When the UFC rolls into Abu Dhabi on September 7, all eyes will be on headliner Khabib Nurmagomedov and his lightweight title fight with Dustin Poirier.
However, it will not only be the top end of the 155lbs-ers we are talking about, with no fewer than six bouts in that division at The Arena on Yas Island we could see a significant shake-up in the rankings.
Here is how things could shape up on the back of UFC 242.
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Dustin Poirier (undisputed lightweight title fight)
Khabib has ripped through the lightweight division with unerring dominance, and will start as heavy favourite against one of the UFC’s most experienced campaigners.
Since a 2016 loss to Michael Johnson, Poirier has looked excellent – never more so than in his last outing against Max Holloway when he picked up the interim belt.
The 27-0 record of Khabib speaks for itself, with pretty much everyone at 155lbs now lying in his wake.
Should the Dagestani get the win over Poirier, the next logical route is a bout against Tony Ferguson.
‘El Cucuy’ is on a 12-fight win streak of his own (nine of them finishes) – with his last seven victims being turned into a meme such has been the bloody mess he has left them in.
He is unquestionably the next in line for a tilt at the title, but this could be complicated should Poirier pull off the upset – which he is capable of, especially if he can keep the fight standing.
There is no such thing as an automatic rematch in the UFC, but if anyone deserves it Khabib is that man, which would mean Ferguson having to wait in line just a little bit longer.
Edson Barboza (ranked 7) v Paul Felder (ranked 10)
Two highly respected lightweights, this bout offers the pair an opportunity to get into the upper echelons of the division.
Barboza is keen to get back to his peak, and holds a win over his American opponent from 2015, but this is a pretty different landscape now.
Felder has won four of his last five, while Barboza has dropped three of his last four – albeit to higher level opposition, including Khabib.
A win for either would put them in among the likes of Al Iaquinta, Justin Gaethje, and Kevin Lee jostling for position waiting for the Khabib/Poirier/Ferguson puzzle to be solved.
A defeat would throw them into the also-rans pile in what is a stacked division.
Islam Makhachev (ranked 15) v Davi Ramos (unranked)
This will be a great chance for the Abu Dhabi fans to see Makhachev up close as he looks to be the latest Dagestani to be a big hit in the lightweight division.
Statistically, he is least hit fighter in the UFC – taking less than one significant strike per minute he has been in the Octagon.
That said, he does have one loss on his 18-fight record – a KO defeat in his second UFC bout, but he has won five straight since then.
Well versed stood up and on the ground with seven submission wins and seven knockout/TKOs, he will be looking to make his way towards the lightweight top 10 by downing Brazilian Ramos.
This submission expert has also only lost once in the UFC and twice overall in a 12-fight career albeit against a lower caliber of opposition.
Makhachev will be a strong favourite here, and then hunt a sizable scalp in his next outing.
Mairbek Taisumov (unranked) v Diego Ferraira (unranked)
Two unranked lightweights will kick off the main card in Abu Dhabi with the experienced Taisumov expected to get some healthy support.
The experienced Chechen has amassed more than 30 fights in his career, with seven wins from eight in the UFC, including his last six.
Ferraira is 6-2 in the UFC with an impressive win over Dagestan’s Rustam Khabilov in his last outing in February.
With both men in their 30s it is unlikely either will be staging a push towards the top end of the division regardless of the result here.
Before the main card gets under way, the lightweights will again be represented in the form of two interesting matchups which will not exactly shake up the division right away but could pave the way for future forays.
Look out for exciting South African Don Madge who takes to the Octagon for the second time on the back of five consecutive stoppages with hands, feet, and submissions. Expect fireworks when he meets 14-2 Magomed Mustafev.
Finally Germany’s Ottman Azaitar will put his unbeaten record on the line as he ventures into the UFC for the first time. His last four fights have come under the Brave banner, the Bahraini promotion, so he will be used to the Middle East. His opponent, Finland’s Teemu Packalen struggled since making the move to the UFC, losing two of his three fights after previously being unbeaten.
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