Abu Dhabi: Unbeaten lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov may have failed in his obligations to speak to media at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Hotel on Thursday but Daniel Poirier, the interim champion, did not.
The Russian made a brief appearance at the customary pre-fight staredowns where he and Poirier shook hands in a mutual show of respect ahead of UFC 242 at The Arena on Yas Island on Saturday, but then quickly retreated into the wings.
As jaws dropped around the crowded room, UFC President Dana White made an attempt to apologise on behalf of the champion. As part of an agreement, which is in place for most major sports, all fighters are required to be available to talk to press on media day.
And they were there, from the likeable challenger Poirier, who entertained writers, photographers and television crews from around the world for over 45 minutes, to heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes, lightweights Edson Barboza and his opponent Paul Felder and the women who will be making history — Liana Jojua, Sarah Moras, Joanne Calderwood and Andrea Lee.
But the man of the moment was Poirier, who on several occasions during the protracted Q&A with the media predicted that he was “going to shock the world” by becoming the first man to “finish” Khabib.
“I’m the most well-rounded and focused fighter and athlete that I’ve ever been in my life,” he said.
“I’m mentally ready for 25 minutes of bleeding and sweating and being uncomfortable. The fans can expect me to put Khabib in positions you haven’t see him in before, and to hurt him.”
Sporting a colourful patterned T-shirt and a trendy razor-fade haircut, Poirier looked cool, calm and collected, hardly what you’d expect to see in a man who was preparing to go to war against a grappling king in one of the most anticipated MMA fights of the year.
“It’s a historic night not only in mixed martial arts, but in my career,” said the American who is on a five-fight unbeaten streak that has included prized victories over Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje and Max Holloway on his most recent visit to the UFC Octagon at Atlanta Georgia, in April.
“I’ve dedicated my life to this, to making this happen. It’s very important for me, it’s important for my family, and for my legacy. It means a lot.”
“I believe that my experience makes me different to anyone he has faced. The lessons I’ve learnt through trial and error. My commitment to my craft, my understanding of positions in the octagon, are all part of my life’s work.”
Poirier also paid tribute to the UAE and the positive vibe that he felt upon his arrival in Abu Dhabi earlier this week.
“It’s huge,” he said. “The buzz and the feeling I’ve been getting from the city, people is so exciting.
“To know that they built an arena specifically for this event is truly amazing, something I can tell my grandchildren years from now. The UAE has a five-year contract with the UFC — so who knows? — maybe next year they’ll build an even bigger arena and the year after another bigger arena. The sky’s the limit.
“I would love to come back and defend this belt here again. I didn’t know what to expect. It really is incredible here.”
But first, there’s the small matter of defeating Khabib on Saturday.
A visiting journalist asked Poirier what he would tell his young self if he could now, sitting in front of the gathered media ahead of Nurmagomedov and UFC 242, to which he replied: “To stay true to the path. You’re going to be the world champion. You’re going to shock the world, September 7.”
The whole world is waiting, Dustin.