Benoit Saint Denis has had a top opponent in his sights for a while and while he ended up with Dustin Poirier, it took plenty of work to get there.
A five-round lightweight matchup between Saint Denis and former interim UFC champion Poirier has been announced for UFC 299 on March 9 in Miami, but the bout only became official this month. In January, UFC CEO Dana White informally announced the matchup, which led to some confusion when Poirier recently tweeted that the fight was off. Within hours of Poirier’s tweet, the bout was publicly confirmed by the UFC, and Poirier chalked up the situation to “miscommunication.”
During an appearance on The MMA Hour, Saint Denis confirmed that his side couldn’t be completely sure that the fight was guaranteed to happen.
“I thought I was going to have a tough fight against a top 10,” Saint Denis said. “I really believed in this Beneil Dariush matchup potentially, but I knew my manager was working a lot on a lot of stuff. When something is not sure or is not done, he’s never telling me, because I don’t want to be preparing for Hooker, and then for Turner, and then for Dariush, and for Tsarukyan, and then for Poirier, and then for Justin. Then you go back from Justin to Hooker or whatever, so he always tells me when it’s almost sure, like 90 percent sure.”
Even with Saint Denis confident that the fight would happen, the ball was still in Poirier’s court, and “The Diamond” had the media working to figure out why a bout that White had announced was suddenly in jeopardy. MMA Fighting’s Guilherme Cruz reported that Saint Denis’ coach Daniel Woirin was in the dark about the Poirier fight, which drew the ire of White on social media.
But Saint Denis cleared up his coach’s comments, explaining his team member was one of the last people to know.
“I did know the fight was going to happen the night before,” Saint Denis said. “We agreed, everything was agreed. But like my manager said, when it’s not announced, you are not 100 percent sure. We had the green light from Hunter Campbell, but my coach is a very energetic guy, so he’s always the last guy we are telling the fight is on, because he’s going to get crazy all night long watching his fights. So if it was not going to be the guy we are fighting, he was not going to be happy about the announcement.
“The day after I [was surprised] that it was announced this fast, because it was only 24 hours after we agreed to make the fight, because it’s this far away. I didn’t know when it was going to be announced, but of course, I was surprised it was announced this fast.”
Saint Denis still isn’t sure exactly what needed to be cleared up on Poirier’s side, though he suspects that Poirier’s seniority with the UFC had something to do with the situation being resolved so quickly.
“Not on all sides,” Saint Denis said when asked how far along the fight was to being agreed upon prior to Poirier’s tweet. “On our side everything was clear. We had a message from the main matchmaker of the UFC, we agreed for the fight, everything was OK on our side.
“I’m not a big star like Poirier, so I’m still pretty fresh in the game, so I don’t have the politics in my pocket, and it’s not a game I’m used to playing or I have ever played. I’m just going to try to do what I’m good at, taking people’s heads off and climbing the rankings and getting ready for this fight. I imagine when you have been this long in the UFC, there’s a lot more talk with the show, a lot more stuff. But yeah, really happy to have this guy in front of me the ninth of March.”
Saint Denis’ manager assured him Poirier’s tweet meant “nothing” and to stay focused on training.
Despite Saint Denis making his pro debut barely five years ago, the French lightweight has quickly risen up the ranks with his aggressive style and thrilling finishes. He is 5-0 in the UFC while competing at 155 pounds, and no one in his weight class has made it past the second round with him.
One other point of negotiation that Poirier pointed out was that he considered fighting Saint Denis at UFC 300, but he and the matchmakers eventually agreed that a five-round co-main event spot at UFC 299 would work better. Saint Denis welcomes the change, what is likely to be a Poirier-friendly crowd in Miami, and the opportunity to go 25 minutes with one of the best in his division.
“To be honest, it’s even more exciting,” Saint Denis said. “It’s like fighting Matt Frevola in New York, when you fight the New York guy in New York, there is some excitement from the crowd, and I believe there will be some excitement from the crowd against Poirier. He may be the underdog for the matchmakers, but he’s not the underdog from the crowd, and I think that I will feel the excitement at UFC299 because Miami is like his home. It’s where he’s training. He has a great team, big team.
“UFC 300 would have been crazy as well, but fighting the guy that trains out of American Top Team – he’s like a figure of ATT, which is one of the biggest professional gyms in the U.S., fighting him in the co-main event, hometown for him, it’s crazy. I expect it to be a tough fight, and I’m expecting him to be very excited about all this. Yes, five rounds is good for him, he believes he has the experience. Of course, he has the experience, and of course, he is used to five rounds, but I will show you that with the training methodology we have, you are not going to see me having any cardio issue or energy management in my fight. It’s going to be a tough fight for both of us, but I hope he is not expecting me to be easy.”