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Dustin Poirier ‘heartbroken’ over loss to Justin Gaethje at UFC 291: ‘I feel like I’m the better fighter’

Dustin Poirier on The MMA Hour

Dustin Poirier still believes he’s a better fighter than Justin Gaethje.

On Saturday, Poirier and Gaethje faced off for the ‘BMF’ title in the main event of UFC 291 in Salt Lake City, with Gaethje knocking Poirier out with a second-round head kick. It’s Poirier’s first knockout loss since Michael Johson in 2016, and one “The Diamond” is still having a hard time coming to grips with.

“I’m just heartbroken,” Poirier said Monday on The MMA Hour. “It sucks. I worked hard, was in incredible shape, and I got beat. But that’s fighting. I said that in the post-fight. It sucks, man. It f****** sucks. Especially because — not taking anything away from Justin, he’s a warrior and [did] an incredible job, having to sit on a loss for five years. I had to do it with Conor [McGregor]. I sat on a loss for seven, eight years, until I had an opportunity to finally get it back. So he sat on that loss for five years, and boy he got it back. But it just sucks because I still feel like I’m better than him.

“I feel like I’m the better fighter. I got hit with a great shot — not by luck or chance, he set it up beautifully and I was just a victim to great technique. I was in the wrong place and I didn’t guard myself properly. But I felt very aware the whole fight. I feel like I’m better than him and I lost. That hurts. But that’s fighting and it is what it is. What can I do?”

Poirier and Gaethje first met back in 2018 in a back-and-forth war that won MMA Fighting’s Fight of the Year honors that year. Poirier ended up finishing Gaethje in that contest, stopping him in the fourth round, but that isn’t why the Louisiana native feels he’s the better fighter. Poirier says based on how the fight was unfolding before the finish, and how well he prepared, he’s still confident this was just one of those outcomes.

“That was five years ago,” Poirier said. “Like I said all week, this was a different fight to me. I’m talking about what I felt in the octagon a couple of days ago, not that I beat him before. This was really a new fight to me.”

“Couldn’t have asked for a better week,” Poirier continued. “Easiest weight cut of my career, camp was incredible, I’ve never felt better, honestly. I just didn’t even get to start fighting. We were still feeling each other out a lot in that first round, and then second round, boom, it happened. I didn’t get to get into the fight, I feel like. It just sucks. Beautiful. I didn’t see the kick. ... Just as a fan of the sport and a fan of Justin’s, what he did was incredible, because I was very well-prepared, I busted my ass, and I was in position to f*** him up.”

In the aftermath of UFC 291, Poirier was clear that he isn’t entirely sure what comes next. The former interim lightweight champion stressed that he still has plenty of tread left on his tires, but that he isn’t looking to get back into the everyday mix of fighting rising contenders. Given his druthers, Poirier said, a trilogy bout with Gaethje would come next, though he understands why that may not happen.

“Yeah, but then I’ll look like I’m chasing s***, and obviously he’s moving on to bigger and better things now, he doesn’t have to fight me,” Poirier said when asked if he wanted a trilogy. “I don’t know. Of course that would be my No. 1 pick, if I could choose anybody to fight right away.”

The “bigger and better” Gaethje has in store for him is another shot at the lightweight title. Current champion Islam Makhachev is set to rematch former champion Charles Oliveira at UFC 294 in October, and with his win on Saturday, Gaethje set himself up to face the winner of that fight. And despite thinking he’s still better than Gaethje, Poirier believes “The Highlight” has a legitimate chance to claim the belt when his time comes.

“He has the wrestling credentials,” Poirier said. “If his takedown defense holds up, I do think he can cause some problems for Islam. He punches hard. I felt it through my guard. He hit me with two body shots, straight punches. It didn’t hurt any organs — he didn’t hit me in the liver, he hit me in the chest — but I felt the power. His bones are dense, he punches hard, and he throws everything into it.

“One hook got through and at the last second I was able to face-roll it and not take it flush. As soon as it landed, I turned my head with it and that saved me, because I think if I wouldn’t have turned my face, it would have stopped me. I just felt the heat off those things. He throws hard. If he catches Islam, if he stops Islam from taking him down and he throws those kind of punches and they land, he will go down. That’s the kind of puncher Gaethje is. So it just comes down to his wrestling defense, how it holds up.”

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