KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV VS. DUSTIN POIRIER
Arguably the most highly anticipated bout of the year, Saturday’s main event in Abu Dhabi will see Nurmagomedov and Poirier clash in a battle to determine the undisputed UFC lightweight champion.
The 30-year-old Poirier has been on fire as of late, entering on a four-fight winning streak built on victories over current and former champions that has showcased his poise, precision and power. He’s morphed from being an emotional fighter who came up short when it counted most into a battle-tested tactician who thrives in the heat of battle, maintaining a cool head and marksman-like accuracy.
And then there is Nurmagomedov, the undefeated juggernaut who has turned back 27 consecutive opponents during the course of his career while making good on the in-fight forecasting of his championship future he made to Michael Johnson while grinding him into defeat. The smothering grappler dismantled Conor McGregor in his last outing and continues to make strides with his striking, becoming even more dangerous with each appearance.
Although the UFC lightweight title hangs in the balance, this one is also about legacy, as Poirier looks to shock the world and continue his incredible run of success by becoming the first to defeat Nurmagomedov, while the unbeaten superstar from Dagestan aims to maintain his unblemished record and position himself for something even bigger next time out.
EDSON BARBOZA VS. PAUL FELDER
This is an absolutely captivating fight on a number of different levels.
First and foremost, Barboza and Felder are two of the top lightweights in the world, currently positioned at Nos. 7 and 10 respectively in the rankings, and boasting a combined resume that includes appearances against the majority of the competitors ahead of them in the divisional hierarchy at the moment.
Secondly, Saturday’s co-main event is a sequel, a follow-up to their July 2015 clash in Chicago that garnered Fight of the Night honors with Barboza winning by unanimous decision with scores of 29-28 across the board.
Lastly, it’s a crossroads fight for both men. Though entrenched in the Top 10, Barboza enters having dropped three of his last four contests, while Felder arrives in arguably the best form of his career, having rattled off four wins in his last five, with his lone setback coming by split decision in a short notice assignment up a division against Mike Perry.
Can the Brazilian stalwart show that he’s still a formidable threat in the upper tier of the lightweight division or will “The Irish Dragon” earn a measure of revenge and keep his momentum rolling?
ISLAM MAKHACHEV VS. DAVI RAMOS
On a card flush with crucial lightweight contests, this is one of the most captivating.
Makhachev has been positioned as a future championship contender since arriving in the UFC a little over four years ago, and save for a misfire against Adriano Martins at UFC 192, the 27-year-old has delivered. He arrives in Abu Dhabi on a five-fight winning streak and brimming with confidence as he competes alongside his teammate and mentor Nurmagomedov for the first time in his UFC career.
Ramos is a perfect 4-0 since relocating to the 155-pound weight class, registering three submission wins prior to going the distance against Austin Hubbard in his first assignment of the year back in May. The compact and powerful Brazilian was disappointed with his effort following that fight, but promised a return to form when he returned, telling Felder, who was serving as an analyst that evening, that there was only one man he was really focused on fighting: Nurmagomedov.
Instead of facing the unbeaten champion, Ramos now gets in his protégé in a pairing between surging fighters trying to make some real headway in the stacked lightweight ranks. Ramos has shown flashes of elite upside during his current run of success, while Makhachev has impressed against a tough slate of talented fighters to sneak into the final spot in the Top 15.
The winner takes a major step forward in the star-studded lightweight division and will have earned a major feather in their cap in the process.
CURTIS BLAYDES VS. SHAMIL ABDURAKHIMOV
The lone non-lightweight clash on the main card comes in the heavyweight division, where the still-improving Blaydes looks for his second win of the year when he takes on the streaking Adburakhimov.
Blaydes has beaten everyone he’s faced not named Francis Ngannou, having amassed an 11-0 record with one no contest in a dozen fights against the likes of Aleksei Oleinik, Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem and Justin Willis. Unfortunately, the Elevation Fight Team member has shared the cage with Ngannou on two occasions and come out on the wrong side of things both times, most recently getting stopped in just 45 seconds last November in Beijing.
One of the more unheralded members of the heavyweight ranks, Abdurakhimov enters Saturday’s contest on a three-fight winning streak and stationed at No. 9 in the rankings. He’s won five of six since dropping his promotional debut, including an impressive second-round finish of Marcin Tybura last time out.
