The UFC lightweight division is moving on without former champion, Conor McGregor, though it’s widely accepted that Khabib Nurmagomedov’s title unification bout against interim titleholder Dustin Poirier, which headlines the UFC 242 pay-per-view (PPV) this Sat. night (Sept. 7, 2019) in Abu Dhabi, operates in the shadow of “Notorious.”
While Tony Ferguson is the rightful No. 1 contender and likely the next in line for a crack at the 155-pound crown, McGregor generates the kind of revenue that can prompt a promotion to barter what’s right for what’s profitable, hence the “prize fighting” label attached to most combat sports.
But let’s not put the cart before the proverbial horse, as we still have four other main card fights to break down ahead of this weekend’s action, including the lightweight rematch between Paul Felder and Edson Barboza. “The Irish Dragon” will be looking to avenge his UFC on FOX 16 loss to the Brazilian after their “Fight of the Night” back in 2015.
Let’s take a look at the PPV action below. If you want a detailed analysis of the UFC 242 preliminary card, spread across the FX Network and Fight Pass, see what our resident “Prelims” expert Patty Stumberg had to say here and here. For a complete UFC 242 betting guide and all the latest odds for “Khabib vs. Poirier” click here.
155 lbs.: Lightweight Champion Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (27-0) vs. Interim Lightweight Champion Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier (25-5, 1 NC)
When attempting to break down a particular fight, it’s customary to accentuate the positives — as well as the negatives — of each combatant. The former is becoming easier for UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov while the latter is getting much harder. The prevailing wisdom just a few years back, or so we thought, told us “The Eagle” was a 155-pound blanket who was exceptionally skilled at takedowns and submissions ... and little else. In fact, when he outstruck Al Iaquinta to capture the lightweight crown back in April of 2018, the narrative was how “Raging Al” laid an egg in the big spot. In his very next fight, Nurmagomedov stood in the pocket with one of the most dangerous strikers in all of MMA, Conor McGregor, and dropped him with a punch in the second stanza.
I’m not suggesting that he’s suddenly a Dagestani Mayweather, but I do believe it’s time we abandon this idea that Nurmagomedov is an easy out, should an opponent somehow neutralize the ground game, or if the Sambo specialist decides to roll the dice and keep it standing. That said, I'm also of the opinion that his striking game depends on the defensive mindset of his opponent. Iaquinta and McGregor were more exposed than they normally would have been, simply because they were forced to protect against the shot. A low kick against a ruthless mugger like “The Eagle” is vertical suicide, and you can ask Edson Barboza why no one wants to spend an entire round on the canvas, getting their face turned into Hamburger Helper.
Nurmagomedov is 27-0 because he’s nearly invincible. A lot of guys come into the cage with impeccable records — Ben Askren comes to mind — but it’s a hard thing to maintain. You would think that in 27 fights, especially in a sport as crazy and chaotic as MMA, that Nurmagomedov would have suffered a cut, twisted his ankle, got caught with a lucky punch, or some other mishap that has little to do with skill and everything to do with the unpredictability of cage fighting. That he’s endured for this long is a testament to his greatness and looking at this bout on paper, it’s very hard to build a case for opponent Dustin Poirier, himself a remarkable fighter who embodies everything that is good about the wild world of sports.
It’s been fun to watch “The Diamond” shine in recent years. Once a promising featherweight who crossed over from World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), Poirier eventually outgrew the 145-pound weight class where he bartered size for durability. In his eight years with the promotion, the Lafayette native has become a complete fighter, blending powerful punches with sneaky submissions while boasting the kind of cardio that makes five-round fights a nightmare for opponents like Max Holloway. You would also be hard-pressed to find a more exciting fighter, as Poirier nabbed a staggering six “Fight of the Night” bonuses, complemented by three “Performance of the Night” awards and one “Submission of the Night.” He’s not in the UFC 242 headliner because matchmakers ran out of available contenders, he’s there because he’s a fucking savage who blasted his way to the top.
This fight will be no different than any other Nurmagomedov fight. Poirier has to land early and land hard, or pray that “The Eagle” wants to prove himself on the feet, because once the fight goes to the ground, the only thing that is getting it back up is the bell, assuming the referee doesn’t intervene before then. Other fighters have connected on the champ — including McGregor — but he usually walks through incoming fire on the strength of a granite chin, which allows him to shoot for the takedown at close range, something that is nearly impossible to defend. It’s been over six years since Nurmagomedov secured a win without landing a takedown and I'm not sure what “The Diamond” can do that so many other before him have tried to do, only to fail miserably. If your best argument for a Poirier upset involves the champ’s weight cut, or the fact that he got tagged by Darrell Horcher back in 2016, then maybe it’s time to reconsider your pick.
