uncomfortable — and that’s what I try to do, is put myself in that fire. And this is one of those fights that does it. If this fight doesn’t get you excited, you’re not a fan of combat sports. Turn off YouTube right now and stop watching this show, because this fight is what I’m going to pick the ‘War’ hat up for.
“I know what I’m going into — it’s a head-on collision and I’m not turning away. That’s what this fight is and that’s what I want. That excites me, dude. It gets me pumped up right now.”
Poirier, 34, initially faced Gaethje in 2018 in a UFC headliner held in Gaethje’s home state of Arizona. The fight was an instant classic. Not only did it capture MMA Fighting’s Fight of the Year honors, it ended with Poirier victorious courtesy of a brutal fourth-round assault.
But that was just business as usual for Poirier and Gaethje. Combined, the two lightweights have racked up a whopping 24 post-fight bonuses over their UFC careers and have claimed a piece of at least four different Fight of the Year award-winners since 2012 — Poirier vs. Chan Sung Jung (2012), Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson (2017), Poirier vs. Gaethje (2018), and Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler (2021). In terms of excitement, they tend to deliver.
That’s why Poirier found it fitting for the UFC to throw its “Baddest Motherf***er” title back into rotation as an added bonus for the winner of UFC 291’s main event. The BMF title was originally created for 2019’s Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz pay-per-view headliner, but with Masvidal retired and Diaz no longer under UFC contract, it’s now back up for grabs.
“This fight, I think, could headline without a BMF title,” Poirier said. “This is an exciting fight. But that just adds more fun to it to me. I would love to have that strap up there in my living room. So it’s another accolade.
“I’m not going to walk around like I’m the undisputed champion if I get this belt wrapped around my waist in July, but it’s fun. And if you look at our track records of competing for Fights of the Years over the last, for me over the last 10, 11 years, we have a lot of huge fights that have been voted on for Fight of the Year, one was against each other.
“Just look at the bonuses and the Fights of the Night and the carnage that me and him both display in there, it makes sense to have something fun like that. We’re always talking about lightweight’s most violent fighter. I said I completed the triangle by beating him, beating [Eddie] Alvarez, beating [Michael] Chandler, beating Conor [McGregor]. So we run it back for the most violent, call it the BMF, call it whatever you want.”
Porier noted that he’s also been told that the winner of his rematch against Gaethje will be in pole position for a lightweight title shot after Islam Makhachev’s next defense.
“The Diamond” has won four of his past five bouts, a run that includes a submission of Chandler and two knockouts of McGregor.
Gaethje, meanwhile, rebounded in a big way this past March, claiming a majority decision over Rafael Fiziev after falling short in his second bid to win the UFC lightweight belt.
“I think he looked a little different, right?” Poirier said of the Fiziev fight. “Everybody says his boxing and things are changing — he looked [different], he did. He used the jab a lot better, he used his lateral footwork a lot better. So he did, but I still see Justin Gaethje, the same guy. He’s doing a few things better, but I still see me being a matador and touching this guy.
“[He’s still the same fighter as 2018,] just now he does it with a seat belt on, you know?”
Poirier also acknowledged the weight of expectations on his shoulders after beating Gaethje in highlight-reel fashion in their first fight, but he welcomes the pressure.
“How do I do that better?” Poirier said. “I just need to win. I just need to win. I think our fighting styles, it’s going to be an incredible fight. I don’t go into into that trying to have an exciting fight. I know. I signed a contract yesterday, so it’s done once I signed that — I know what I’m getting into. And I’m a fan of Justin. I’ve been around him a few times since we fought, he’s very respectful, I like the guy. Every time he fights, I’m going to buy the pay-per-view, I’m tuning in. But when I’m standing across from him, it’s war. It’s war, man.
“I’m very motivated. This is legacy. That’s what this is for me. This is just cementing legacy.”