Will Blaydes continue his dominance over fighters other than Ngannou or will Abdurakhimov score the biggest victory of his career and make a major move up the divisional ladder?
MAIRBEK TAISUMOV VS. DIEGO FERREIRA
This one shows just how deep and talented the UFC lightweight ranks are as Taisumov and Ferreira have combined to win 10 straight appearances, yet neither has managed to crack the Top 15.
Various issues have limited Taisumov to just a single appearance inside the Octagon each of the last three years and just five fights since the start of 2015. He’s won them all, earning three straight Performance of the Night bonuses prior to his victory over Desmond Green last September in Moscow, and he boasts a 7-1 record under the UFC banner.
Ferreira arrives at UFC 242 on a four-fight winning streak that includes a two-year hiatus between the first and second victories in his run. Since returning from suspension, the Texas-based Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has collected three more victories, with his last loss inside the Octagon coming more than four years ago against headliner Dustin Poirier.
This is one of those fights that hasn’t garnered a ton of attention in advance of Saturday’s pay-per-view in the United Arab Emirates, but will be a crucial moment in the careers of both men, as the victor should take a major step forward, while the vanquished will see their extended run of success brought to an end.
OTTMAN AZAITAR VS. TEEMU PACKALEN
One of two lightweight battles on the preliminary portion of the UFC 242 fight card, this one pits the undefeated Azaitar against the returning Packalen.
The 32-year-old Finnish veteran Packalen made his UFC debut all the way back in May 2015 when he dropped a unanimous decision to Mickael Lebout. He rebounded with a 24-second submission win over Thibault Gouti in his sophomore showing, but then landed on Marc Diakiese’s highlight reel a year later. He’s been sidelined with injuries ever since, with Saturday’s contest bringing an end to layoff that clocks in at two years, five months, and 20 days.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother who made his successful UFC debut last year, Azaitar brings a perfect 11-0 record with him to Abu Dhabi. The 29-year-old “Bulldozer” claimed championship gold under the Brave CF banner two fights back, but relinquished the belt after moving to welterweight for his next fight. Following a year off, Azaitar is returning to the 155-pound ranks with designs on extended his unbeaten run to an even dozen in his UFC debut.
LIANA JOJUA VS. SARAH MORAS
An intriguing women’s bantamweight bout lands on the preliminary portion of Saturday’s fight card as the debuting Jojua squares off with Moras in a pivotal contest for the Canadian TUF 20 alum.
Fighting out of Tbilisi, Georgia, the 24-year-old Jojua arrives in the UFC on a five-fight winning streak and brandishing a 7-2 record overall. Like many young, inexperienced competitors these days, Jojua’s first year as a professional produced mixed results, but as she’s gained experience and continued to improve, the promising prospect has continued making strides.
The six years since Moras competed on Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter have been a grind for the Sechelt, British Columbia native, who currently trains at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. She’s gone just 2-4 inside the Octagon while dealing with myriad injuries and arrives in Abu Dhabi in dire need of a victory, having lost three straight.
Will the veteran Moras be able to right the ship and get back into the win column or will Jojua announce herself as someone to watch in the bantamweight ranks by extending her winning streak on Saturday?
BELAL MUHAMMAD VS. TAKASHI SATO
If you’re searching for a dark horse Fight of the Night candidate, look no further than this sneaky-good welterweight scrap.
Sato made his UFC debut back in April, venturing to Florida to take on veteran Ben Saunders in his home state and putting away “Killa B” with a clean left cross and nasty elbows on the ground less than 80 seconds into the second round. It was an outstanding effort for the former Pancrase standout, who has won seven of his last eight fights and sports a 15-2 record overall.
The 31-year-old Muhammad is one of those guys with a better resume than you remember until you pull it up, posting a 6-3 mark over his first nine UFC starts and a 5-1 record over his last six outings. The durable, resilient Roufusport product bounced back from his entertaining loss to Geoff Neal in January with a gutsy unanimous decision win over Curtis Millender at UFC 236 and looks to pick up a second straight victory on Saturday.
NORDINE TALEB VS. MUSLIM SALIKHOV
Another compelling welterweight contest on the preliminary card is this matchup between Taleb and the returning “King of Kung Fu.”
