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.
Curtis Blaydes laid claim to his spot in heavyweight title picture with a shutout of Shamil Abdurakhimov at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi.
The American took the Russian down at will before landing the TKO stoppage two minutes into the second round, after a vicious elbow broke Abdurakhimov’s nose.
Ranked number four in the division, ‘Razor’, finds himself only beaten by fellow contender Francis Ngannou in the Octagon
In the main-card opener Diego Ferriera put on a show to defeat Russian Mairbek Taisumov by unanimous decision. The Brazilian faced some early adversity but was able to dictate the pace of rounds two and three with a barrage of accurate strikes for the biggest win of his UFC career.
Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood enhanced her flyweight prospects with a split decision win over America’s Andrea Lee. Jojo started an underdog but was able to get the better of a crucial third round to claim her third win in four and inch closer to the 125lbs title picture.
Zubaira Tukhugov and Lerone Murphy lit up the undercard with a 15-minute war in the featherweight division. Russian Tukhugov impressed with his suffocating wrestling style early on but Murphy’s conditioning saw him boss proceedings on the feet as the fight progressed. The judges couldn’t find a winner with scores of 29-28, 28-29 and 28-28 resulting in a draw.
Sarah Moras had earlier made history by becoming the first female fighter to step into the Octagon on UAE soil. The Canadian had weighed in three pounds over the 135lbs bantamweight limit for her clash with Liana Jojua, and proved too strong and powerful for the Georgian stopping her by TKO in the third round.
“”It feels so good to be the first female to win a UFC fight in Abu Dhabi,” said ‘Cheesecake’ post-fight. “It’s amazing. It means the world to me and I hope it means the world to the people here. I hope more people can get into the sport and it opens their eyes.”
Elsewhere on the prelim card, there were wins for Ottman Azaitar, Belal Muhammad, Muslim Salikov, Omari Akhmedov, and Don Madge.
Khabib Nurmagomedov says he is ready for war when he meets Dustin Poirier to unify the UFC lightweight division at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi tonight.
Undefeated Khabib will put his title on the line against interim champion Poirier at The Arena on Yas Island as he returns to the Octagon for the first time in almost a year.
Poirier is getting a lot of backing to upset the 27-0 Dagestan native, especially from the Amercian media, particularly after what looked to be a tough weight cut for Khabib – something he denied at yesterday’s weigh ins suggesting it had been the best of his life.
Poirier (25-5-1NC) comes into the fight in the form of his life, riding a six fight undefeated streak, a standout win over Max Holloway to take the interim crown, and what his camp is describing as ‘some of the best conditioning they have ever seen’ – from any fighter.
Khabib has been full of respect for The Diamond in the build up, and is fully prepared to go deep when the opening bell comes.
“I am focused on five rounds, I cannot think about second round or third round I am going to finish him, I am focused on a five round war,” he said following the ceremonial weigh ins.
Much has been made of Khabib fighting in Abu Dhabi – a location that allows many more family, friends, and fans to attend from Russia and the Middle East compared to what he used to fighting on American soil.
He admits it does bring extra pressure, but in the confines of the Octagon, that all disappears.
“You are always going to feel pressure,” he said. “He has pressure, I have pressure – it doesn’t matter. When the cage closes I am going to fight – this is the easiest part in this sport, this is what I do all my life.
“What is different between champions and normal fighters is that you can control the pressure. I can control this and have shown it many, many times. I feel pressure, but it doesn’t matter. When the cage closes the pressure is finished and I am going to just fight.”
Poirier has two losses on his record inflicted by Khabib victims Conor McGregor and, more recently Michael Johnson. It is widely recogised how much Poirier has evolved since these blotches – something Khabib echoes, but also points to his own growth ahead of their showdown.
“Right now is a different time and a different Dustin from before, I am different too and you are going to see that.”