UFC 242 met my expectations while still surprising me. While featuring one of the best main events of the year, the rest of the night was fairly pedestrian for such a high-profile event. Luckily, the main event bout did its job in delivering some fascinating fighting, making the whole show worthwhile.
Prior to the bout, my feelings on the fight shifted. Initially, I expected Khabib Nurmagomedov to win in the usual fashion — it worked 26 times previous, which is certainly compelling. The closer fight day came, however, I increasingly reconsidered the match up and really felt that the evidence added up to a legendary upset.
A big part of that change of heart came as a result of watching Poirier and his team prepare. American Top Team (ATT) is the most successful team going right now — they understand match ups and strategies as well as anyone. Poirier was constantly working on his conditioning, preparing for the war of attrition that represented his best path to victory.
My faith in Poirier and ATT was not misplaced. Poirier had many of the right ideas in mind. Heavy, hooking punches and targeting the legs/body of “The Eagle” are smart work, as is the concept of forcing him to scramble constantly. For the most part, Poirier’s big goal was to make Nurmagomedov work hard, and based on his big moment of success in the second, that’s still likely the best chance anyone has at victory.
My mistake was underestimating the mental effects of Nurmagomedov’s pressure and wrestling. No one has been able to employ a game plan for long against Nurmagomedov, as his utter dominance in so many ranges of the fight game quickly sap the will of his opponent. Given Poirier’s history of toughness and comfort in back-and-forth battles, I expected something different.
Beneath the sweltering heat in Abu Dhabi, Poirier melted. I can hardly imagine a more miserable situation than to be trapped beneath an extra sweaty Khabib Nurmagomedov in 100° weather. Meanwhile, Nurmagomedov did everything possible to make the situation even more miserable, constantly smothering the face and threatening neck cranks.
Poirier’s strategy was the correct one, but his execution left a lot to be desired. Poirier didn’t throw enough in the first round, then loaded up way too obviously in the second and burned out much of his gas tank. Despite all the confidence and excellent preparation, Nurmagomedov’s wrestling and pressure was already forcing mental errors from a hardened veteran.
Poirier’s performance in the third round was so incredibly affected by Nurmagomedov’s rare brand of dominance. A black belt like Poirier knows better than to gamble it all on a guillotine choke against a master wrestler. He was twice given the chance to let go of the choke and escape to his feet or even top position — a great result of a guillotine attempt! Unsatisfied, Poirier clung to the neck, desperately hoping the choke would finally force Nurmagomedov to tap.
The choke wasn’t going to happen. All in attendance and at home knew it while watching Poirier strain away. Poirier and Nurmagomedov probably knew it too, but Dagestani wrestling and 100° heat combined to create such a miserable experience that Poirier felt he simply had no other choice.
For complete UFC 242 “Nurmagomedov Vs. Poirier” results and play-by-play, click HERE!