POIRIER ON ORTEGA:  “I SEE A FINISH COMING”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (July 6, 2023)

If a mixed martial artist’s chops are measured by their willingness to shift gears in the middle of a training camp and take on an entirely different challenge, Joe Poirier is a New England Fights newcomer to watch.

For the third time in as many bouts since turning professional earlier this year, the 26-year-old out of Massachusetts had his initial opponent withdraw from “NEF 53: American Valor.”

Rather than sulk or play the waiting game, Poirier (2-0) elected to make a deal for what was behind curtain number two. He will take on Orlando Ortega (2-2) in a flyweight clash on Saturday, July 8 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine.

“I can’t wait. I was a little bummed out when I heard my last opponent pulled out, so I’m glad we managed to salvage a fight,” Poirier said. “I know he’s a step up in competition from the guy I was fighting before this, so that’s good. I’m looking for challenges. I’m looking to test myself. I feel like it’s time to take that step up in competition, so obviously it’s a blessing in disguise.”

Having already dispatched Rob Fuller via Von Flue choke and John Medina by technical knockout under similar circumstances, in a combined time of two minutes and 16 seconds, Poirier isn’t one to panic about the perils what-ifs of standing across the cage from a new face on short notice.

“I train the same for everybody,” Poirier said. “I’m looking to beat them in every facet of the game, so it really doesn’t matter to me. I train 100 percent all the time. I’m fighting as if it was a world title.”

There’s no belt around Poirier’s waist yet, but he already holds a title if you count the moniker cage-side observers already have given him.

Somewhat of a freak at 5-foot-10 in his 125-pound weight class, Poirier has been dubbed “The World’s Biggest Flyweight.”

“I don’t know if it’s a nickname. It’s been going around, though,” Poirier said. “I’ve heard of it. I like to run with it. I put it on the last fight shirts. I’ve heard quite a few people call me that. Taller, bigger proportions, I don’t know. I’m a pretty big frame for a flyweight.”

Life as a relative skyscraper is a double-edged sword in a division where ground-and-pound probably is more the default setting than the urge to stand and deliver.

“It has its advantages and disadvantages,” Poirier said. “Being the taller striker, people like to shoot, go for the takedown, and it’s a lot easier to get underneath somebody who’s got a lot of reach, a lot of height on you. Also, it helps me with my grappling and leverage points, and it definitely helps with my striking. It has its pros and cons.”

Lo and behold, NEF matchmaker and co-owner Matt Peterson may have unearthed the one opponent who won’t find himself flummoxed by Poirier’s length. Ortega is only an inch shorter at 5-9 and matches Poirier with a 70-inch wingspan.

Poirier is back in the cage after little more than a month away. He stopped Medina on May 27.

“That was a quick one,” Poirier said. “I’m just trying to get a few quick ones out of the way, get some fights under the pro record. It went good, a first-round finish. I think it was a minute and 19 seconds TKO.”

After the COVID-19 pause that put New England combatants on the shelf for most of 2020 and much of 2021, Poirier took five amateur fights in a 13-month span.

He bounced back from losses to Nate Russell and Tyler Smythe with choke-outs of Anthony Rivera and Jordan Scrom. It showed him the benefits of staying sharp and set the course for a similar strategy in the pro ranks.

“I’d like to get five fights this year, so pretty active,” Poirier said. “I’m on route to do that now with my third one in July, and then we’ll see what happens after this. As long as I’m healthy and keep the weight in check, keep the cardio in check, I’d like to keep firing them off right now.”

Poirier’s path to MMA is a familiar story. He dabbled with combat sports as a child before seeking ways to recapture that adrenaline rush and love of competition as an adult.

“I did karate from a really young age. My parents put me in that,” Poirier said. “Then a little bit of wrestling in middle school and a little bit in high school. And then after I graduated, I just kind of met through mutual friends a few people that were in the fight game. It kind of took off from there.”

As evidence of his commitment level, look no further than an early tip to the belly of the beast.