Final prediction: Nurmagomedov def. Poirier by decision
155 lbs.: Edson Barboza (20-7) vs. Paul “The Irish Dragon” Felder (16-4)
When looking at two fighters who are going to run it back, unless it’s an immediate rematch, I try to examine how each combatant has changed since their last time out. Rarely does a fighter get worse as the years go by, but it’s not uncommon to see them stay the same. MMA is still a relatively new sport and what got you to the dance isn’t always enough to keep you there as the formative years roll by, sort of like an aging fastball pitcher who can no longer throw the heat. Edson Barboza scored a unanimous decision win over Paul Felder at UFC on FOX 16 back in 2015 and both athletes have seen a considerable amount of action since then, to mixed results.
Barboza is consistently inconsistent, racking up a 4-4 record in the wake of his win over the “Irish Dragon.” A striker by trade — and a remarkable one at that — the Brazilian is susceptible to the takedown, particularly against skilled wrestlers like Kevin Lee and Khabib Nurmagomedov. I’m not sure that’s a concern heading into tomorrow’s co-main event, considering there were zero takedowns in their first fight and both Barboza and Felder whiffed on their one and only attempts. The good news for Barboza is that he’s still knocking people out, evidenced by his core-crushing finish over Dan Hooker less than one year back. The bad news for Barboza is that he was stopped three times during that same timeframe, including his Justin Gaethje knockout back in March. I know that 33 isn’t exactly 43, but there are a lot of miles on those tires and Barboza took a frightening amount of punishment against “The Eagle” and “Motown Phenom.”
As for Felder, he was able to put together an impressive 6-3 run during that span, though every time he seemed to get something going, the “Irish Dragon” would suffer an untimely loss and end up back at square one. I’m not sure it’s fair to compare his record to Barboza’s because the Brazilian faced what can only be described as a murderer’s row of lightweights, including one current and four former champions. Nurmagomedov, Ferguson, Gaethje, Pettis ... just an absolutely brutal line up. Felder, meanwhile, escaped without facing a single opponent ranked in the Top 10. On the plus side, that may have also helped preserve his durability as he creeps toward his 35th birthday. Judging by his gutsy performance against James Vick at UFC Brooklyn back in February, I’d say Felder is still in his athletic prime. For how much longer remains to be seen.
I don’t think this fight looks much different than it did in 2015. It’s still a battle of skill vs. toughness. Felder enters this contest with a five-inch reach disadvantage and does not have the weapons that Barboza does, nor does he have the dynamic range of his flashy foe. What he does possess is an iron chin and some of the nastiest cage work in the division. The last place Barboza wants to be is up against the wall eating elbows. On paper it feels like another decision win for the Brazilian, but I can’t shake this feeling that his history of abuse will leave him vulnerable. It’s only been four months since he got creamed by “The Highlight” and I’m not sure his brain is ready for an additional three rounds of punishment.
Final prediction: Felder def Barboza by technical knockout
155 lbs.: Islam Makhachev (17-1) vs. Davi “The Tasmanian Devil” Ramos (10-2)
Islam Makhachev barely makes the 155-pound rankings at No. 15 and that feels almost like he’s being punished for a quick knockout loss to Adriano Martins at UFC 192 nearly four years back. Since that time, the Dagestani lightweight has rattled off five straight wins, with one knockout and one submission along the way. He’s a little more adept at submissions than he is at knockouts, but I think it would be unfair to call him anything less than well rounded, judging by past performances. Not surprisingly, Makhachev has 17 takedowns in his UFC career, indicative of his time spent training alongside Khabib Nurmagomedov at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), home of some of the best wrestlers in the sport. His only win that didn’t include a takedown was his Gleison Tibau bout, and that’s because he starched the Brazilian in less than a minute.
Wrestling always carries with it inherent risk, even more so against a skilled grappler like Davi Ramos. It’s not often you see a UFC fight end by way of face crank, but it’s also not often you see a submission specialist as talented as Ramos. The Brazilian was tripped up in his Octagon debut by veteran bruiser Sergio Moraes but since then has been perfect, scoring four straight wins with three submission finishes. As with many ground fighters, striking is more of a liability than an asset and I would not expect Ramos to spend much time testing the evolution of his stand-up game, even though he shares a 70-inch reach with his main card foe. Instead, his gameplan will be reactive to what will inevitably become a battle for position, whether that’s against the cage or on the floor, however, remains to be seen. I would expect both across three rounds of action.
Ramos scores most of his submissions by controlling the exchanges, something that comes much easier when dealing with an inferior grappler. He won’t have that luxury against Makhachev and may find himself focusing as much on defense as he is on offense. Neither fighter has been sandblasting the Top 10, though I would suggest Makhachev has faced and defeated tougher (or at least more experienced) competition. Considering this fight takes place in Abu Dhabi, where Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) was born, we may actually have fans of the ground game in attendance to appreciate what I expect to be three rounds of high-level action.
