Poirier positions himself for title push

Dustin Poirier, right, might be one impressive win away from a crack at the UFC featherweight title. Al Powers for ESPN.com

The desire to land a featherweight title shot is strong in a division with no clear-cut No. 1 contender. And there isn’t a 145-pound fighter more determined to be the top guy at this point in time than Dustin Poirier.

The Louisiana native, who trains at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., faces veteran Cub Swanson on Saturday in London. Poirier agreed last month to replace injured Dennis Siver, and if accepting a showdown with Swanson weeks before the fight isn’t evidence of a fighter’s determination to become champion, nothing is.

Poirier didn’t hesitate to accept UFC’s fight offer -- he knows the rewards far exceeded the risk.

“There are a lot of guys at the top right now,” Poirier told ESPN.com. “The division is top-heavy. I feel that where I am in the featherweight division, if I go out there and beat Cub Swanson, then I will be 6-1 in the UFC featherweight division and I believe I will be at the top.

“I took this fight on such short notice because it’s an exciting fight. It’s the kind of fight I want to be in. Not only does this fight get me a step closer to my goal of being a world champion, to fight a top-10 guy who puts on a show every time is a fight I couldn’t refuse.”

Poirier is currently ranked seventh among featherweights by UFC.com, while Swanson is sixth (ESPN.com has them eight and nine, respectively).

Knocking off a fellow top-10 featherweight could prove highly beneficial for Poirier, who is still smarting from a fourth-round submission loss against Chan Sung Jung on May 22. It was a hotly contested bout, with each fighter landing vicious strikes throughout. But in the fourth round of their seesaw affair, Jung locked in a D’Arce choke and Poirier was forced to tap.

Rather than sulk over the loss, the now 24-year-old Poirier has relied on it as a learning experience. No longer does he fret over the possibility of venturing into the championship rounds, and Poirier finds himself at ease in the spotlight.

Most important, when Poirier has his opponent on the ropes he doesn’t hesitate to deliver the finishing touch. Poirier has graduated to a higher level of fighting as a result of his loss to Jung.

The revised version of Poirier was on display in his most recent outing as he wasted no time attacking Jonathan Brookins during their Dec. 15 fight. An aggressive Poirier would use a D’Arce choke -- the same submission hold he fell victim to against Jung -- to finish Brookins at 4:15 of the first round.

“Any fight I go into now I am taking those lessons [from the Jung loss] with me,” said Poirier, who will carry a 13-2 professional record into the Octagon against Swanson.

Being a more seasoned fighter, however, isn’t necessarily enough to secure a victory over Swanson, who looks to extend his win streak to four. The 29-year-old Swanson is expected to be physically at his best on fight night, after finishing each of his three recent opponents in the first or second round.

But Poirier is confident he too will be in tiptop shape. Though he was in the cage just two months ago, Poirier did not sustain any physical damage, nor did he extend himself against Brookins. Besides, he knows exactly what he has gotten himself into -- Swanson is a tough opponent. Poirier is prepared to walk away victorious under these less-than-ideal circumstances.

“I have no injuries,” Poirier said. “I was training at the time; I’m in good shape. There was no reason for me not to take the fight.

“I was still in decent shape from the fight with Brookins. I jumped right in to full-steam training, just like I would do at the end of a normal camp. So, I’m finishing off this camp like I would do any other camp -- hard. It’s a dangerous fight to take on three months’ notice, when I’d have had a full camp, but that’s just the type of fighter I am.”

No question about it, Poirier is taking a big risk fighting Swanson on short notice, but the rewards are potentially too great should he prevail.

Poirier envisions returning at or near the top of the featherweight rankings with a victory Saturday night. And who can question his optimism?

“[Jung] can come back and fight Ricardo Lamas or maybe even Chad Mendes or somebody like that. Like I said, it’s a top-heavy division.

“[Jung] has been off for a while. You don’t come back for like a year, year and a half [and be No. 1 in the division].

Poirier makes a good point. While other top-rated featherweights have been stepping in the cage against one another, Jung has not fought since defeating Poirier because of a shoulder surgery. It’s a tough break for Jung, especially when lightweights are dropping to featherweight for a shot at Aldo.

Out of sight, out of mind -- Poirier intends for that not to happen to him. A victory Saturday over Swanson might be enough to put him back in the featherweight contender spotlight.

It’s surely worth the risk.