What time is it? KHABIB TIME.
That’s right folks, our annual serving of championship-level Dagestani violence has just about arrived as Khabib Nurmagomedov is set to unify his undisputed belt with Dustin Poirier’s interim one. Both fighters have now made weight, with even Nurmagomedov making it look easy, so nothing stands in the way of us determining who is the best 155er in the world.
We haven’t seen “The Eagle” since he included in his post-mauling of Conor McGregor a hurdling of the cage in an attack of Conor’s team. HIS team then went INTO the cage to go after McGregor and were thus suspended for a year. The loyal 155lb champ swore to not fight until his teammates were also again eligible and so we went a year without seeing the most dominant fighter on the planet ply his trade.
Since then and in Khabib’s absence, Dustin Poirier has claimed the Interim Lightweight Championship in an unexpected and yet fairly one-sided beating of Max Holloway. Moving up to Lightweight has done wonders for the 30 year old Louisiana native and he looks to put the cherry on top of his slow and steady climb to the peak of MMA on Saturday by delivering Khabib Nurmagomedov his first loss.
The Main Event
Khabib Nurmagomedov (C) vs. Dustin Poirier (IC) For the Undisputed UFC Lightweight (155lb Bout) Championship
We probably don’t need to get into too much detail about “The Eagle’s style, but it’s MMA porn so why not. The only way I can possibly explain it is that Khabib employs a encyclopedia-sized playbook of set ups to shoot in on his opponents, put them on their backs, and as he says himself, “smash” them until the ref steps in, they give up their neck, or leave their arm unattended and ripe for a kimura. In terms of the shot, The undefeated native of Dagestan has a violently explosive double leg that he sets up by winging overhand rights earlier in the fight. He’ll then use the same motion, pull the punch, and shoot in. He’ll also shoot a low single from wayyyy outside. Although he has successfully taken opponents down this way, he mostly uses this technique nowadays as a way of feeling out his opponents skill level and to judge their reaction of the attempt. This technique, after all, is how he set up the overhand right that he landed on McGregor in the 2nd round of their fight: using the same foot work as the outside low single shot, Khabib feigned like he’s going for it just as he had in the first, and then popped back up and threw the punch. With all of that said, it’s possible Nurmagomedov’s most effective takedowns happen along the cage, where he can isolate his opponents and use the trips he has perfected from his sambo background. Once he is on top, and especially if he is able to utilize his patented figure four on a foe’s ankles and lower legs, it is going to a long night for whoever is underneath,
Poirier has grown into quite the boxer over the last couple of years. He throws lightning fast combos aided by slick footwork, and he throws everything with some hate in his heart. Heavy shot after heavy shot comes at his opponents, and he has a particular ability and affinity to go to the body. When, not if, this fight goes to the ground, Poirier represents an interesting challenge. He is indeed a blackbelt in BJJ and has pulled off some nifty submissions in the past. If nothing else, he is a hunter and will not be content to just sit there and get pounded on.
I’m a big fan of both guys so this is a tough one to pick. In the end, Poirier just has not shown the takedown defense in the past for me not to think he winds up on his back early and often. With that said, his own grappling acumen and toughness makes me wonder how easily he’ll give up his back or arm.
The Pick – Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Dustin Poirier (TKO, RD3) and unifies UFC Lightweight Championship
Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder – Lightweight (155lb) Bout
In the Co-Main Event we have a rematch of a July 2015 bout between fan favorites and perennial contenders Edson Barboza and Paul Felder. In the first bout, the UFC did Felder no favors by putting the still-green Philly native in the cage against the peaking and absolutely savage muay thai practicioner Barboza. Philly Tough is Philly Tough however, and “The Irish Dragon” was able to stick it out to lose a brutal unanimous decision.
As mentioned, Felder was a different fighter back then. Sure he came from a traditional muay thai background as well, but he was just as much a brawler at the time and relied on his toughness more than anything. Since then, we’ve seen him become a very technical striker with a high fight IQ who also has found some comfort in his grappling. Felder has seemed to have also found his power source as well, as he knocked out three straight opponents prior to his previous two fights, a decision loss to Mike Perry up a weight class on short notice and UD in arguably his best performance to date over James Vick.
Barboza is Barboza. He has the fastest switch kick in the UFC and will land it anywhere. He of course is known for his vicious leg kicks and has finished opponents by crippling them more than once. He also will throw an array of flashy spinning strikes (sorry Terry Etim) when things get boring to keep his opponents on his toes. I’m not going to lie, I have no idea what Edson Barboza offers on the mat but I don’t see the fight going there anyway.
I’m a Paul Felder stan, but I just think Barboza does what he does except better.
The Pick – Edson Barboza def. Paul Felder (Unanimous Decision)
The Other Russians
Islam Makhachev vs. Davi Ramos – Lightweight (155lb) Bout
Bro, Islam Makhachev is a stud. I think how good he really is is blurred by that loss on his record, a surprising flash KO at the hands of Adriano Martins. At the time however, Martins was perpetually underrated and Makhachev may have needed a wake up call. With all that said, I’m not the only one who has wondered that if Khabib didn’t exist, would his teammate ” ‘Slam” be at the top of the 155 pound heap. Although his wrestling is more finesse based and he is not as crushingly dominant, Makhachev is still completely befuddling once he gets you down.
Ramos is an accomplished BJJ blackbelt who has decided he prefers engaging in fisticuffs. The problem with that is he doesn’t really have the reach or footwork to get where he needs to be to throw sometimes. When he does employ his mat skills though, he’s a handful indeed.
This is interesting the say the least. Ramos is slicker than most and Mkhachev does not apply the same pressure as his champion teammate. Still, the young Dagestani is too hot to not pick.
The Pick – Islam Makhachev def. Davis Ramos (Unanimous Decision)
Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Lerone Murphy – Featherweight (145lb) Bout
Remember earlier when I said Khabb’s teammates joined him in causing mayhem post-UFC 229 and got suspended? Ya, Tukhugov was kind of one of the main perpetrators. As a matter of fact, Dana White’s immediate reaction was to say the prospect was going to be cut altogether. Needless to say that didn’t happen on “The Eagle”‘s watch. So after some USADA trouble and then yearlong suspension for trying to jump the most famous fighter in the world, Tukhugov returns to try and make good on his potential that was once put in question by a 2016 decision loss to a surging Renato Carneiro, his only appearance in the UFC so far. Unlike his teammates, “Warrior” likes to keep things standing. He is awkward as hell and will hit you how- and from wherever he chooses.
I honestly don’t know much about Murphy except that he once survived getting shot in the face twice, he is a highly touted British (??) prospect, and is a gigantic underdog.
The Pick – Zubaira Tukhugov def. Leron Murphy (TKO, RD2)
So that wraps this one folks. You’ll also get to see Curtis Blaydes kick the shit out of a giant guy and Joanne Calderwood fight Andrea Lee for some semblance of relevance/the right to get demolished by Valentina Schevchenko should her next opponent get hurt last minute. A reminder this one kicks off at 2:00pm EST as it’s in Abu Dhabi. Let’s goooooooo.