Poirier, Oliveira aim to end memorable year with UFC belt

Dustin Poirier has already had a year to remember. The UFC lightweight cemented his place in mixed martial arts history by bullying, battering and beating Conor McGregor twice in 2021.

But Poirier’s final goal for this banner year is to end it wearing the UFC’s 155-pound title belt once again. To do that, he’ll have to win in the main event of UFC 269 against a champion who has even more to gain from a victory than his challenger.

Charles Oliveira (31-8) takes on Poirier (28-6) on Saturday night in Las Vegas to close the promotion’s final pay-per-view show of a big year for both men.

Poirier’s two stoppages of McGregor were highly lucrative, but they also established him as one of the signature fighters of his era with a likable tenacity that was too much for McGregor to overcome. What Poirier desires even more than those huge checks is a championship belt — and not just the interim strap he held for five months in 2019.

“I have an opportunity to be the world champion, and it gives me chills just saying it,” Poirier said. “I want it so bad. This fight is very important to me.”

The man between Poirier and his title is an opponent who also had his own career breakthrough already in 2021. While Poirier wants a capstone achievement, Oliveira wants to begin a title reign.

When Oliveira beat Michael Chandler in May to claim the belt, the Brazilian won it in his 28th UFC fight — the longest wait for a first-time champion in UFC history. Still only 32 years old despite his experience, Oliveira is eager to become the next dominant champion in arguably the UFC’s most exciting division over the past decade.

A victory over Poirier would be the most impressive of a career in which he has won 17 UFC bouts, but lost to most of the biggest names with which he has shared a cage, including Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone.

A win over Poirier would be Oliveira’s biggest achievement behind claiming the belt, and the prospect has kept him motivated after he achieved his career-long goal in May.

“We continue to battle,” Oliveira said through a translator. “More people follow you, more sponsors come around, so I took advantage, but I always stay humble and remember where I came from.”

Oliveira’s achievements are impressive: He holds the UFC record for the most stoppage victories (17) and submission victories (11) in the promotion’s history, and he has won more performance-of-the-night bonus checks (10) than anyone. Once known primarily for his jiu-jitsu skills and overall ground game, he has become an enthusiastic striker who won his belt by stopping Chandler with punches.

Poirier, who soundly outpunched the previously feared McGregor in his last two bouts, respects Oliveira’s striking skills up to a point.

“Not a big volume puncher, not the best footwork, but he’s trying to finish you,” Poirier said of Oliveira.

Poirier clearly believes he can outpunch Oliveira, but other opponents have been very wrong about a similar belief in recent years.

“He’s as dangerous as any of the other top guys I’ve fought, just in other areas,” Poirier said. “His submission game numbers don’t lie. He’s one of the most dangerous to hit the canvas in the UFC, and we didn’t put that aside in training camp. He’s very dangerous.”

Oliveira is riding a nine-fight unbeaten streak since late 2017 into T-Mobile Arena on the Strip, while Poirier’s only loss in that same four-year stretch was to Khabib Nurmagomedov, the now-retired former lightweight champion.

Poirier and Oliveira have been largely civil to each other in the build-up to this showdown. That’s a welcome contrast for Poirier, who gritted his teeth this year when forced to participate in the unseemly verbal theatrics that have made McGregor a wealthy man. Oliveira isn’t interested in such shenanigans, and he evinces respect for his challenger’s skills.

“He’s a tough and complete fighter,” Oliveira said. “Very tough and strong in his boxing, along with his wrestling, and everybody knows he likes to take fights to five rounds. But I care about what I can do and what I bring to the game.”

Poirier and Oliveira share the top of the UFC 269 card with two-division champion Amanda Nunes (21-4), who is a massive favorite to beat Julianna Peña (10-4) and to retain her bantamweight belt in her first defense at 135 pounds since 2019. Former UFC bantamweight champions Cody Garbrandt and Dominick Cruz are among the fighters competing earlier on the card.

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