UFC 242: Analysis and Predictions
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Dustin Poirier
Khabib Nurmagomedov (Champion) (27-0) (-425)
Dustin Poirier (#1 Ranked) (25-5) (+340)
Lightweight Championship Bout
It doesn’t get much better than the UFC lightweight division. This division is so incredibly deep that any top 5 matchup is something to get excited about. A title bout is even more special.
Nurmagomedov has pretty much been flawless in his time as a UFC fighter. His wrestling and ground’n’pound skillset is so dominant that even fighters with full training camps to prepare look lost. His recent win over McGregor was an absolute evisceration. The one negative on Nurmagomedov has been that his standup striking simply isn’t as good as some of the other elites in the division. However, through 27 professional fights this hasn’t really mattered. Opponents have had to completely sell out to defend against takedowns and it has left them exposed on their feet.
Poirier for his part has been equally impressive in his last several fights in the Octagon. I was incredibly impressed by the dominant performance he put on over Max Holloway at UFC 236. Holloway is an elite striker, albeit one that was going up in weight, and Poirier continually landed with so much power that Holloway was never able to establish himself effectively. Poirier doesn’t seem to get as much attention from the casual fans as other names at 155, but make no mistake, he’s a legitimate threat to Nurmagomedov.
As with all of Nurmagomedov’s fights, the big question is whether or not his opponent will be able to offer any kinda of real takedown defense. If Poirier can stuff a few takedowns, the dynamics of this fight will change dramatically. History would dictate to us that ‘no’, Poirier will not be able to offer much takedown defense, but there is an important historical trend that has to be recognized along with this: One dimensional fighters tend to be short lived in MMA.
Yes, it’s unfair for me to say Nurmagomedov is one dimensional, but let’s look at a a few fighters who I think are similar. The first is Ronda Rousey. Rousey absolutely crushed her first 12 opponents in her MMA career. She did so because she had a dominant Judo and submission game that women just couldn’t deal with. It was pretty well understood the her striking wasn’t great, but it didn’t matter because nobody was able to defend her grappling. However, as soon as the division had enough time to adapt, study, and learn how to defend this approach, things went south for her very quickly. Holy Holm was the first to successfully defend the takedowns, and Ronda looked absolutely helpless.
The second comparison I’ll make is with Lyoto Machida. Machida is another fighter who was an absolute force of nature when he first won the light heavyweight title. The “Machida Era” began, and, rightfully, everyone believed he would dominate the division for years. He was one sided though. It was often discussed that he had a BJJ black belt from the Nogueira brothers so everyone assumed he was dangerous grappling, but then we started to see what he looked like in real grappling exchanges. Jon Jones made him look absolutely foolish, then Luke Rockhold did the same, then Yoel Romero. The point of all of this, is that to continue to be a dominant champion in MMA today, you have to be extremely dynamic, and very good in all facets of the game. To circle back around to The Nurmagomedov fight, I have real concerns that Khabib is going to have a really ugly change of fortunes if he doesn’t adapt quickly.
There is no question in my mind that Dustin Poirier has spent the last 6 months of his life doing almost nothing but drilling takedown defenses. He has studied all the different transitions that were used against McGregor, and Iaquinta, and Barbosa. Head coach Mike Brown has no doubt carefully walked through the mistakes that McGregor made and outlined what not to do. He is going to be ready for this fight and far more dangerous than Khabib is expecting.
I almost can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m taking Dustin Poirier to pull off the major upset here. I believe he has the tools, the athleticism, and the coaching to defeat Nurmagomedov. I think the first round of this fight will be slow as the fighters lock up in the clinch with Khabib constantly transitioning for new takedown attempts. He won’t have any extended success though, and going into the second round I believe you’re going to see a frustrated Nurmagomedov and a confident Poirier. The takedown attempts in the second won’t have as much behind them, and Poirier is going to start to land. Things start to get ugly for the Dagestan native from there.
Poirier by 4th Round TKO.
Edson Barboza vs Paul Felder
Edson Barboza (#7 Ranked) (20-7) (-175)
Paul Felder (#10 Ranked) (16-4) (+155)
The fight between Edson Barboza and Paul Felder isn’t going to draw much attention from the casual audience, it’s not going to resurrect anyone’s careers, and it certainly won’t catapult anyone into title contention. That said, I believe this is going to be a great fight, and I’m really excited about it.
