The deepest Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) division takes center stage inside The Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, this Saturday afternoon (Sept. 7, 2019) when Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim 155-pound kingpin Dustin Poirier duke it out in a hotly anticipated slugfest. UFC 242 will also see a rematch between two of the division’s top knockout artists in Edson Barboza and Paul Felder in the pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event, as well as 155-pound wrestling standout Islam Makhachev against ADCC champion Davi Ramos.
UFC 242’s “Prelims” undercard are split evenly (4-4) between Fight Pass and — for the first time in a while — FX. Let’s check out the former:
170 lbs.: Belal Muhammad vs. Takashi Sato
Belal Muhammad (15-3) had mixed success in his early Octagon career, winning “Fight of the Night” in his debut loss to Alan Jouban, but suffering a knockout defeat to Vicente Luque two fights later. He’s since found his stride with five wins in six fights, the sole loss to surging contender Geoff Neal.
“Remember the Name” stands one inch taller than Takashi Sato (15-2), but will give up one inch of reach.
Sato, a former Pancrase title challenger, joined the world’s largest fight promotion having knocked out five of his previous six opponents. Though he had some early issues against Ben Saunders, he made it six of seven via second-round elbows in Florida. 10 of his pro wins have come by form of knockout, eight of them in the first round.
Muhammad is no stranger to dealing with power strikers, and the oft-reckless Sato doesn’t seem to present any unfamiliar issues. Though Sato has more one-shot KO ability, Muhammad figures to have the technical boxing edge, an advantage compounded by the latter’s significant wrestling advantage.
Muhammad’s patience and ability to dictate where the fight takes place present a more convincing argument than Sato’s explosiveness. Barring an out-of-nowhere bomb from Sato, Muhammad turns in a customary workmanlike performance, mixing strikes and takedowns to claim a comfortable decision victory.
Prediction: Muhammad via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Nordine Taleb vs. Muslim Salikhov
Nordine Taleb’s (15-6) bonus-winning knockout of Danny Roberts gave way to two consecutive stoppage losses, including a come-from-behind technical knockout courtesy of Sean Strickland. He returned to action in May, defeating late replacement Kyle Prepolec in Ottawa.
He will have two inches of height and 4.5” of reach on the “King of Kung Fu.”
An 11-fight win streak that included several spinning kick finishes ensured that Muslim Salikhov (14-2) entered his UFC debut as a favorite, but the momentum wasn’t enough to save him from Alex Garcia’s submissions. He had a bit more success in his second bout, overcoming a massive height difference to knock out Ricky Rainey late in the second round.
This will be his first fight in almost 17 months because of drug test issues.
Salikhov is a beast of a kickboxer, but this doesn’t look terribly favorable for him. He was having issues with Rainey’s length early in the fight, and while Taleb isn’t as freakishly lanky as “The Sniper,” he does know how to use his considerable size to do work at range. Plus, Garcia showed that Salikhov’s grappling still isn’t quick up to snuff, an issue that Taleb ostensibly has the tools to exploit.
Taleb generally makes his living as a hulking kickboxer, but he can turn into a decent grinder when he wants to. Against an aging, rusty Salikhov, that seems to be just the ticket. Patient range striking and regular takedowns carry him to an aesthetically displeasing decision win.
Prediction: Taleb via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Omari Akhmedov vs. Zak Cummings
Omari Akhmedov (18-4-1) went 4-3 as a UFC Welterweight, handing Abdul Razak Alhassan his sole professional loss along the way, before returning to 185 in 2017 with a draw against Marvin Vettori. He missed all of 2018 because of injury, then took a decision over Tim Boetsch in March to extend his current streak to 3-0-1.
He’ll give up two inches of reach to Zak Cummings (23-6).
Cummings won six of nine during his own Welterweight tenure, which ended after a split decision loss to Michel Prazeres in May of 2018. He started his Middleweight run strong with a decision over Trevor Smith, which he followed up by dropping and tapping Trevin Giles six months later.
He has submitted 12 opponents as a professional, including three of his last five opponents.
Moving to Middleweight has not changed the book on Akhmedov — he’s got about 1.8 rounds of haymakers and takedowns in him, after which it’s a race to see whether his opponent can knock him out before losing a judges’ decision. The tough-as-nails Cummings looks poised to win that race. In addition to hitting hard enough to exploit Akhmedov’s shaky chin, Cummings is a sufficiently skilled wrestler to drain Akhmedov in grappling exchanges.
If Akhmedov wins this fight, it’s by 29-28 cards after barely escaping the third. Cummings is too good a finisher to let him do that; therefore, Akhmedov overpowers him in the early going before losing steam and falling victim to a big left hand.
Prediction: Cummings via third-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Don Madge vs. Fares Ziam
Don Madge (8-3-1) — a two-time EFC Lightweight champion — entered UFC in Oct. 2018 having never gone the distance. The trend continued in his debut, which saw him knock out Contender Series product Te Edwards with a second-round head kick and earn “Performance of the Night” in the process.
He has knocked out five professional opponents and submitted another three.
France’s Fares Ziam (10-2) rebounded from a 1-2 skid to win each of his last five, four of them by stoppage. The run includes a knockout of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran Abner Lloveras and, most recently, a guillotine finish of Taekwondo specialist Yassine Belhadj in February.
“Smile Killer” steps in for Magomed Mustafaev on just over two weeks’ notice.
This is a fun little mirror match; both men are >=6’ and fairly adept in both the striking and the wrestling. They even have similar flaws, as both have a habit of backing straight up when pressured. That said, while Ziam’s takedowns are a complicating factor, Madge appears to have the edge.
Ziam is just too hittable against a power-puncher of this caliber, and though he’s ostensibly the likelier of the two to end up in top position, Madge should be able to get to his feet or threaten with submissions as needed to force more striking exchanges. It won’t take too many exchanges for Madge to back him to the fence and tear him up on the inside.
Prediction: Madge via first-round technical knockout
Four more UFC 242 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict tomorrow, among them two undefeated newcomers and the return of one of Khabib’s suspended teammates. Same time as always, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 242 fight card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FX at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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