The most impressive records in sports are almost always the ones that occur over lengthy periods of time. Even 25 years after Cal Ripken set the Major League Baseball record for most consecutive games played at 2,632 over a 16-year period, it’s still regarded as one of the most untouchable records in sports.
The records that show an athlete’s staying power, which prove greatness over a lengthy period of time, are the ones that are usually most revered.
Now, Dustin Poirier holds no such record, but he’s done things over a long period of time that all but guarantee him a spot in the UFC Hall of Fame when he’s done and recognition as one of the best fighters in the company’s history.
On Saturday on the main card of UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden in New York, the promotion’s 29th anniversary, Poirier will fight Michael Chandler. Chandler has not held any kind of a UFC belt, so he’ll be only the second opponent in more than five years and in 11 fights who hasn’t held a UFC championship.
In nine of Poirier's last 10 fights he’s faced either a reigning champion, an interim champion or a former champion. The only one of his last 10 fights who didn’t hold a UFC title of any type is Dan Hooker, whom Poirier defeated by decision on June 27, 2020.
But in that 10-bout streak he’s faced:
Charles Oliveira, who was the reigning lightweight champion.
Conor McGregor twice. McGregor was the former featherweight and lightweight champion.
Hooker, who never has held a UFC belt.
Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was the reigning lightweight champion.
Max Holloway, who was the reigning featherweight champion.
Eddie Alvarez twice. Alvarez was the former lightweight champion.
Justin Gaethje, who was the future interim lightweight champion.
Anthony Pettis, who was the former lightweight champion.
He is 7-2 with a no-contest in that span against the toughest opposition one could face in the UFC, a remarkable achievement. And while Chandler has never held a UFC belt, he is a former Bellator lightweight champion.
“Yeah, that's a pretty crazy track record right there,” Poirier said of his parade of fights against champions. “But hey, this guy's a former world champion [and] has wins over former UFC world champions, as well. I think it speaks to my skill set and the caliber of fighter I am. Somebody might make their way up to that opportunity, but to be 10 fights in a row fighting the best of the best says something. You don’t fall into those spots. You put yourself into those spots by working and winning fights, and being exciting and grinding. And that’s what I’ve done.”
And Chandler, who is 2-2 in his four UFC fights, knows full well what he’s up against. He had hoped to fight Poirier in his UFC debut, which has led to a bit of bad blood between them.
Chandler, though, knows Poirier is in some rarefied air in the history of the UFC.
“I’ve got a ton of respect for Poirier,” Chandler said. “I mean, there’s no doubt that who he is and his body of work speaks for itself.”
There is another mark that Poirier accomplished over time that is remarkable in light of the opposition he’s faced. He joined the UFC on Jan. 1, 2011, fighting Josh Grispi at UFC 125. He has gone 18-6 with a no-contest, and has never lost two fights in a row.
It’s a remarkable display in a sport in which the physical and mental toll makes it difficult to stay on top for long period of times.
“Consistency,” Poirier said of the key to his success. “I don’t get complacent. I’ve always wanted more, whether it was climbing the division or my skill set. To remain a student, that’s what I tell these young guys whenever we talk about longevity in the sport. It’s one thing to get to the top level. It's another thing to stay there for a decade like I have in the UFC.
“And [you always have to have] the mindset of being a student. I’m always trying to learn. I’m always trying to pick people’s brains, ask questions, watch things, how guys are setting stuff up on the mats, just remaining a student, not acting like I know too much. If I stay in that mindset, then I’m excited to go into the gym. I’m excited to talk and hit the mats and learn and push myself.”
He’ll need to push himself to get past Chandler, whose incredibly quick pace and wrestling skill makes him a tough out. A win, though, will keep his hope of getting one more crack at the lightweight title, now held by Islam Makhachev, alive.
UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports the next shot is going to go to featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski, but a win is critical for positioning to be the person to get the shot after that.
Poirier is not flashy and isn’t one to toot his own horn. He’s focused on winning fights and dealing with whatever arises after that. If he gets a title shot next year, it's not because he's started a campaign for it.
He's been around long enough to know that if one keeps winning, things eventually will take care of themselves.
“I feel like my track record and my work speaks for itself,” Poirier said. “I don’t need to get on a platform and beg for a title shot. I’m going to go out there, I’m going to fight [Saturday], and I’ll let the cards fall where they may.”