The world’s best active lightweight is holding court outside of a sports bar in south Louisiana. It’s a muggy afternoon in early May, nine weeks out from the most important fight of his life, and with the smell of boiled crawfish thick in the air, Dustin Poirier is in his element. These are his people. In moments, Taylr Murphy, the mother of three standing behind the UFC fighter, will bury her head into her husband’s chest, crying. Tears have been a constant in the Murphy household over the last few years, but today’s are different. Today’s are because Lafayette’s champion is about to surprise Taylr’s son, 21-year-old Peyton, with a gift the family once couldn’t have begun to fathom.
“He’s in my corner and I’m in his — and we both know that,” Dustin tells the crowd.
Everywhere around the UFC fighter are bright red t-shirts emblazoned with the same mantra: No Fight Too Big Or Small Should Be Fought Alone.
“I’m very inspired by him,” Dustin says.
Peyton was 17 years old when he was diagnosed in 2017 with osteosarcoma, a rare but devastating form of bone cancer. The four years since have been an emotional tsunami for the whole family. On five separate occasions, Peyton pushed into remission only to be dragged back into the jaws of the disease. He’s completed over 100 sessions of chemotherapy. Doctors early on sawed off 15 inches of his femur and replaced the bone with a titanium rod, rendering him disabled for the rest of his life. When the cancer eventually reappeared like two corrosive golf balls in his lungs, doctors cut Peyton open from his chest all the way around his side and through to his back, their slow and agonizing game of whack-a-mole never seeming to lead anywhere further than one step forward for every two steps back. “Hell on earth,” says his father, Treg. “Buddy, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
Dustin first learned of the Murphys through a friend and former sparring partner. South Louisiana is a tight-knit community, and stories like these tend to find the fighter nowadays. The family was on its last legs. “Our finances over the past four years, bud — put it to you like this, we don’t have a savings account anymore,” says Treg. “The treatment at St. Jude’s was free, but people don’t talk about everything else that goes into this, everything involved with getting a patient in [for treatment], missing work. We’ve got two other kids, too, and their lives, they still need to be kids.
“So man, the timing of all of this — it was amazing.”
When Dustin and his wife Jolie first reached out, the Murphys couldn’t believe their ears. The UFC star is a legend of the area. The hardscrabble local kid who went to juvie by his freshman year only to find salvation in the martial arts — why would he ever take an interest in them? Especially with one of the biggest fights in history staring him straight in the eyes, a trilogy match with Conor McGregor at UFC 264 that could come to define the legacies of both men. Yet there he was, their neighborhood folk hero ready to drop everything and help. “He made himself accessible to us like he was one of our close relatives,” Treg marvels.
“They were like, ‘Absolutely. We felt like the good Lord put this put us on earth for this.’”
In the end, the crawfish boil fundraiser the Poiriers helped throw at 501 Sports Bar in nearby Youngsville raised nearly $30,000 for the Murphy family. And best of all? The look on Peyton’s face. He was dumbstruck. “He didn’t think Dustin had that kind of time,” Treg says. “When you when you’re about to prepare for a fight with Conor McGregor, like on the biggest platform in the fight game…”
The proud dad trails off, then stops to collect himself. It’s months later and still none of this feels real.
“They are just — they’re angels. They’re heaven-sent, man. Angels on earth.”
By now, the extracurricular activities of the Poiriers have nearly become synonymous with Dustin’s fights. You rarely hear about one without hearing about the other, which is impressive considering the fickle nature of the MMA news cycle. When the spark that ignited their nonprofit, The Good Fight Foundation, first flickered in 2017, they saw their idea mostly just as a small way to inject a little positivity into a sport that too often reveled in the negative. Dustin’s closet was bursting with bloody UFC uniforms from his fights, so Jolie suggested an eBay auction to donate the returns to a worthy cause.
Four years later, The Good Fight Foundation has become Jolie’s full-time job, a thousand-emails-a-month endeavor that’s mushroomed into something farther reaching than either of them ever expected. “I mean, it’s incredible,” says Jolie. “It really is. Sometimes I’m just like, oh my God, how much are we donating? Like, this is crazy.”
The couple started small. Their first donation of Dustin’s UFC 211 fight kit in 2017 netted $5,100 for Second Harvest Food Bank, providing nearly 3,000 meals for families in need. Their second donation, for UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Pettis, netted $7,500 for the family of Michael Middlebrook, a nine-year veteran of the Lafayette Police Department who was shot and killed in the line of duty. From there, the movement took on a life of its own: $4,000 to the local Acadiana Outreach Center to support women and children struggling with homelessness; $7,950 to sponsor the Poiriers’ alma mater, Acadian Middle School, with 500 backpacks filled with school supplies; a whopping $50,000 to honor the dying wish of 7-year-old Aaron Hill and fund a playground for special needs children at Prairie Elementary School in Lafayette.
“That was the first big one,” says Jolie. “That’s when Dustin was like, ‘Well, if it doesn’t [work out], then we’re going to pay the difference.’ Like, we’re going to make it happen regardless.”
That was only a few years ago. Today, the size and scope of their efforts are somewhat staggering. Earlier this year, for Dustin’s rematch with McGregor at UFC 257, The Good Fight Foundation raised $107,000 to donate to the local Boys and Girls Club of Acadiana. “It was a game changer,” says the organization’s CEO, Missy Bienvenu. “And I just did not anticipate how front and center they were going to make this. Like when people were calling me and saying, ‘Hey, I just watched a press conference from Abu Dhabi and Dustin Poirier is talking about Boys and Girls Clubs of Acadiana,’ we’re like, oh…wow. This is crazy.’
“Not only the monetary support they rallied, but it goes a long way when someone like Dustin stands on stage and says, ‘I support our local Boys and Girls Club — and this is why.’ It’s huge.”
The strange saga of UFC 257 even led to a second major donation, the largest Bienvenu’s organization has ever received: A $500,000 bounty from McGregor which was interpreted by many to be a slight — the Irishman had previously vowed to donate directly to the Good Fight Foundation — but one that in reality accomplished the very goals Dustin and Jolie set out to achieve. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Acadiana have since been able to have their most successful year in the organization’s history, Bienvenu says, a super-sized push to help the struggling youth of Louisiana find a semblance of respite after a pandemic-induced year of fear and uncertainty that rocked the community.
“They allowed us to run our summer program at six locations this summer, literally completely cost-free for every single family,” Bienvenu says. “That’s really powerful. And it’s not just about the money, I think it’s also about what that represents.
“Because look, someone at that level who has worked so hard and has been so successful, they have every reason to talk about themselves and that success. But there’s just so much to be said for someone like him, for that…