Dustin Poirier believes Eddie Alvarez is his final hurdle before a title shot

Dustin Poirier, left, was busting up Eddie Alvarez in last year's first meeting before Alvarez landed an illegal blow that resulted in the bout being ruled a no contest. Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

It's been more than three years since Dustin Poirier elected to move up in weight to the UFC's loaded 155-pound division.

Since that move in April 2015, Poirier's record is 7-1, with five finishes. When he takes on former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez at a UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Calgary, Alberta, it will be his fourth consecutive fight against an opponent who has held a title in a major MMA promotion.

Poirier (23-5) has been using a social media hashtag recently: "Paid in Full." He says it refers to his work in the gym, but it also speaks to the path he's taken to a UFC title shot. There have certainly been no shortcuts.

"If someone would have asked me three years ago if I would have fought for a belt by now, winning seven of eight, I definitely would have said yes," Poirier told ESPN. "This division is crazy. After this weekend, when I do get my title shot, nobody can say I didn't earn it."

And how confident is Poirier that this five-round main event against Alvarez will be his final stop before a title fight?

"I'm positive I will get a title shot after this. I am 100 percent positive," Poirier said. "This will be my fourth fight in a row against a world champion. Alvarez, [Anthony] Pettis, [Justin] Gaethje and Alvarez again." Pettis is a former lightweight champion in the UFC and WEC, and Gaethje was champ of that division in the WSOF.

"And I'm not just beating these guys," said Poirier, "I'm punishing these guys."

Poirier's path to the title might have been shorter had the division not essentially stalled out the last two years. Since Conor McGregor won the 155-pound title in November 2016 -- and then left the sport for a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather in 2017 -- there has been one official lightweight title fight. One.

Poirier, 29, admits he's frustrated by statistics like that in between fights, but once he has an official opponent and date, he tunes all of that out. He's been willing to keep his head down and stay active during this two-year stretch, but he says that will likely change after this weekend.

"The only way I'll fight again this year is if a gold belt is on the line," Poirier said.

If this weekend's headliner does prove to be the fight that puts Poirier over the top for a shot at champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, it's a fitting way to cement his case.

Poirier and Alvarez met at UFC 211 in May 2017 and produced one of the most action-packed rounds of the year. The fight ended in controversy, however, when Alvarez hit Poirier with an illegal knee that resulted in a no contest.

Poirier swears this rematch is "all business" but says that result, and certain events that followed, have changed his perception of Alvarez.

"I have less respect for him as a person than I did going into the first one," Poirier said. "When you saw me tell the crowd last year in Dallas to stop booing Eddie, that was real. I thought in the heat of the moment he made a mistake. But the way those Twitter fingers started running after the fight, saying things like I wanted out -- come on. Look at what I've done in the fights I've been in. Why would I want out of a fight that I was punishing you in? The stuff he said really made me lose respect."