Final prediction: Makhachev def. Ramos by decision
265 lbs.: Shamil “Abrek” Abdurakhimov (20-4) vs. Curtis “Razor” Blaydes (11-2, 1 NC)
If Francis Ngannou was not dropping bombs in the UFC heavyweight division, top contender, Curtis Blaydes, would probably have competed for the title by now. His only two professional losses came to “The Predator” because he just can’t seem to get out of the way of those Cameroonian fists, which surprised me after watching “Razor” successfully navigate similar waters against the equally-dangerous Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem. Much of his success can be attributed to his top-shelf wrestling, as Blaydes captured a NJCAA National Championship in collegiate wrestling before ditching school to focus on his combat sports career. It’s hard to argue against that choice, as the 28 year-old bruiser is ranked No. 4 in the world and yet to hit his MMA prime.
The same can’t be said for Shamil Abdurakhimov, who turned 38 earlier this week. Like Blaydes, “Abrek” has just two losses under the UFC banner, both by way of knockout, though his level of competition can’t measure up to his fight night foe. Abdurakhimov does not hold a win over a Top 10 fighter and his one chance to accomplish that feat ended in smelling salts, courtesy of Derrick “Black Beast” Lewis. Let’s give credit where credit is due, however, as the venerable Russian has been able to finish two of his last three opponents, including No. 13-ranked Marcin Tybura at UFC St. Petersburg back in April. His victory over “Tybur” was his third straight and enough to get him some main card love on this weekend’s fight card in Abu Dhabi.
I don’t think it’s much of a secret that Blaydes is going to strike for no other reason than to set up the takedown. When you have a guy who stands 6’4” and weighs north of 260 pounds barreling at you at full speed, it’s kind of hard to defend. If Andrei Arlovski can put Abdurakhimov on his butt, I would expect the same — and more — from a more accomplished wrestler like Blaydes. That means “Abrek” has to win this fight standing and I’m just not convinced he’s got the speed (or the timing) to land the kill shot before “Razor” can slice through his takedown defense. It might not be the most scenic path to victory, but it’s certainly the one of least resistance. I think the question is not whether or not Blaydes gets the win, it’s whether or not he gets the finish.
Final prediction: Blaydes def. Abdurakhimov by technical knockout
155 lbs.: Diego Ferreira (15-2) vs. Mairbek “Beckan” Taisumov (27-5)
Diego Ferreira is the winner of four straight fights, two of them by way of knockout, and I think at this point, we can no longer hold those two losses against him. At the time, consecutive defeats to Beneil Dariush and Dustin Poirier were enough to leave the Brazilian relegated to “whatever” status, but “The Diamond” is now the interim lightweight champion and fighting Khabib Nurmagomedov in the UFC 242 main event, so it’s not like Ferreira was being peeled by Joey Bananas. In addition, he ended Rustam Khabilov’s six-fight win streak with a commanding performance at UFC Prague back in February. What makes Ferreira so successful is that he’s skilled at everything. Sure, he can be a little reckless at times, but it seems to be working, so it’s kind of hard to knock a winning formula, regardless of its combustibility.
That makes this a dangerous test for Mairbek Taisumov, who should be much farther along in his UFC career by now. Unfortunately for the Russian-born lightweight, he’s been plagued with visa issues, as well as injuries, resulting in just one fight per year dating back to UFC Berlin in June 2015. The 31 year-old striker is currently in his athletic prime, so if he’s going to make a run at the 155-pound strap, it’s now or never — something totally feasible after obtaining Moroccan citizenship. “Beckan” has already torn up the International circuit and now stands at 7-1 under the UFC umbrella with five knockout finishes, though he’s equally adept at winning by submission, something he’s done nine times across his combat sports career. There are very few (if any) weaknesses in Taisumov's game and like Ferreira, he’s a threat wherever the fight goes.
This contest could very well be decided by the takedowns. It would not surprise me to see both fighters keep it standing in the opening frame, but if Taisumov is unable to end it early, I would expect him to work for the ground. That could spell trouble for the Brazilian, who was taken down three times by Khabilov, the same number he gave up in his loss to Dariush. Working in his favor is a one-inch reach advantage, but he’s more of a brawler than a technician, so I don’t see him spending a lot of time pumping the jab or striking at range. Instead, expect a violent, pressure-heavy attack that will look to disrupt the space and timing of Taisumov, who will need to make on-the-fly adjustments to keep the fight in his favor. Regardless of whether or not he’s successful, this has the makings to be one hell of a scrap.
Final prediction: Taisumov def. Ferreira by decision
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 242 fight card on Saturday (click here), 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 Network at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
For much more on UFC 242 check out our complete event archive by clicking here.