In toppling Max Holloway, Dustin Poirier not only got his hands on an elusive UFC title, he stamped his ticket for a meeting with indomitable lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Poirier became an interim champion on Saturday, going five rounds with Holloway, the UFC’s featherweight champion, in the main event of UFC 236 on Saturday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta and emerging on the other side with a lightweight belt. That belt was created as a result of Nurmagomedov being suspended for his involvement in the UFC 229 melee last October.
When Nurmagomedov returns, he’ll likely have a number of 155-pound suitors waiting to welcome him back to the Octagon. Names like Conor McGregor and Justin Gaethje have been mentioned as possible opponents, but UFC president Dana White said at the UFC 236 post-fight presser that Poirier’s interim status guarantees that he gets the next crack at Nurmagomedov.
“Yes, that’s the fight,” White said. “Poirier will fight Khabib next. Probably in September.”
Shortly after the conclusion of Saturday’s thrilling UFC main event, Nurmagomedov took to Twitter with his judge’s cap on and while he had praise for Poirier and Holloway’s gutsy performances, he doesn’t think the fight was closer to having a draw than a definitive winner:
I don’t agree with the judges 49:46, I got a draw, my respect to both fighters, and Porier’s achievement so far cannot be denied, my congratulations Dustin, see you in September. vs
— khabib nurmagomedov (@TeamKhabib) April 14, 2019
It certainly sounds like White, Poirier, and Nurmagomedov are on the same page regarding the September date.
Unlike Nurmagomedov, Poirier did not steamroll his way through the UFC roster on his way to a title shot. He initially debuted as a promising featherweight prospect, but he hit a wall after winning his first four fights inside the Octagon. Inconsistency plagued Poirier and in 2015 he made a career-altering decision to join the lightweight division where he is 9-1 with one no contest.
All-in-all it took Poirier until UFC fight number 22 to compete in five-round championship bout. According to White, that’s not something Poirier should be criticized for and he described Poirier as a victim of circumstance.
“Some guys have the Israel Adesanya path and the Conor McGregor path and some have the Poirier path,” White said. “If you look, I don’t remember what the numbers were, but Chuck Liddell had to go through that same thing and then Tito (Ortiz) wouldn’t fight him and there’s been a lot of guys — Tony Ferguson, look at the bad luck that guy’s had. And the list goes on and on, some people it works out for and some people have longer roads.
“Poirier has stayed the path and trained hard and done what he’s had to do to to get here and tonight was his night. He fought an incredible fighter and he won.”
The mention of Ferguson led to White explaining that it was “El Cucuy” who the matchmakers had originally wanted to pair up with Holloway for an interim title opportunity. Ferguson, a former interim champion himself, is currently dealing with personal problems and it is not known when he will be booked to compete again.
White said that for now, the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson ship has once again sailed and the priority is setting up a unification bout between Nurmagomedov and Poirier.
“This was his fight,” White said of Ferguson. “This was supposed to be him and Max tonight, this was his fight. He turned it down. And we made it very clear that the winner of this fight, just like Israel and Kelvin, would fight for the title.
“Unless something happens to Dustin Poirier, he gets hurt or gets injured or something happens, he’s got the fight.”