Grispi was originally scheduled to face 145-pound champion Jose Aldo (18-1) in the UFC 125 co-main event in Las Vegas. However, Aldo had to withdraw due to a neck injury. Instead, Poirier — who went 1-1 in the WEC while fighting at 155 pounds — will face Grispi, and he’s ready to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Like more and more of the sport’s newest generation of fighters, Poirier didn’t transition to MMA after competing in a single discipline, such as wrestling. He tried wrestling as a kid but didn’t continue with it during high school.
Occasionally, Poirier and his friends would dabble with boxing, but his first real introduction to combat sports came at the age of 17. Poirier, a Lafayette, La., native, looked around for a local boxing gym but instead found a place to try out kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
“I knew what MMA was, but I didn’t know I could get good training in my area,” Poirier said.
Now only 21 years of age, Poirier already finds himself on the biggest stage in MMA. It seems like a fast progression, but Poirier has paid his dues, with 9 amateur bouts to go along with his professional experience.
“I guess I’m a little surprised it happened so quickly,” Poirier said. “But when I commit to something, I do it 100 percent. I train every day hard.”
And in some cases, those amateur bouts were just as brutal as a professional fight, even having the same rules. One of Poirier’s amateur bouts came against Gilbert Jimenez, who picked up a win in the Bellator Fighting Championships on Sept. 2.
Although Poirier will only have just over one month notice to train for Grispi, he isn’t concerned about the shortened timetable.
“I’m used to fighting pretty often,” Poirier told ProMMAnow.com. All nine professional fights have come since May 2009. “That’s no problem for me.”
It helps that his last fight didn’t even last one minute. Poirier scored a quick TKO win over Zack Micklewright at WEC 52 on Nov. 11.
“I had just fought maybe a week before,” he said of when he received the call from the UFC. “I was kind of eating whatever I wanted. I usually take a week to relax, but I’m not ever out of the gym totally.”
There is one difference this time, though. Rather than compete at lightweight, Poirier is cutting down to 145, where he hopes to match up better size-wise with his opponents.
“I’m a smaller 155er in the big leagues,” he said. “I knew I was getting to 145 eventually, but I was probably walking around at 172. I was cutting weight, but not too much weight.”
The size difference was especially noticeable when Poirier made his WEC debut on Aug. 8 against Danny Castillo, a physically-imposing fighter with strong wrestling.
It was a competitive fight and some felt Poirier won the second round, but Castillo avoided Poirier’s submission attempts and gutted out a decision win.
“For sure, his strength definitely opened my eyes,” Poirier said of the Castillo fight. “I train with Rich Clementi every once in awhile, and he was similar to that kind of strength.”
Nevertheless, Poirier accepted the Micklewright fight rather than wait for a chance at featherweight to put on a better performance for the WEC officials.
“I really wanted to get back in the cage as soon as possible to show I belong there,” Poirier said. “He’s not the kind of fighter that’s going to take it to the ground and use his size. I knew he’d stand and trade and it would be a great fight.”
Poirier, who trains at Gladiators Academy in Lafayette and holds a BJJ purple belt under UFC middleweight Tim Credeur, isn’t doing much outside of his old routine to make weight. Working with his strength and conditioning coach Jules Bruchez, Poirier isn’t concerned about making the cut.
“The only thing I’m really doing different for this camp is eating different,” he said.
Making your UFC debut against a top contender doesn’t sound like ideal circumstances for changing weight classes. But Poirier definitely sounds up for the challenge.
“It’s going to be my first time ever fighting in the UFC, so it’s going to be a big experience,” he said. “This kid I’m fighting has a bunch of hype around him, but I’m ready to just jump head first into it. He’s the number one contender, so if I beat him, where does that put me?”
As talented and confident as Poirier is, the obvious question is why did the UFC pick a fighter with WEC lightweight bouts to his credit to fight the number one contender at featherweight?
“I’m not sure why they called me to do it,” Poirier said. “They have a lot of guys … Erik Koch maybe could’ve done it. Chad Mendes is undefeated. Either they think I’m up to the challenge or they think Grispi will have a hell of a performance. Maybe they think this is just a tune up and to keep him busy until Aldo is ready. If that’s what they’re trying to do, I’m a horrible guy for that.”
Grispi hasn’t even gone beyond the first round in any of his WEC fights, beating the likes of L.C. Davis, Jens Pulver, Micah Miller, and Mark Hominick by TKO or submission. But Poirier is looking forward to testing Grispi and seeing what he’s made of.
“I haven’t really seen him get hurt or hit real hard or really pushed,” Poirier said. “I’m not the guy that’s going to look to shoot a double on you. He’s decent standing up, but he drops his hands a lot, throws a lot of…slapping-type kicks.
“We haven’t really seen too much of his ground transitioning. Usually he catches guys with a guillotine pretty quick, so I’m not too sure. But I’m a purple belt under Tim Credeur and I feel like I’m pretty tough on the ground.”
Poirier added, “The only problem I’ve had in the past is with guys who are great wrestlers who can stall. I know people say he’s a huge 45er, but I’m coming down so I think I’ll match up with him there.”