A lot has changed since the first time Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor shared the Octagon. On that night in September 2014, McGregor needed less than two minutes to get the TKO victory and continue his ascent to becoming arguably the biggest combat sports star in the world, eventually capturing titles at featherweight and lightweight in the UFC before a crossover boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. Poirier rebounded from the loss by going 9-1 over his next 10 fights and becoming interim lightweight champ.
During all that time, Poirier told "Morning Kombat", a rematch with McGregor wasn't a top priority. The focus was simply on climbing the ladder and beating the men ahead of him in the rankings, whether that was the Irish superstar or not. Now, the two are set to battle once again, this time in the main event of UFC 257 on Jan. 23.
"It was always a fight that I was not so much pushing off, but it wasn't in my crosshairs because I was chasing the world title," Poirier said. "Just the situation of the lightweight division, it makes sense now. I was always trying to fight the guy ahead of me or whoever had the belt. Now, having fought Khabib already and having fought the guy who is ranked ahead of me, Justin Gaethje, what else is ahead of me right now? In a division that's top-heavy, Conor is saying he wants to come back around and get back to the title. I'm the only guy in the top five coming off of a win, I believe. It just made sense. It's kind of the circumstances of the lightweight division."
Poirier, who lost his interim title in a unification bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov, is coming off a win over Dan Hooker. The McGregor rematch came together after the two men engaged in a friendly exchange on Twitter, with McGregor pushing for the two to fight in a charity bout outside the UFC. Poirier said the fight wasn't being planned before their Twitter exchanges "sparked it."
While the initial talks to get the fight off the ground were on friendly terms, McGregor made his name by being one of the biggest trash talkers in the game. If things take a turn for the ugly, Poirier said he's much more mentally ready to handle the situation than he was ahead of the first meeting, understanding he can't control what McGregor says or does.
After beating Justin Gaethje over the fall, Nurmagomedov said he was retiring from the sport, citing a promise to his mother that he would not fight again after the death of his father. Dana White has insisted that he believes Nurmagomedov will fight again and intends to speak with him soon to make that happen.
The uncertainty over the title situation has led to a scenario where Poirier vs. McGregor could be promoted to a world title fight if Nurmagomedov is fully committed to his title. That would suit Poirier fine, but he was less receptive to the idea of once again fighting to become interim champion.
"Unless Khabib is taking a lot of time away from the sport, I don't think an interim belt should be introduced," Poirier said. "There's already been two in the lightweight division. Khabib has unified both times the interim belt has been introduced -- no, there's been three. Tony was an interim champ as well. So, I think the division needs clarity and needs an undisputed world champion. There's no reason for that unless Khabib is out for a long time. If he's retired, then the next two guys in line need to fight for the belt. If he's not retired, it needs to be in the next five, six months. The guy can't take a year off between fights."
Of course, with a title -- even an interim belt -- comes benefits. Poirier said he understands that and, while an interim title fight isn't ideal, he couldn't turn down the chance to better provide for his family.
"Dana says it all the time, and what he says is true, the belt changes everything," Poirier said. "Contracts are different, sponsorships are different, you know, the whole business side of fighting is different when you have gold around your waist. Whether it's a real belt or interim belt, things change. Of course, going into a unification bout, there would be more money involved. I love what I do. I have a family to feed. If there's an opportunity to make more money, I will make more money and take that, of course. It's the same fight for more money, right? I want to be the undisputed world champion. If the next step is the interim belt again, we'll go that route. But, I just want to know what's going on with Khabib. The division needs clarity and it has needed it for a long time."