MMA Review: #697: UFC 242: Khabib vs. Poirier

-This was the UFC’s first show in Abu Dhabi since 2014, and unlike that one – a throwaway Fight Night card – this was a *big* pay-per-view, with arguably the UFC’s biggest non-McGregor star right now – Khabib Nurmagomedov – headlining.

UFC 242: Khabib vs. Poirier

Abu Dhabi, UAE

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Dominick Cruz.

Lightweight Fight: Mairbek Taisumov vs Diego Ferreira

Both of these guys were largely flying under the radar at 155lbs, but they were both on strong runs; Ferreira hadn’t lost since 2015 and had won four in a row, while Taisumov was 7-1 in the UFC and had won his last 6. With that in mind, it looked likely that the winner would end up ranked in the top 15 at the least.

Round One begins and Taisumov circles on the outside as Ferreira looks to close him down. Both men miss on some of their early strikes before Taisumov does connect with a pair of quick combos. Uppercut from Taisumov but a counter right from Ferreira backs him up. Front kick to the body from Ferreira but he gets dropped by a low kick for a second. Big head kick misses for Taisumov and Ferreira closes him down with a combo. Big right hand lands for Taisumov and Ferreira’s legs buckle for a second, but the Chechen can’t quite follow up quickly enough before Ferreira recovers. Ferreira keeps on stalking forward, but he eats another spearing right hand in the process. Taisumov is looking sharp in this round. Decent right hand connects for Ferreira as he keeps on pushing forward though. Hard leg kick lands for Taisumov. Round ends with a strong right hand and follow-up shots from Ferreira. Good round for Taisumov, 10-9.

Round Two and holy shit, a temperature check shows it’s 99 DEGREES FARENHEIT which is insane. Ferreira pushes forward in the early going and eats a right hand, but he manage to land a solid one of his own too. Big right hand lands for Ferreira and Taisumov looks hurt for a second. Ferreira is really backing him up now. Takedown attempt from the Brazilian but Taisumov hits a BEAUTIFUL hip throw! Ferreira pops right back up into the clinch though, but then decides to throw a headbutt and Herb Dean has to call time for a second before restarting them. Another solid combo lands for Ferreira. He’s pouring the pressure on now. Big exchanges follow and it looks like Ferreira’s getting the better of them, landing the stronger punches. He keeps walking Taisumov down and you can tell the Chechen is getting tired now. Nice front kicks to the body from Ferreira. Taisumov swings back, but he’s just not throwing enough now. Takedown attempt is avoided by him though. Round ends with more serious pressure from Ferreira who continues to land big shots. Clearly 10-9 Ferreira.

Round Three and Ferreira catches a low kick and lands some nice punches coming forward. He’s just breaking Taisumov with pressure and volume. Really good jabs land for the Brazilian and he’s opening up to the body and head now too with some great combos. Takedown attempt follows but Taisumov blocks it. Taisumov fires back with big punches and both guys look beaten up and bloody now, but it’s Ferreira who keeps on pushing the action. More shots connect for Ferreira and I’m not sure how much more Taisumov can take. Ferreira’s just walking right through his strikes. Head kick and a follow-up combo have the Chechen stunned but he recovers well. His nose is busted up badly though. Ferreira’s jab is landing over and over like a piston. His cardio is insane too as he just keeps on applying pressure, forcing Taisumov backwards and making him eat big punches. Round ends with more of the same and to be fair Taisumov’s done well to survive. 10-8 Ferreira and I’d call it 29-27 overall for him.

Official scores are 29-28, 29-27 and 29-27 for Diego Ferreira. That was a pretty phenomenal showing for him actually as Taisumov looked the sharper striker in the first round, but then Ferreira just turned up the heat on him, kept walking him down and by the end he was pouring on the offense with some awesome striking work and basically made him wilt. Hell of an opener too with plenty of action.

Heavyweight Fight: Curtis Blaydes vs Shamil Abdurakhimov

Blaydes was coming off his win over Justin Willis and was looking to re-establish himself as one of the top 5 Heavyweights in the world, and to be fair this one looked like a favourable match for him and his powerful wrestling, as despite some solid wins, Abdurakhimov had struggled with the takedown in previous fights.

