UFC 242: Can Poirier Hit the Stop Button on Khabib Time?

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UFC 242 Khabib Nurmagomedov Dustin Poirier
Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Khabib Nurmagomedov is on the cusp of undisputed lightweight supremacy, but this is exactly the challenge that Dustin Poirier’s career has been building toward.

Who will reign supreme at UFC 242? The Eagle or the Diamond?

Forget for a moment those minutes after the main event at UFC 229 last October.  Forget again, the inflammatory comments made on social media since then.  Khabib Nurmagomedov is on the cusp of rarefied air.  It has been a three horse race between himself, former double-champion Conor McGregor, and former interim champion Tony Ferguson to prove who is the best lightweight in the world.  Nurmagomedov has already knocked off one of the other members of the big three and it adds to his list of victories that includes former champions and contenders such as Rafael dos Anjos, Al Iaquinta, and Edson Barboza.

Khabib has already confirmed that a fight with Ferguson is necessary to have an undisputed claim on the top spot.  After several bookings and cancellations, the fight has reached a nearly cult following in terms of interest for the two to prove who is the best.  But let’s go back to his Irish rival.

Everything that has transpired since “The Eagle” leapt out of the cage last October has elevated the interest in seeing the two compete again and the sheer idea of another collision has fans and pundits alike scratching their heads on how a rematch would even be handled.  One thing that has been reaffirmed is that things can get ugly when it comes to combat sports.  But while rules and conduct must be upheld, genuine bad blood drives dollars to the bottom line and Nurmagomedov is one-half of the two of the biggest fights that can be made in MMA today.

Perhaps this moment was not meant to happen sooner for Dustin Poirier.  The key losses, to Chan Sung Jung, McGregor, and Michael Johnson were all in moments where he was poised to enter title contention.  Watching Poirier over the last year, it is clear that he has turned the corner at the exactly the right time.  His exciting fights with Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, and Eddie Alvarez all showed the development and maturity he’s accumulated throughout his UFC run.  This past April, against one of the top talents in the world in Max Holloway, Poirier proved he was unquestionably ready for the championship level in throttling the current featherweight champion for 25 minutes.

Imagine for a second if taking the 0 off Nurmagomedov’s record wasn’t the icing on the cake.  A victory on Saturday would be seminal enough for the nearly ten year UFC veteran.  But he would then be looking at pay-per-view blockbusters with either Ferguson or McGregor himself moving forward.  Not for nothing, but the Poirier seen over the last year and a half matches-up well with both and Saturday could be the beginning of an incredible championship campaign should he seize victory against Nurmagomedov.

A Nurmagomedov victory is dependent on executing the basics against the multi-faceted Poirier.  He should work behind straight punches and force Poirier to the cage where he can stifle the offense of “The Diamond” and get in the best position to force the fight to the ground.  Poirier has shown a competent ground game, but Nurmagomedov figures to be able to maintain top position as long as he wants should he secure a takedown.

Footwork and output will be the key to a Poirier victory on Saturday.  Nurmagomedov will be looking to come forward and set-up a takedown with his hands early so Poirier should be prepared to circle and maintain his distance.  Each time he defends a takedown, Poirier should counter with shots of his own before Nurmagomedov resets for another attempt.  If he is successful at executing this game plan, Poirier will find himself with more opportunities to open up on the feet where he has a distinct advantage.  The longer the fight goes, the more it figures to favor Poirier.

Whether the fight ends in less than a minute or is an epic 25 minute battle, the winner is expected to meet Tony Ferguson late in 2019 or early 2020.  The loser will not be without options to build back toward the title, with names like Conor McGregor or the winner of Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje also looking to get to the belt.  Regardless, Saturday should be the night that the lightweight division regains the attention of the MMA world.

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