Dustin Poirier has the skills,and conditioning to shake off the underdog tag and dethrone UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, says his coach Mike Brown.
The pair headline UFC 242 at The Arena in Abu Dhabi this weekend and Brown says he is comfortable with Khabib being a strong favourite for the fight and having the added pressure of rampant local support on his shoulders.
“I like the position of an underdog, and Dustin has been there before and pulled it out many times over. He is confident in his abilities and he is going to be ready on Saturday night.”
Poirier (25-5-1NC) has said he will shock the world, and despite not losing in his last six UFC contests, the undefeated Khabib will offer a challenge the like of which he has not seen before.
With his smothering style, top-class wrestling and ever-improving striking game, Khabib has mauled much of the lightweight division. 27 have tried, and failed to get the better of the Dagestan native, but Brown thinks The Diamond has the attributes to be the man to end the streak – even if the fights goes into Khabib’s domain on the mat.
“He will be very comfortable and confident in his abilities in looking for a submission or getting back to his feet – both are fine,” said Brown, a veteran of 36 professional fights himself and a spearhead of Poirier’s American Top Team. “Khabib also has skills on his feet, so both are well rounded mixed martial arts fighters and I think we will see a lot of everything in this fight.”
While Poirier may be versed on the floor, it is the striking department in which he looks to have a distinct advantage. The same could have been said of Conor McGregor, Khabib’s last victim, who found success on the feet when they met in October 2018, but was ultimately overrun, and submitted.
That success for McGregor came primarily in the third round of the bout, utilising his left hand and finding a home for it from range – something Poirier has excelled in previously – especially his last win over Max Holloway for the interim crown. Brown says it will be Poirier’s superior conditioning that will allow him to exploit these situations further than McGregor come Saturday night.
“I think the biggest difference is Dustin’s conditioning is some of the best I’ve seen and he is going to be dangerous from round one to round five. From minute one to minute 25 he is going to be powerful and he has the ability to knock you out at any time.”
UFC Lightweight contender Tony Ferguson says he is excited to see current champ Khabib Nurmagomedov take on Dustin Poirier and admits he would have loved to be the man taking centre stage in Abu Dhabi.
The 35-year-old Californian was speaking on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show and said he was ready and waiting for the winner of the UFC 242 headliner.
El Cucuy, 25-3, has won his last 12 fights and has been acknowledged by both Khabib and Poirier as the next man in line for a shot at the title – a prospect he understandably relishes.
“I am excited to be in the spotlight, especially with Khabib and Poirier fighting this week,” he said. “There is a lot going on and I am really happy to be right in the middle of it.”
Ferguson has demolished his recent competition with his innovative brand of offence both on the feet and the mat, and will be a keen spectator come Saturday night, but refuses to be drawn on who he think will get the victory – despite saying he would love an all-American clash for the title with Poirier.
“I am thinking about the fight and how it’s going to go,” said the man with 11 stoppage wins on his UFC record. “I just hope that Dustin put in the work. I can guarantee both these fighters are nervous, it’s a in a great arena, I would have loved to fight for that title there. Hopefully there is going to be fireworks and hopefully they did enough work and can let the nerves out.”
It was suggested that Ferguson could have been put on standby to compete in Abu Dhabi should either fighter not be able to compete – a prospect was tempting, but ultimately one he dismissed.
“I would love to go, it was talked about,” he explained. “First of all though, I am not back up for anybody, I have got 12 fights (wins) in a row.
“I was kind of talked about but at the end of the day I’m not here to be backup. The next fight I have is for the belt and it’s going to have to have a lot of build-up, especially for the fans. It’s got to have the hype and deserves a full camp and lead-up time.
“We are going to have to see how this weekend goes.”
One name never too far away from the lightweight division is that of Conor McGregor. Ferguson has a history of trying to get the Irishman in the Octagon – but that interest has waned in light of last year’s defeat to Khabib.
