Khabib Nurmagomedov’s second defense of his UFC lightweight title will see him take on the surging contender Dustin Poirier in the UFC 242 main-event.
Nurmagomedov’s road to eventually winning that title may have taken quite a bit longer than most would have hoped, but now, with a signature win over the sport’s biggest star in his back-pocket, UFC 242 stands as something of a well-earned reward.
Of course, any reward that comes along with facing Dustin Poirier will likely not be pleasant.
Even still, win, lose, or draw, this is Khabib’s party and in many ways, his opportunity to put a stamp on his status as one of the sport’s biggest global superstars.
Dustin Poirier is underrated by so many – despite holding wins over some of the greatest lightweight champions the sport has ever known.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but when it comes to The Diamond, his ability to leave people pleasantly surprised is something that has allowed him to enter this fight as a healthy underdog.
Khabib should be the favourite. He’s as dominant a force as the sport has ever seen and based on what we know about Poirier, there’s nothing to suggest that he’ll be able to stop the takedowns any better than the other 27 opponents who have been bested by The Eagle so far.
Poirier isn’t Conor McGregor, Al Iaquinta, or Edson Barboza, though.
His approach is one that doesn’t see him often looking for that one big shot, instead opting to work his way in with combos before uncorking the harder punches once inside.
Defensively, he has come on in leaps and bounds since his days as a faltering featherweight. I honestly think that the Dustin who fought at 145lbs would have been KO’d within minutes by the likes of Justin Gaethje – even with that added size.
We’re seeing an incredibly improved fighter in Poirier but in all honesty, Khabib just has too much here.
In many ways, he’s the perfect fighter.
People get too caught up on his superior wrestling and grappling, not giving him the credit he deserves as a complete mixed martial artist.
His striking might at times look crude, but when considered as part of the whole package, his ability to open up shots on the feet because of the threat of everything else that follows has to be taken as part of his game.
It’s the reason he was able to drop Conor McGregor at UFC 229 and in my view, it’s the reason he’ll be able to have his way with Dustin Poirier.
There’s an intimidation factor that comes with taking on this man – especially in a setting like Abu Dhabi – and I think that there’s a good chance we see Khabib have some success on the feet here believe it or not.
Poirier’s takedown defense is solid, make no mistake, but I do not believe that he’ll be able to stop his opponent from taking him down and I believe that will play a huge part in what should amount to a sub-par showing in the striking exchanges.
This is Khabib time, his moment to shine in the spotlight in front of his people. I predict that he will put on a masterclass.
It might seem open early on, but expect Nurmagomedov to dominate in a big way from the second onwards before finishing it in the third.
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov by third-round submission
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena