In the talent department, no one would dispute that Dustin Poirier rates among the best at featherweight.
Poirier's success in the Octagon encouraged some talk that he might be ready to take on champion Jose Aldo. Even a May 15 loss to Chan Sung Jung hasn't completely erased Poirier from title-shot discussions.
To his credit, Poirier never bought into the title-shot talk. Whenever his name was raised as a potential next opponent for Aldo, the Louisiana native always shot down such suggestions.
Despite all the talent and promise that Poirier displayed inside the cage, he knew he was several fights away from fighting for the 145-pound belt. There were still a few hurdles he needed to get over.
Poirier's unwillingness to openly campaign for a title shot might have been viewed as lacking confidence. But lack of confidence isn't, and likely will never be, part of his DNA.
He's just always been honest with himself.
It's one thing to believe a title shot is in order, another to know when the time is right to become champion. Poirier isn't in the mixed-martial-arts business to fight for titles -- his goal is to become champion. So Poirier, then riding a four-fight win streak, went into the bout against Chan determined to gauge how far he actually was from becoming a titleholder.
It was his first five-round bout and first appearance in a main event. And that moment got the better of Poirier -- mentally and emotionally.
Keep in mind that Poirier turned 23 less than four months earlier, was facing arguably his stiffest test and doing so under the brightest spotlight of his young career. So the young man buckled.
"That threw me off a little bit," Poirier told ESPN.com. "I felt some pressure. I was a little nervous about a five-round fight. There was just a lot of pressure on me. While I was there fighting, I was hesitating and thinking too much."
Poirier performed admirably in the back-and-forth battle. After three rounds of hard fighting, he showed no sign of wearing down physically.
At the start of Round 4, Poirier was still fresh. He overcame a key hurdle that every champ, or potential champ, must confront -- the ability to go five hard rounds. But Poirier didn't overcome every hurdle -- he made some mental mistakes in the fight and eventually got himself caught in a D'Arce choke at 1:07 of the fourth.
No fighter wants to lose. But in Poirier's case the loss to Chan serves as a steppingstone to better days ahead. Poirier is more title-ready as a result of that fight than at any time in his career.
"I learned a lot from that fight," said Poirier, who is now 12-2. "I got pushed to the limit. I got off the stool in the fourth ready to fight two more rounds. That was a big step in my career. It was the first time I'd ever been in the fourth round. I should have attacked more when I had him hurt. I should have been more aggressive and stuck to the game plan on the feet. I learned a lot of things from that fight.
"That was a battle that I'll keep with me forever. It'll just help me improve."
Poirier has made a number of improvements since that May loss. He joined American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., where a more-seasoned crop of training partners have taken his skills and confidence to a much higher level.
And he is expected to be a much-better fighter on Dec. 15 when he faces 2010 winner of the "The Ultimate Fighter" Jonathan Brookins in Las Vegas.
Unlike any of his previous fights, Poirier views this battle with Brookins as a showcase event.
Poirier's standup skills have always been sharp, but they will be better in this fight. His jujitsu is above-average, but Poirier is excited to display improvements he's made wrestling.
"He's a good fighter," Poirier said, of Brookins (13-5). "He's good at turning exciting fighters -- by grinding them down -- into slow [fighters]. His pace is just constant pressure, kind of dragging the guy down into deep water. That's the mentality he has. He can face explosive fighters, put them against the fence and wear them down.
"But I'm going to be in there looking to shine and looking to prove a point against him. I really like this matchup."
The point is, Poirier wants to prove that he is now worthy of serious title-contender status. He believes he's ready to become the UFC featherweight champion.
To make that point clear, he intends to put Brookins away early.
"I'm going to go out there and finish Jonathan Brookins," Poirier said. "It's not going to be a decision; it's going to be me getting my hand raised in the first or second round and showing the division that I'm here. In the [Jung] fight I didn't get run over. He was just on that night and I was just off. Sometimes that happens in fighting, and I learned a lot from it.
"I'm going to prove to myself and everyone [on Dec. 15] that I deserve to be at the top of the 145-pound division."