First round begins and Blaydes closes the distance pretty quickly and gets Abdurakhimov down. He takes the back with one hook instantly and lands some punches, but the Dagestani works his way to his feet. Blaydes dumps him with a German suplex though and lands right in side mount. Abdurakhimov rolls again and works back to his feet, and this time he shakes Blaydes off and stands free. Decent uppercut lands for Abdurakhimov but Blaydes shoots again and tackles him down. He gets one hook in again to keep the Dagestani down and lands some punches, and Abdurakhimov looks like he’s breathing heavily. He manages to stand again, but Blaydes hits another suplex and remains in control. Abdurakhimov just can’t do anything to prevent this. Full mount for Blaydes with seconds to go and he drops some big shots, but he runs out of time just before he can finish. 10-8 Blaydes, completely one-sided round.

Second round and Abdurakhimov looks like he’s almost given up hope. He does land an uppercut as Blaydes moves forward, but quickly finds himself dumped to the ground again, this time in half-guard. Blaydes drops some punches and then takes back control as Abdurakhimov attempts to move, and from there he begins to land some really clubbing blows. Abdurakhimov is in trouble. He winds up flat on his back again, and from there Blaydes just DESTROYS him with elbows and punches and that’s it. Post-fight Abdurakhimov is bleeding all over the place. Great stoppage from Marc Goddard.

Completely one-sided win for Curtis Blaydes, exactly as advertised basically as Abdurakhimov couldn’t stop the takedown and just took a beating on the ground. Blaydes is a total monster and despite his losses to Francis Ngannou I’d actually give him a good shot at beating Heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic right now. His takedown is near impossible to stop, he’s fast, huge, has great cardio and he’s ruthless with his ground strikes. And at just 29 he’s probably not even hit his prime yet, which is SCARY.

Lightweight Fight: Islam Makhachev vs Davi Ramos

Makhachev – the most underrated 155lber on the planet in my opinion – had last been seen in a win over Arman Tsarukyan in April, while Ramos had outpointed newcomer Austin Hubbard in May. Given Makhachev’s awesome wrestling, this seemed like a good match for him.

Round One begins and holy shit this crowd love Makhachev. Both men open by throwing kicks before Makhachev shoots. Ramos manages to stop it in impressive fashion, and they continue to circle and throw feints. Brutal uppercut into a left hand connects for Islam, but Ramos takes it well. Both guys still look quite tentative here. Makhachev is just about landing the better strikes. Round ends in pretty dull fashion. 10-9 Makhachev.

Round Two and a head kick from Makhachev glances, and causes Ramos to rush him with a flurry that doesn’t really land cleanly. They clinch up and Ramos looks for the takedown, but he can’t get it and breaks with an uppercut instead. Nice body kick from Islam. Couple more solid shots to the body follow for the Dagestani. He’s beginning to take over the striking here and is landing a lot more. Stiff jab lands for Ramos though and wobbles him for a second before he recovers. Nasty left hand connects for Makhachev, set up by his jab. Another left lands and Ramos looks marked up now. He’s cut above the right eye. Heavy left and a knee lands for Islam. He’s really opening up now and connecting. Seconds to go and Ramos comes wading forward, but he can’t quite catch Makhachev and that’s the round. 10-9 Makhachev.

Round Three and Ramos pushes forward early on, trying a flurry, but he gets dropped by a BIG KNEE from the plum clinch and Makhachev pounces and looks to finish him with some big shots. Ramos does well to survive and gets to full guard, but he continues to eat punches and elbows. Makhachev’s top control is phenomenal as even a grappler as good as Ramos doesn’t look capable of scrambling free from underneath him. Makhachev continues to feed the Brazilian a steady diet of elbows while keeping him firmly grounded, and even a strong sweep attempt fails. Round ends as Makhachev allows Ramos to stand. 10-9 Makhachev for a 30-27 shutout.

Judges have it 29-27, 30-26 and 30-26 for Islam Makhachev. Pretty clear victory for him in the end as he just shut Ramos’s game down entirely. Fight started dull but once Makhachev found his groove in the second round it was one-way traffic and was pretty fun to watch too. Hopefully Makhachev gets a top ten opponent next time out because he’s clearly a title contender right now.

