ATLANTA -- It took Dustin Poirier more than eight years to do it, but he finally knows what it feels like to have a UFC belt around his waist.
Poirier (21-3) won the interim lightweight championship on Saturday, as he defeated featherweight king Max Holloway (20-4) via unanimous decision at UFC 236 at State Farm Arena. All three judges scored the bout 49-46 for Poirier.
It took Poirier a long time to realize this moment. The 30-year-old has been fighting in the UFC since 2011, compiling a record of 17-4. Despite that sterling résumé, Saturday marked his first UFC title fight.
"Man, this feels like I'm in a dream right now," Poirier said. "I feel like I beat the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. To be best, you gotta beat the best. I earned this. This is my belt. Blood. Paid in full."
Holloway, who remains the 145-pound featherweight champion despite the loss, did not offer any excuses. It was his first fight at 155 pounds in the UFC.
"I'm not gonna take nothing away from Dustin," Holloway said. "He beat a world champion. This ain't an interim belt. He beat a world champion. He is a world champion. Nothing was different [at lightweight]. I felt good. I felt long. I thought it was my night. You win or you learn, and I learned a lot."
Poirier, who fights out of American Top Team, is expected to move on to an undisputed title fight against defending champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (27-0).
"In the words of [heavyweight champion] Daniel Cormier, get your s--- together, young man," Poirier said. "We've got a belt to fight for."
The bout was very competitive, despite the somewhat lopsided scorecards in Poirier's favor. Poirier got Holloway's attention early with power punches. He rocked him with looping right hands early on, which halted Holloway's trademark pressure.
Holloway appeared to find his rhythm early in the second round and again in the third. However, it was difficult for him to maintain it. Every time he began overwhelming Poirier with volume on the feet, Poirier would respond with a hard punch upstairs to back him off. Poirier badly bloodied Holloway's mouth and nose in the fourth.
Holloway, of Waianae, Hawaii, continued to walk forward in the fifth, but it was more of the same. Poirier would weather a four- or five-punch combination and respond with heavier offense. He also threatened to take him down multiple times.