JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Islam Makhachev understood the reasons why Dustin Poirier would consider retirement after their lightweight title clash in the main event of UFC 302.

The 35-year-old Poirier has cited family, blossoming business interests, and just a general weariness of the grind that it takes to reach a championship bout as motives as to why he may call it quits, win or lose to Makhachev.

Makhachev just believed Poirier had more fight left in the tank.

“I hope he does not retire after this fight,” Makhachev said. “He’s one of the biggest names in the sport. That’s why I respect him. He’s had a lot of crazy, crazy fights in this sport.”

Unlike scores of trash-talkers in the fight game, Makhachev admires Poirier too much for the Russian to suggest he’ll be the one to retire the Louisiana native and send him fulltime into his hot sauce business.

Much like most any other fighter, Makhachev (25-1) certainly isn’t that humble to suggest Poirier will give him much of a fight.

“Just happy to beat someone who has (a) big name like Dustin,” Makhachev said. “For the legacy, it’s going to be maybe the biggest name on the list.”

The 32-year-old Makhachev is set for his third title defense since winning the 155-pound belt in 2022. Makhachev scored consecutive wins over Alexander Volkanovski last year, part of a 13-fight win streak he takes into the Prudential Center. Makhachev won the Volkanovski fights without friend, mentor and training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner. Nurmagomedov, who was 29-0 and the reigning lightweight champion when he retired after his final fight in 2019, stepped aside to spend time with his family.

Nurmagomedov decided the time was right to return and corner Makhachev, to his protégé’s delight.

“This means a lot,” Makhachev said. “He gives me good advice in a lot of fights. Against Gleison Tibau, he told me I should try and land a left hook. I did and I finished him. Against (Dan) Hooker, he gave me very good advice and I finished him by armbar.

“The good news, everybody was happy when Khabib said he would be in the corner. Everybody understands.”

The MMA world understands why Makhachev is widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Poirier — with wins over four former UFC champions — said he’s on the fence about retirement as he prepared for his third shot at the lightweight crown. He was choked out by Charles Oliveira in a 2021 title fight. Nurmagomedov also made Poirier (30-8; 1 NC) submit in their 2019 title bout.

Perhaps Nurmagomedov passed along some winning pointers?

“If I want to make this fight easy, I know the way,” Makhachev said.

He has every reason to feel confident. Makhachev boasts the longest active UFC win streak and tied for third longest in the promotion’s history. He’s connected with 61.3% of his significant strike attempts as a UFC lightweight, the highest accuracy in 155-pound history. Oh, he’s also absorbed just 1.24 significant strikes per minute against UFC lightweight competition, tied for best in the division’s history.

“I’m a different level,” he said. “I’m the best fighter in the world right now.”

BLUNT RESPONSE

Kevin Holland took his middleweight fight against Michal Oleksiejczuk on short notice, just shy of three months after he lost to Michael Page at UFC 299.

Holland said he could have fought the returning Nick Diaz in August at UFC’s card in Abu Dhabi (Diaz instead will fight Vicente Luque). Holland said he didn’t want to wait the extra two months to fight, he was ready now after losing four of his last six fights. An outspoken marijuana fan, Holland suggested Abu Dhabi’s cannabis ban also played a role in him passing on the proposed fight.

“I think it’s a beautiful place and if they allow us some greenery for the week, we’ll be there,” Holland said. “No greenery, it’s just hard for me to do. You already have to do it for fight week. You get here, you don’t smoke. It’s just the thought that like, right after I knock this guy out, I can’t go smoke no weed? I don’t know how these people do it.”

WIDE LEFT

Brazilian fighter Paulo Costa should stick to his day job after throwing a first pitch at a New York Mets game this week that sailed leftwide, wide left.

Costa rivaled rapper 50 Cent with one of the worst first pitches in recent history at Citi Field. The right-handed Costa, who wore tight dress slacks and a button-down shirt on the mound, chucked the pitch well to the left of the left-handed batter’s box.

“It was amazing, great. I just missed the guy,” Costa said, laughing. “I put too much power, I think. I tried to put the speed on the ball. I was not accurate. It was funny.”

Costa can only hope he has better luck in his middleweight fight against Sean Strickland — the former UFC middleweight champion and winner of three of his last four fights — than the Mets in a loss in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader after his throw against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Next time, I will try (and) hit the guy and bring better luck for the Mets,” he said.

Costa has lost three of his last four fights.

RECORD SETTER

UFC continues to feel at home in New Jersey.

Last May, UFC 288 attracted a sold-out crowd of more than 17,500 fans and recorded a gate of $5.2 million, making it the highest-grossing sporting event in Prudential Center history.

GLOVE LOVE

The card marks the official debut of new fight gloves, designed in large part to stunt eye pokes that often render fighters unable to continue, the first major change of the protective equipment in more than a decade.

UFC said the gloves should provide fighters with enhanced protection, improved fit, greater comfort and maximum flexibility.

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