Lightweight Fight: Paul Felder vs Edson Barboza

This was a rematch from their original fight back in 2015 that Barboza won pretty handily, so it’s interesting to see the UFC hyping it as this super-close classic fight here. I was taking the opposite result this time though as Barboza had looked pretty shot in his recent fights while Felder looked on serious form.

Fight begins and Felder actually opens with a glancing spinning backfist. Nice leg kick from Barboza and Felder tries a spinning elbow that doesn’t land. Another heavy leg kick connects for Barboza and he goes to the body as well. Felder pressures him and lands a combo, but another chopping leg kick connects for the Brazilian. Clinch from Felder and he forces Barboza into the fence, but he breaks off shortly after. Looks like Felder’s nose is bleeding as they exchange combos. Pair of savage leg kicks connect for Barboza and then both men land with hard punches. Leg kick lands for Felder. Combo sets up another clinch for him and he lands an elbow before Barboza breaks. Brutal body kick lands for the Brazilian. Felder’s got a cut on his hairline. He tells Herb Dean it came from a clash of heads, and Herb quickly calls time to get it checked over. Replay confirms the clash of heads. They restart and the exchange continues with Barboza landing a quick left hook. He looks very slightly sharper than Felder in this round. Nice right hand lands for Felder though. He takes another hard left, but he keeps on coming forward. Holy shit his face is a MESS though. Round ends with Felder putting on the pressure. 10-9 Barboza for the slightly better strikes.

2nd round and they come out SWINGING and Felder connects with a pretty hard combo from the off before taking a heavy low kick. Spinning back kick connects hard to Felder’s body. Felder keeps on coming forward though, trying to put the pressure on, but he’s taking a bunch of heavy shots to the body in the process. Surprising takedown from Barboza and he lands inside Felder’s guard. Felder opens up with some elbows from his back though and it looks like the Brazilian is sliced up badly. That’s a bad cut too as the blood is pouring all over Felder’s body as they exchange on the ground. Armbar attempt from Felder and it looks pretty deep, but Barboza postures up and wraps his arms up to prevent it. He slams his way free and then they both stand back up. Nice right hand through the guard lands for Felder. Brutal counter left hand connects for Barboza as they continue to trade off. More exchanges follow before Barboza blocks a decent takedown attempt. Round ends in the clinch. Very close round but I’d say Felder did slightly more damage, so I’d go 10-9 Felder.

3rd round and this could easily go either way. Lot of respect between the two as well. Felder comes out swinging again and they exchange some heavy shots from the off. This is a tremendous fight. Felder is really pouring on the pressure again, cutting off Barboza’s movement to land his shots even though he’s still eating them too. Big combo from Felder and he’s just walking through Barboza’s counters. Dude is ridiculously tough. Spinning backfist lands pretty cleanly for Barboza but again Felder just keeps on coming forward. Spinning back kick from Barboza now. He’s doing well to land counters even as Felder forces him back. Less than two minutes to go and Felder continues to push the pace, landing a nice combo in the process. Clinch from Felder but Barboza breaks off with a knee. Felder forces another clinch with seconds to go but Barboza gets a takedown, only for Felder to pop up on the buzzer. Insanely close round; I’d go 10-9 Felder for the forward pressure, but Barboza did land the cleaner strikes.

Judges unsurprisingly call a split decision; 30-27 Barboza, 29-28 Felder, and 30-27 for Paul Felder to pick up a BIG WIN. Not sure I’d agree with 30-27 for him but whatever, it was super close and could’ve gone either way so there’s no way Barboza could call a robbery. Tremendous fight at any rate as both guys left everything in the Octagon, with Barboza landing some brutally clean strikes, but Felder just refused to stop coming forward and poured on so much pressure. Massive respect for both men and this was one of the better fights of 2019.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Dustin Poirier

Well, this was a huge fight by anyone’s standards, simply because any Khabib fight – especially since he smashed Conor McGregor – has that big event feel these days. This one was set up when Poirier won the interim Lightweight title by beating Max Holloway in April, as Khabib hadn’t fought since the McGregor fight due to the infamous post-fight fracas. Was it a better fight than Khabib vs. Tony Ferguson would’ve been? Well, no, but it was set up during the period that saw Ferguson suffering from mental illness so nobody was really complaining. I was actually taking Poirier in an upset too, feeling that he could somehow wear out Khabib in the early rounds before taking him out in customary fashion late in the fight.