From a career perspective, these two fighters are almost mirror images of each other. Both are in their mid-30s and have had very successful careers, although neither has held a UFC belt. Both men have shown signs of decline in the last few years with their recent records being much more spotty. Edson Barboza has lost 3 of his last 4 bouts and is coming of a brutal KO loss to Justin Gaethje. Paul Felder has done better, winning 4 of his last 5, however I get the sense that he’s fairly close to walking away from active competition to focus on color commentary and analysis.
This is a really tough fight to predict, but at this stage I feel like Paul Felder is the safer pick. I’m really concerned about what Edson Barboza is going to look like coming off such a brutal KO loss. Devastating KOs can be career changers for fighters and I worry that’s what we’re going to see out of Barboza. This is a particularly difficult pill to swallow for me, because I’m a big fan of Barboza, but I’m just too concerned that he’s going to come into this fight gun shy, and won’t be firing like normal.
I think Paul Felder is going to press the action against Barboza much like Gaethje did, and avoid staying at kicking range. Felder will use clinch work and elbows to keep Barboza running, and will ultimately catch Barboza with a big elbow off a break somewhere in the second.
Felder by 2nd Round TKO
Islam Makhachev vs Davi Ramos
Islam Makhachev (#15 Ranked) (17-1) (-290)
Davi Ramos (Unranked) (10-2) (+245)
In other less deep division you would expect a bout between a fighter on a 5 fight win streak and another on a 4 fight win streak would either be a title eliminator or a title bout. In the ultra deep UFC lightweight division those kind of numbers barely even get you ranked. So this is a bout that may fly under the radar for many, but it’s a great matchup between two extremely talented fighters. Whoever wins this fight will likely be catapulted ahead in the rankings.
Dagestan seems to have emerged as the premier source of hot talent in the UFC. Makhachev is one of those fast rising stars. He comes into this fight on a five fight win streak. The UFC and Makhachev’s management seem to be managing his career well, despite the streak of wins, Makhachev is still being afforded to the opportunity to fight Unranked opponents while he continues to refine his skillset.
On the other side of the ring is Davi Ramos who in many ways is a similar fighter. He’s on a 4 fight win streak in the promotion and shows enough skill and promise to really climb the lightweight rankings. Like many Brazilians, he’s an accomplished grappler who owns most of his wins by way of submission.
At this stage in MMA it’s hard for me to bet against anyone from Dagestan. (Just ignore my earlier pick of Poirier over Nurmagomedov). I think Makhachev has a lot of momentum behind him right now, and I believe he’s the younger and hungrier fighter. We may get treated to a really fun grappling match in this fight, but I think it’s ultimately going to be the striking and power of Makhachev that makes all the difference here. Makhachev is going to do a lot of damage at range to Davos and this fight will end somewhere in the 2nd.
Davos by 2nd Round TKO
Curtis Blaydes vs Shamil Abdurakhimov
Curtis Blaydes (#4 Ranked) (11-2) (-350)
Shamil Abdurakhimov (#9 Ranked) (20-4) (+290)
Like many bouts on this card, Blaydes vs Abdurakhimov may not draw the eyes of many casual fans, but I think has the potential to be a great fight. Both of these fighters are extremely good heavyweights, and I believe both will compete for the belt at some point in time down the road.
Curtis Blaydes has an impressive record in the promotion, and if it wan’t for two losses to Francis Ngannou, he would likely have already fought for the belt. Blaydes is well rounded fighter who comes from a strong wrestling background. The thing that’s impressed me the most about Blaydes is that he has shown an ability to adapt, adjust, and use his balanced skillset to win fights that aren’t going his way. This is a breath of fresh air in a sport who’s athletes have tendency to want to fight against their opponents greatest strength, and in a time where fighters often forget that it’s an MMA match, not a kickboxing match.
Shamil Abdurakhimov is another Degestani who has been quickly moving up the rankings in the UFC heavyweight division. He comes from a Sanshou and wrestling background, and his tendency is to want to stand and strike with his opponents.
I really like Curtis Blaydes in this fight. Like I mentioned above, I’ve been really impressed by Blaydes ability and willingness to adapt to his opponent. I believe he’s going to start of striking with Abdurakhimov, but will quickly integrate takedowns and strikes from the ground. I think he gets this fight to ground in the first round and starts to land with a lot of power late in the round.
Blaydes by 1st Round TKO