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.
Khabib Nurmagomedov says he will feel pressure stepping into the Octagon at UFC 242 but has no option other than winning in front of his family, friends, and a raucous “home” crowd.
The 27-0 lightweight champion puts his gold on the line against Dustin Poirier at The Arena in Abu Dhabi next Saturday night, as the UFC returns to the UAE for the first time in six years as part of Abu Dhabi Showdown Week.
For the bulk of his career, Khabib fans from his homeland of Dagestan, as well as those in wider Russia and the Middle East, have found it difficult to follow him to the United States. But that will all change next weekend on Yas Island.
Thousands are expected to make the journey and while it will create a bear-pit like atmosphere for the American Poirier, Khabib admits there will be some nerves ahead of the unification bout.
“I feel pressure, but at the same time I feel good energy,” he told Sport360. “If I say I don’t feel pressure, it’s not true.
“A lot of people are coming here to support me. A lot of my friends are going to come and watch at The Arena.
“They all come because of me, they don’t come because of Dustin, that’s why I feel a little bit of pressure, because I cannot lose, I have to win.
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Эти сборы прошли очень хорошо Альхамдулиллах, почти 100 дней я отпахал, теперь осталась ровно неделя до боя и я готов ИншаАллагь. На следующей неделе уже сбавим нагрузки и начнётся уже целенаправленная сгонка веса. @alhadaya.ru @alhadaya_karazere #ufc242 #mma #ufc #alhadaya
“I feel here like I do at home in Dagestan. There is a pressure but as a fighter you can control pressure, stay relaxed, stay focused – this is something for champions.
“I have felt this pressure before many times, but when I got to the cage everything is going to be finished.”
In Poirier, Khabib faces a fighter who has paid his dues in a 30-fight professional career, and one who has evolved in the last three years, rising to the rank of interim champion on the back of a six-fight undefeated streak.
The Diamond, 25-5, has two losses on his record inflicted by men who Khabib has beaten comfortably. But the champion doesn’t think this has any significance going into the fight.
“If you watch the last couple of fights you will see how Dustin has improved,” Khabib explained. “He has improved a lot his striking game, his experience, his fight IQ – he has changed from when he lost to Michael Johnson and Conor (McGregor).
“I never think about these two guys finishing him, I always think this is the toughest fight of my life, and the toughest opponent of my life. Right now, I am focused and I think it is going to be the toughest 25 minutes of my life.
“I will never underestimate my opponents, and Dustin Poirier is a great fighter.”
Poirier’s striking game has improved immeasurably as his career has developed, and Khabib has been the first to compliment his skills on the feet, however he does not see this bout as the cliched grappler versus striker.
“Anything can happen,” he said. “I am ready for striking, I am ready for grappling, ready for 25 minutes, or five minutes. I am ready for anything.
“This is a high level fight with two of the best fighters in the world, you cannot say I am going to take him down and hold him for all 25 minutes, or I am going to stand with him for 25 minutes. This is a fight and in the last almost 100 days I trained so hard to focus on 25 hard minutes.”
A lot has been made of the near 12-month layoff from the Octagon Khabib has had since the well-publicised fallout following his stoppage win over Conor McGregor.
In that time, Poirier captured the interim title with a career-defining win over Max Holloway and some have questioned whether Khabib may suffer from ring rust on his return. It is something he absolutely dismisses.
“When I was injured and had three surgeries in a row, watch how I came back,” he said. “Between me and other people there is a big, big difference.
“I am the champion. I am undefeated. Why? Because all my life I am focused.
“What is going to happen on September 7, nobody knows, but my plan is to finish this guy. That’s why I am here.
“When I go to the cage with Dustin, he is going to try to finish me too but we will see what’s going to happen.”
Part of Khabib’s preparation for the fight has seen him arrive in the UAE early to finish his camp. It’s a country he feels very comfortable in, and receives a lot of adulation.
“I have just finished my last hard sparring session and I feel great. I can’t wait, my weight is good, my mentality and physical shape feel great – I feel very good energy.
“We had planned to come here almost 20 days before the fight because I have come to the UAE many times before and always train, and I feel happy here so that’s why we came here a little bit earlier.
“We have been here for ten days now, the first couple of days were the worst but now I feel great. We have one more week and I am going to feel even better by then.
“We are going to make weight and then finish this guy – this is the plan.”
Should things go as per that plan, Khabib will find himself at 28-0, and with only one real contender left in the 155lbs division in Tony Ferguson. With the majority of the weight class cleared out, there has been talk of a possible super-fight in the future with former welterweight and middleweight king Georges St-Pierre.
While this would certainly raise pulses of fight fans around the world, Khabib, in his own understated way, is keeping things very much in the present.
He said: “We have a lot of options but I have to be focused on Dustin. I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen in the future, we will see.”