The reverence that some boxing fans have for the late Arturo Gatti — including UFC president Dana White — stops them from ever drawing a comparison to any other fighter.
Yet, in UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier, White has an entertaining slugger who’s claimed three consecutive fight-of-the-night bonuses and makes his 21st UFC bout a main event Saturday atop the Fox-televised Fight Night card in Calgary, Canada.
Poirier (23-5), rated No. 4 in his division, confronts a rematch with former champion Eddie Alvarez following their battle last year in which Poirier rocked Alvarez with punches before allowing a second-round head kick and knees to the head that dropped Poirier to a knee by the cage.
There, Alvarez delivered a left knee to Poirier’s head, drawing an accidental foul from referee Herb Dean that resulted in the fight being called a no-contest.
“I’m going to be defending my own title: the most violent man in the UFC, a title I’m not giving up,” Alvarez (29-5) said on a UFC preview show in which he accused Poirier of quitting.
Yet, Poirier already has a claim on that mythical belt as he comes off stoppages of hyped prospect Justin Gaethje and former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
“I’m a finisher. I’m not going out there to try and jab guys or dance around to get a decision,” Louisiana’s Poirier said. “I’m trying to knock you out or submit you. And to do that, you have to put yourself at risk at times. That’s where those moments are found, in uncomfortable ranges and exchanges.
“To finish somebody, you have to put yourself out there — you have to be on offense a lot. You can’t have a perfect offense and defense at the same time. So, you’re going to put yourself in dangerous positions. That’s how it goes for me.”
White apparently needs to see more.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a Gatti,” White said in a text message to The Times this week.
Poirier is 7-1 since a 2014 knockout loss to former two-division champion Conor McGregor, and he points to his maturity as the best explanation for his progression in the bloody game.
“I’ve made adjustments in my everyday life and in my training. I’ve learned to pull back now, to give my body a rest and be smart about the whole thing,” he said. “Becoming a father two years ago has taught me patience … about taking the least amount of damage, preserving my body, training smarter, not harder.”
That contrasts with his fighting style, a willingness to stand toe to toe and rely on his loaded left hand.
“It looks that way from the outside, but it’s very tactical in there,” Poirier said. “I just know I’m one of the best fighters in the world. My fight IQ is extremely high. I grew up fighting the best guys and I’ve learned from my mistakes and my victories. I grew with the process.”
Poirier said he believes by defeating Alvarez he can leapfrog injured former interim champion Tony Ferguson and the suspended McGregor to become the next challenger to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I know I match up well with Eddie. We saw what happened in the first fight when we were boxing, kickboxing, moving around, and now I’m healthy and stronger,” Poirier said. “I’m hitting my stride and I’m excited about putting this guy away.”
After Saturday’s fight, on his social media sites and at goodfightgroup.com, Poirier will auction off his fight-worn gear for a charity that he says will support schoolchildren with 500 backpacks and classroom supplies.
It’s not sacrilege to him to claim the merchandise has come from a fighter who embraces Gatti’s style.