Entrances for this one are great; Poirier walks out to The Boss by James Brown, a totally understated badass song, while Khabib comes out to some random power ballad to the big superstar pop as evidently the place is just full of Russians.

Round One begins and the crowd are deafeningly behind Khabib. They circle and both guys look slightly tentative, with Khabib catching a kick to worry Poirier about the takedown early on. He doesn’t get it though and they continue to circle. Couple of kicks glance for Poirier. Punches land for Khabib and he shoots for the takedown, forcing Poirier into the fence, and despite some good defense Khabib gets him down. Poirier pops back up, but Khabib’s got a rear waistlock and he force him back down and takes the back with both hooks. His grappling is ridiculous. Poirier rolls and ends up mounted, and Khabib goes for a neck crank. Poirier escapes, but takes some punches and Nurmagomedov goes for the neck crank again. Poirier avoids and stands up to shake him off, but Khabib stays on him like glue. The Dagestani forces him down again, then lands some knees to the legs as he stands before tripping him back down. Round ends with Khabib landing big shots from the mount. 10-8 Khabib as Poirier just got mauled.

Round Two and Poirier throws some early strikes, but eats a flurry as Khabib backs him up. Big combo from Poirier has Khabib on the run but he looks okay to me. Poirier keeps on firing and pushing forward, and he lands a body kick too, but the champ seems calm. He’s also keeping his chin worryingly high though. Not that it matters as he hits a swift double leg and plants Poirier on his back, taking side mount. Poirier tries to scramble, but he just can’t get away from the Dagestani and he eats some big punches for good measure. Poirier is busted open now. He rolls onto his knees but still can’t shake Khabib off him, and he soon finds himself tripped back down. Poirier stands again and finally frees himself, but Khabib lands a right and goes right back to the clinch before grabbing another waistlock. Round ends with a hard knee from Khabib. 10-9 Khabib, Poirier did better early on but then got mauled again.

Round Three and Poirier lands a couple of low kicks and a left hand, but he looks tentative and takes a right hand before Khabib shoots. Poirier tries a guillotine and drops to half-guard, but despite the hold looking tight Khabib works his head free and then takes full mount. Poirier gives his back from there and Khabib drops some heavy punches. Rear naked choke looks sunk in for the Dagestani as Poirier tries to get to his knees, and Khabib pulls him down to force the tap.

Post-fight Khabib leaps over the cage again….but only in celebration this time as he hugs Dana White and then gets mobbed by his fans and cornermen. And then he makes the point of showing a ton of respect to Poirier after the fight, basically taking a veiled shot at McGregor for his trash talk and saying that MMA is all about respect and sportsmanship.

Overall this was an amazing showing from Khabib yet again; Poirier tried but he couldn’t stop the takedown and just got chewed up from there. It’s scary too because Poirier had looked like a monster for like, two years leading into the fight, beating guys like Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje in ruthless fashion and yet he could do NOTHING with Khabib. For me what makes Khabib so good isn’t so much his grappling – which is obviously amazing – but it’s his underrated speed. He’s not a great striker and looks hittable, but he’s so quick that he can avoid the offense of more technical strikers and always finds a way to get inside. Basically I don’t see a 155lber on the planet that can beat him right now, assuming he can stay healthy.

-Show ends with the announcers breaking down the night’s action.

Final Thoughts….

Extremely fun show overall; Felder vs. Barboza was probably the best fight, but Ferreira/Taisumov was fun too and the main event was also excellent if one-sided. The slightly slower Makhachev/Ramos fight means this one isn’t up there with the very best shows of 2019, but it’s definitely worth checking out on Fight Pass.

Best Fight: Barboza vs. Felder
Worst Fight: Makhachev vs. Ramos

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: