Khabib Nurmagomedov headlines UFC 242 on Saturday, September 7, when he’ll end a year-long absence to defend the lightweight title against Dustin Poirier, (which you can watch on ESPN+). The event will be held live from The Arena, Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which means all the actions starts at 10:15 a.m. ET, with the five-fight main card kicking off at 2 p.m. ET.
But before Poirier makes the long walk to the Octagon to square off with the unbeaten Nurmagomedov, we’re here to break down the three most captivating fights on the UFC 242 card.
Can Dustin Poirier Capture Magic Twice?
In what may have been the most perfect fight of his UFC career, Dustin Poirier (25-5) dominated Max Holloway to claim his first taste of UFC gold. After winning the belt, Poirier has a chance to unify the titles, but he’ll need a performance just as impressive to earn a win over the unbeaten Dagestani, Khabib Nurmagomedov (27-0). As flashy as Poirier is on his feet — he’s nearly as likely to finish a fight in the first round as he is to earn a decision victory — Nurmagomedov is equally as dangerous on the mat.
That shouldn’t take away from Nurmagomedov’s striking (he buckled Conor McGregor’s knees in their bout last year), but his ground game is suffocating. His ability to change levels, landing a punch to the head before getting low on the ground and taking his opponents down is simply unreal. Once they’re on the mat, that’s when the real fun for Nurmagomedov starts. He provides constant pressure, always looking for transition opportunities and never relenting on strikes or submission attempts.
Despite the tough road ahead, Poirier is publicly claiming confidence in his ability to finish the champ. That’s half the battle. The other half will take place once they’re standing opposite from each other inside the Octagon.
Edson Barboza, Paul Felder Gun For Top Spots
Edson Barboza (20-7) might be the most devastating fighter in the UFC with his legs. He’s finished bouts with leg kicks, head kicks, and nasty body shots. But the No. 7-ranked lightweight has struggled as of late, with losses in three of his last four fights, including a stunning first-round knockout at the hands of Justin Gaethje.
No. 10-ranked Paul Felder (16-4) is heading the opposite direction, with big wins in three of his last four fights and most recently, a decision victory over James Vick. The showdown between two top-10 fighters gives Felder another opportunity to knock off Barboza four years after their first matchup. Felder, for his part, has added dimensions to his game, with significant improvements in the clinch and his takedown game. Whatever happens, he’ll try to avoid body shots that left him “peeing blood,” the first time.
Curtis Blaydes Is Out to Prove He Belongs
Curtis Blaydes (11-2) has just two losses on his otherwise spotless record, falling at the hands of MMA phenom Francis Ngannou twice. Blaydes has been impressive in his other UFC bouts, though, with notable wins over Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt within the last two years.
There’s still plenty to be figured out in the heavyweight division above Blaydes, the No. 4-ranked fighter, but he could go a long way in proving he deserves a title shot sometime in 2020 with a win over the gritty, No. 9-ranked Shamil Abdurakhimov (20-4).
Both are well-versed in wrestling, with each fighter earning national recognition in their respective countries. While they’re comfortable on the ground, Blaydes and Abdurakhimov have no problem tossing hands, with a combined five KO/TKOs across their established UFC careers. Blaydes and Abdurakhimov enjoy easing into fights, though, so this one very well could go the distance.
Click here to watch UFC 242 on ESPN+.