A two-time TUF contestant, the 37-year-old Taleb has been a fixture on the UFC roster for five years, amassing a 7-4 record. Fundamentally sound and carrying considerable power in his hands, Taleb is at his best when he lets the fight come to him.
Salikhov rebounded from a second-round submission loss in his promotional debut with a second-round stoppage win in his sophomore appearance in April 2018, but has been sidelined since then, making it clear that the 35-year-old former Wushu Sanda world champion will be looking to make up for lost time in this one.
OMARI AKHMEDOV VS. ZAK CUMMINGS
Another bout that highlights the depth of this card — and the overall depth of talent competing in the UFC today — this clash between veteran middleweights carries explosive potential.
Cummings enters Saturday’s showdown with Akmedov off arguably the best performance of his UFC career. Last time out, the cagey veteran outworked and ultimately finished Trevin Giles, handing the talented prospect the first loss of his career. Now 4-1 over his last five and 6-2 over the last four years, the TUF 17 alum is proving to be a valuable addition to the middleweight ranks.
Like the man he faces this weekend, Akmedov moved back up to middleweight after having mixed results at welterweight and has found a groove ever since. The 31-year-old “Wolverine” is unbeaten over his last four outings, going 3-0-1 in that span, including a unanimous decision win over Tim Boetsch last time out.
JOANNE CALDERWOOD VS. ANDREA LEE
Tucked away on the prelims, this one carries championship significance in the women’s flyweight division.
The winner of the first ever female bout in the 125-pound weight class, Calderwood has quickly established herself as one of the top contenders in the still developing division, earning victories over Kalindra Faria and Ariane Lipski before dropping a “closer than it looks on the cards” decision to Katlyn Chookagian last time out at UFC 238.
Highly touted after an impressive run on the regional circuit, Lee has shown she’s one of the top rising talents in the flyweight ranks since arriving in the UFC, posting three straight victories to extend her overall winning streak to seven. Now she takes a considerable step up in competition in hopes of entering the title conversation.
With champion Valentina Shevchenko dispatching challengers in rapid succession and with relative ease, the winner of this one should find herself on the short list of contenders heading into the final quarter of 2019, with a title eliminator or perhaps even a title shot in their future.
ZUBAIRA TUKHUGOV VS. LERONE MURPHY
A ton of question marks surround this featherweight contest slated for the preliminary portion of Saturday’s fight card.
Undeniably talented, Tukhugov hasn’t fought in more then three years, having served a two-year USADA suspension after testing positive for ostarine in the fall of 2016 and then an 11-month ban for his part in the UFC 229 post-fight melee. When he has competed, the 28-year-old has shown Top 10 potential, posting victories in his first three Octagon appearances before dropping a split decision to Renato Moicano at UFC 198.
Sporting an unbeaten 8-0 record, Murphy is one of those newcomers who are hard to peg. On one hand, he’s handled his business without incident, posting eight consecutive wins, five of them by stoppage, including his most recent victory in May. On the other, the 28-year-old hasn’t been fighting UFC-level opposition.
This pairing should provide some answers.
DON MADGE VS. FARES ZIAM
Madge is low-key one of the most intriguing sophomores on the UFC roster and after Magomed Mustafaev was forced to withdraw, he’ll get the chance to show why against the 22-year-old newcomer Ziam.
Entering as the biggest underdog on the card in his debut last October, Madge walked into the Octagon in Moncton and mugged Te Edwards. He dropped the Contender Series alum less than 30 seconds into the fight, dominated the rest of the opening round and sent him crashing to the canvas in a heap after just 14 seconds had ticked off the clock in the middle stanza.
Now riding a five-fight winning streak and still undefeated when he’s not fighting “The Iron Lion” Leon Mynhardt, this is an opportunity for Madge to remind people of his impressive debut performance and establish himself as one of the top emerging talents in the lightweight ranks.
Ziam, of course, has designs of dashing those plans and using this short-notice opportunity to catapult himself into that conversation instead. Unbeaten over his last five fights and sporting a 10-2 record overall, the six-foot-one French-born newcomer is coming off a third-round submission win in February and has a second-round stoppage victory over TUF alum Abner Lloveras on his resume as well.
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