“I went and lived in a Muay Thai camp in Thailand right outside of Bangkok for like 40 days,” Poirier recalled. “I took my first fight out there, a Thai fight, not MMA. I’d only been training for like six months or so at that point. I won that fight and just kind of fell in love with it since then.”

That journey helped Poirier set an invisible bar that he still chases today.

“To see the way those guys work, it’s not a hobby for them,” Poirier said. “It’s something they’re passionate about. It’s how they provide for their families, so they’re working hard out there. To just be around that and absorb some of that was great.”

Poirier also has surrounded himself with the best available training partners available on the home front, including none other than Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) legend Joe Lauzon.

“I train at a few other places. I get in a lot of grappling at Brazilian Top Team which is right next door,” Poirier said. “I go up to New England Cartel to get in some sparring rounds with them with Rob Font, Nick Fiore. Those guys up there are all killers. I get in a lot of work at Lauzon’s. Andrew Valdina is one of my training partners. He’s a 4-0 pro, on the come-up right now. Just a lot of good guys around.”

His home stable is Lauzon Mixed Martial Arts in Raynham.

“You can trust whatever he says, because he’s been through it all, every situation,” Poirier said of Lauzon. “He knows what works, what doesn’t work. When he teaches you something, you know you’re getting the right information.”

Turning pro has been a smooth transition thus far for one of Lauzon’s star pupils.

“It’s just about adding those few tools, both defensively and offensively that come with the switch from amateur to pro,” Poirier said. “Making little adjustments for knees to the head, elbows, things like that, but not too different.”

In Ortega, Poirier will challenge himself against someone who has now fought under the umbrella of five different promotions as a pro.

“Every fight you want to take a little jump up. That’s what I’m doing here, fighting Orlando at 2-2,” Poirier said. “He’s been in Bellator, one of the highest levels of the sport. Just constantly moving up in the levels of competition and testing myself.”

Ortega is on a two-fight winning streak in his own right thanks to 2022 triumphs over Eddie Alvarez (strikes) and Sergio Plascencia (split decision).

His Bellator loss was to Cody Law, who is now 7-2 for the big-league promotion while representing American Top Team.

“For sure I think a win over Orlando would be a solid win on the record. I’m looking forward to that,” Poirier said. “I think a lot of guys are already ducking me on the local scene. It’s gonna open a lot of people’s eyes when I do what I’m gonna do July 8. I’m just looking at July 8 right now. I haven’t given anybody else any thoughts.”

With two stoppages already under his belt in recent months, Poirier sees no alternative in this scrap.

“I’m willing to go anywhere the fight takes itself. I do think I get a finish,” Poirier said. “When? Who knows? He looks like a tough guy. But yeah, I see a finish coming.”

Poirier looks forward to the unique Merrill venue and the passionate Pine Tree State spectators whose reputation precedes them.

“I’ve heard it’s great,” Poirier said. “I’ve heard they’ve got a good atmosphere there, take care of their fighters, so I’m looking forward to going up there and performing for the Maine fans, getting to make my NEF debut.”

There will be no home cage advantage for either man. Ortega is based in New York and has trained at Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

If the throng somehow turns against him, Poirier has no problem with it.

“It’s definitely a different type of satisfaction when you go and make some new fans and try to silence the crowd,” he said. “I did that when I went out and fought a hometown guy (Scrom) in New York for an amateur bout. I’m all about being able to adapt and kind of roll with the punches. Going out of your comfort zone, going into these out-of-town places and having to deal with all that comes with that, it helps you grow as a fighter, so I definitely like it.”

“NEF 53: American Valor” is scheduled for Saturday, July 8 with an opening bell time of 7 p.m. as the blood, sweat and adrenaline of mixed martial arts take center stage where classical music, opera, contemporary dance and Broadway theater have long reigned supreme. Tickets are available at www.porttix.com.  The event will also be available via live stream on a pay-per-view basis at www.CombatSportsNow.com.

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