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.
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