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.
UFC President Dana White is adamant there will be a Middle East champion in the organisation over the next six-seven years.
Speaking ahead of UFC 242 which takes place in Abu Dhabi this weekend, White pointed to other territories and the success that has been seen in a relatively short space of time.
Michael Bisping, Robert Whittaker, and Zhang Weili are examples of English, Australian and Chinese fighters who have gone on to lift gold following growth of the organisation in their countries – and with a five-year deal penned for events in Abu Dhabu, White thinks the same can happen in the Middle East.
“Since we have done events in Abu Dhabi, and it happens everywhere we go, it kick-starts the market, gyms pop up and people are training. Talent is coming out of the area,” said White.
“I won’t be surprised – I said this about England, I said this about Australia, Canada and every country we have gone to – there will be a champion from the Middle East probably within the next six to seven years.”
The much anticipated lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier will headline this week’s event, which is part of Abu Dhabi Showdown Week – and White promises the blockbuster fights will keep on coming.
“We have a really close connection with Abu Dhabi because we’ve already been there a few times, and the fights we’ve done there before,” said White. “The people of the UAE have been so good to the UFC. We are going to continue to come back and bring big fights to the Middle East.”
Khabib Nurmagomedov puts his UFC lightweight title on the line this weekend in Abu Dhabi as he takes on contender Dustin Poirier.
The American earned his shot at the championship with his win over Max Holloway in April to pick up division’s interim title while undefeated Khabib waited out his suspension for competition following his victory over Conor McGregor in 2018.
The two fighters have very different styles and here we look back on their last two fights, to see the positives and negatives they will take into the bout at The Arena on Yas Island this Saturday.
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Conor McGregor October 6, 2018
With all the bad blood that went before and after this fight, it’s easy to forget exactly what went on for the four and a half rounds of this compelling contest.
For Khabib, one of the big things he will take into this weekend’s fight is the ease at which he closed the distance on McGregor forcing the clinch or taking the fight to the ground. Much like the Notorious, Poirier will look to fight at range and use the left hand to inflict damage.
Khabib will also be encouraged by the booming right hand that dropped McGregor in the second round. This is by no means his modus operandi but should the fight stay on the feet for long periods it may not perturb the Dagestan native as much as people may think.
On the flip slide, this wasn’t entirely the one-sided mauling people tend to recollect. Khabib was dominant in the first two stanzas but McGregor found his feet, and the distance, in the third round, and the early knockings of the fourth before the finish. The Irishman was more accurate with the significant strikes (62%-58%, 96-104 total strikes), but it was the clinch and three takedowns that were his downfall.
The trouble for Poirier is he needs to fight on his own terms – and Khabib has a wonderful knack of taking that away from opponents.
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Al Iaquinta April 7, 2018
Khabib inflicted 25 minutes of constant pressure on a very game Al Iaquinta, dominating both on the feet and on the ground.
The Eagle with have been delighted to have restricted Iaquinta to just 43 strikes landed across the five rounds, compared to the 172 he found the target with. Again looking at Saturday’s fight, Poirier loves to strike with volume and if limited as Raging Al was here, then his chances of success are greatly diminished.
On top of dominating in the striking department, Khabib also scored with six successful takedowns, and then 34 strikes when on the ground. This is Khabib 101, his bread and butter, and something we will almost certainly see at The Arena.
This fight represents Poirier’s worst nightmare. Unable to land on the feet, taken down at will, and punished on the ground. A real video nasty for the pre-fight training camp analysis.
Dustin Poirier v Max Holloway April 13, 2019
This was the best we have seen of Poirier, dispatching a man who had been untouchable at 145lbs and made the 10lbs step-up to lightweight to fight for the interim title.
With stunning poise and movement, Poirier was able to nullify the more industrious Holloway picking his shots well, and utilising the straight left with unerring accuracy.
Holloway threw 65 more significant strikes, but landed just three more – and even then didn’t have the same impact as The Diamond.
Khabib has been very complimentary of Poirier’s skills on his feet, but in truth he was never going to be threatened with a take down from Holloway. In fact, it was Poirier who showed more appetite to go the mat – attempting eight takedowns but only being successful with one. This will not be happening on Saturday night.
While Poirier’s movement was superb, this was very much in the context of a standup fight. Combine Khabib’s growing confidence with his hands, plus the immeasurable takedown threat and we have a completely different scenario.
Dustin Poirier v Eddie Alvarez July 28, 2018
For a fight that was only going for a little over nine minutes, this had a bit of everything – and will be an interesting watch for Poirier and Khabib in the lead up to their showdown.
For Poirier, stunting three takedown attempts from a very solid ground operator like Alverez is certainly a plus. When they did end up grounded in the second round however there will be some concern from the American’s camp.
He fended off a choke attempt well, but Alvarez was able to keep top position well, and looked dangerous from there too. If he hadn’t been penalised for an illegal elbow the outcome could have been very different.
Once they were back on the feet, Poirier again let his hands do the talking, unloading bombs that crumpled and eventually ended Alvarez.
The decisive finish was impressive, but, with Khabib in mind, the ability to fight back to his feet when grounded will need to improve otherwise it could be a long night.