There will always be talk of The Notorious in the title picture, especially if Khabib wins in Abu Dhabi and opens up the possibility of a high profile rematch.
Ferguson is determined to not lose his place in line.
“No way the fans would have that – they would put up too much of a fight,” he told Helwani. “I don’t know if he wants to fight anymore, he is not my concern. I stopped worrying about him, at first he was in line trying to go for the title and then once he became irrelevant I stopped caring about the dude.”
The giant hands of construction continue to adorn and mould Abu Dhabi’s shape-shifting skyline as the clusters of cranes point to a city in perpetual expansion.
But when the UFC brings a numbered event to the Emirate for the first time in almost a decade, the sport and its premier promotion arrives with its foundations firmly in place.
Indeed, MMA has never been more established in the region and the UFC begins its five-year residence in the capital with a celebration of that fact, reflected in showcasing the biggest fight of 2019 here.
Saturday’s blockbuster main event between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim belt holder Dustin Poirier at The Arena on Yas Island represents a sweet spot in timing.
In contrast to its emerging status back in 2010 as was also the case in 2014 when the promotion last graced these shores with a smaller Fight Night event – the UFC returns emboldened by the evolution of its fighters and embellished in the minds of a mainstream audience.
Expectations are naturally enormously high. The UAE audience is far better equipped to grasp the significance of this event than it has at any time before.
The development of MMA, through the expanding community of gyms and the country’s multi-cultural identity, has never been greater.
It means that Khabib is not only defending his crown as the most dominant MMA fighter on the planet, but also as the physical manifestation of an entire generation.
The 30-year-old’s career arc has witnessed its own rapid assembly over the last 12 months, one equal to the impressive construction of the purpose-built 13,000-seater arena on Yas Island.
On Saturday, the unbeaten Muslim champion will stand in the Octagon as a skyscraper enveloping the rest of MMA, immovable and so far indestructible.
His merciless mauling of Conor McGregor at UFC 229 last October, his 27th professional win, has become a trophy for the Muslim community, launching the Dagestan-native into the stratosphere of global recognition.
That victory, during a time when Islamophobia is so rife across the world, something which was handled as a psychological tool by McGregor in the build-up to their mega-fight, was a triumph against the bully.
In the immediate aftermath, Khabib became a structure for Islam and housed within him is an entire religion.
There is arguably no other fighter in the world who can count on that type of support, and it’s completely justifiable because Khabib represents a great role model for the 1.5 billion Muslims on this planet, a respectful and humble athlete who speaks with great poise and exports his religion’s values.
His reputation has remained untarnished by the ugly scenes post-fight last October with Khabib serving out a suspension and being handed a hefty fine for his role in the T-Mobile Arena melee.
They were inexcusable actions, but mitigated by the intensity of a contest which transcended the spectacle.
And so nearly 12 months on he is back in action, looking to unify the division against the slick and high-volume striking ability of Poirier.
Right now Khabib, albeit a towering presence, stands alone on the MMA landscape, but there is great hope that by him competing in Abu Dhabi, others, particularly in this region, will look up and be inspired to erect their own residence in the sport alongside him.
Ultimately, the success of September 7 won’t necessarily be measured right away, through tickets sales nor pay-per-view numbers, but rather in the years to come when MMA fighters emerge from the Middle East to compete and thrive under the sport’s most prestigious banner.
UFC president Dana White is hyper-aware of this aim.
“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 this week.
“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.”
It’s a bold prophecy from White given there is only one professional Emirati fighter in the form of Bellator’s Mohammad Yahya.
But like Abu Dhabi’s horizon view, that could soon change and Khabib knows he has the ability to help that push.
“I feel pressure, but at the same time I feel good energy,” he told Sport360 earlier this week. “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.”
UFC 242 was built for Khabib. It’s a massive responsibility to carry, but a victory on Saturday can see him leave his own permanent landmark in Abu Dhabi, one a new generation will point to as a source of inspiration.