Just In UFC 242 breakdown: Why (and how) Dustin Poirier will upset Khabib Nurmagomedov MMA Life

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MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC 242.

UFC 242 takes place Saturday at The Arena at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FX and UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+.

Khabib Nurmagomedov (27-0 MMA, 11-0 UFC)

(USA TODAY Sports)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 30 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 70″
  • Last fight: Submission win over Conor McGregor (Oct. 6, 2018)
  • Camp: American Kickboxing Academy (San Jose, Calif.)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ UFC lightweight champion
+ 2x world sambo champion
+ 2x Russian combat sambo champion
+ M-1 Selection champion
+ 8 KO victories
+ 9 submission wins
+ 10 first-round finishes
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
+ Improved striking game
^ Deceptively heavy hands
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Superb underhook awareness
+ Diverse takedown acumen
^ Chains attempts seamlessly
+ Excellent transitional grappler
^ 50 passes in 11 fights
+ Solid guard game/submissions

Dustin Poirier (25-5 MMA, 17-4 UFC)

(John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 30 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 70″
  • Last fight: Decision win over Max Holloway (April 13, 2019)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ Interim UFC lightweight champion
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Regional and amateur MMA titles
+ 12 KO victories
+ 7 submission wins
+ 12 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
+ Improved overall boxing
^ Cage-cuts, shifts, takes angles
+ Accurate left cross
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Strong inside of the clinch
+ Underrated wrestling ability
^ Offensively and defensively
+ Excellent transitional grappler
^ Solid submissions and scrambling

Point of interest: Slinging heat

The main event in Abu Dhabi features a fun stylistic matchup that serves as a title unification fight for my favorite division.

Although current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov typically concedes a striking advantage on paper, he continues to carry on undefeated, all while showing steady improvements along the way.

An aggressive combat sambo champion that stormed onto the UFC stage, Nurmagomedov – who was initially a wildman unafraid to throw himself out of position – now displays a much more competent game than before.

Incorporating a heavy dose of feints, the 30-year-old Dagestani draws out his opponents’ reactions so that he can create openings for his approach. From throwing shovel hooks to overhand rights, it is both Nurmagomedov’s confidence and commitment to his punches that make them so effective and potent.

In his battle with Edson Barboza, we saw Nurmagomedov tighten up his defenses, demonstrating a tighter shell and smoother flow than we’re accustomed to seeing. But in his fight with Al Iaquinta, Nurmagomedov played it much more fast and loose on the feet, keeping a lower guard and allowing for exchanges that were arguably unnecessary.

The current champ did show a solid jab and reaffirmed his unquestioned gameness in that fight, but exchanging for prolonged periods is not something that will behoove Nurmagomedov against the striking savvy of Dustin Poirier.

The 10-year pro from Louisiana also has shown to evolve from a once eager slugger to a more mature fighter who likes to dictate brawls rather than enter them. In fact, Poirier has made significant upgrades to his game since moving shop to American Top Team in South Florida.

Demonstrating an excellent awareness of distance and footwork, the slugging southpaw will shift his stance for setups (often doubling up on strikes from the same side) as he adjusts his angles accordingly with fight-ending shots in mind.

Utilizing this style of shifting to create attack opportunities, Poirier has shown to sit down more on his punches, giving three fighters their first stoppage losses since returning to 155 pounds. The 30-year-old also displays improvements to his prodding, pulling and returning – countering tactics that could serve him well considering the success that other southpaws have had in regards to poking holes in Nurmagomedov’s striking defense.

However, considering the close quarters that Nurmagomedov fights typically take place in, the most meaningful strikes (from both men) will likely be happening off of breaks and within small spaces.

Next point of interest: Close quarters combat

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