Khabib Nurmagomedov unified the UFC lightweight division with a third-round stoppage over Dustin Poirier in Abu Dhabi.
The UFC 242 headliner was not without its drama as Poirier looked set to upset the thousands of Khabib fans at The Arena on Yas Island when he synched-in what looked to be a deep guillotine at the start of the third round. But, the now 28-0 Russian was able to escape, before taking the Diamond’s back, sinking in a rear naked choke, and forcing the tap.
It was further evidence of Khabib’s dominance of the division – that now only really has one contender left standing – Tony Ferguson.
It was an ominous start for Poirier, as Khabib took things to the ground inside the first 90 seconds of the fight, using his weight to pin the interim champion before attempting a neck crank similar to the one that put to paid to Conor McGregor in October last year. To his credit, Poirier was able to defend this, and a rear naked choke attempt to make it out of the opener.
The Louisiana native landed his first real shot on Khabib in the opening exchanges of round two, a solid right hook finding the mark. Sensing success, Poirier chased the follow-up, launching a flurry of punches but was unable to land cleanly.
Khabib looked comfortable standing but, following a short combination, changed level explosively and dropped proceedings to the mat again. He controlled the remainder of the round without ever threatening to finish, but securing the second stanza on the scorecards.
The third round looked to be going the same way when Khabib shot early on only for Poirier to clasp hold of the neck with his right hand. With the highly partisan Abu Dhabi crowd holding their collective breath, the American was a hook away from stunning the world – as he had promised in the week leading up to the fight.
Having survived, Khabib was able to resume normal service, finishing the clash just over two minutes into the third.
Post-fight he once again leapt into the crowd, but this time it was in celebration with friends and family, many of whom would have been seeing him fight live in the UFC for the first time. It was a far cry from the cage leap post-McGregor which saw him banned from action – which ultimately set up this unification bout.
Khabib had spoken in the week of the added pressure of fighting relatively close to his homeland, and afterwards said he needs a few days before deciding on his next move.
In the co-main event, Paul Felder avenged his 2015 loss to Edson Barboza with a split-decision win over the Brazilian after a three-round epic.
Four years ago the Irish Dragon shed tears following his loss to the Brazilian but was able to exact his revenge in Abu Dhabi, sinking to his knees and crying tears of joy as the result was read out.
After the first round, it did not seem this would be the case with Barboza terrifyingly fast and accurate with his strikes, and benefiting from a nasty cut on Felder’s forehead following an accidental clash of heads.
But, Felder fought back in round two, landing nasty elbows from the bottom and opening Barboza up before finishing the round well on his feet.
Pressure and volume was the key to Felder’s success in round three, out-working and out-landing the Brazilian to score a landmark win, and put the division’s top-five on notice.
The trio of top lightweight bouts on the main card had kicked off with Islam Makhachev scoring a unanimous win over Davi Ramos.
Fifteenth-ranked Makhachev was surprisingly happy to trade with the Brazilian in the first half of the fight, and found his target with regularity and accuracy,
Ramos being limited to sporadic explosive bursts that did little to trouble the Russian.
As the fight went on it was Makhachev’s wrestling that came to the fore, taking down and stifling a fatigued Ramos to pick up a comfortable decision moving to 18-1, before calling out the winner of Felder versus Barboza in a bid to climb the lightweight ranks.
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