UFC 242: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Abu Dhabi
The UFC returns to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for the first time since 2014 (UFC Fight Night 39) and it's only the second pay-per-view to emanate from the site (UFC 112).
UFC 242 will take place in what will be known as "The Arena," a venue constructed just for the event on Yas Island (h/t The National's John McAuley).
What would make Abu Dhabi go through all that trouble? The return of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Nurmagomedov headlines UFC 242 against interim champion Dustin Poirier, who won his gold against UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway earlier in 2019 and gets a chance to unify the belts on September 7.
After the main event, the card takes a dip in name value and important fights, but there are plenty of high-quality matchups throughout the card worthy of your attention. UFC 242 looks to be a night of consistent, quality action inside the Octagon.
As the summer winds down, UFC 242 will heat things back up.
UFC 242 Main Card (PPV)
- UFC Lightweight Championship: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier
- Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder
- Islam Makhachev vs. Davi Ramos
- Curtis Blaydes vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
- Mairbek Taisumov vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira
UFC Preliminary Card (FX)
- Ottman Azaitar vs. Teemu Packalen
- Liana Jojua vs. Sarah Moras
UFC Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)
- Belal Muhammad vs. Takashi Sato
- Nordine Taleb vs. Muslim Salikhov
- Omari Akhmedov vs. Zak Cummings
- Joanne Calderwood vs. Andrea Lee
The Main Event: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier
The lightweight division will once again be unified after the UFC 242 main event.
In the wake of Khabib Nurmagomedov's absence, the UFC instituted an interim title, and it was Dustin Poirier who won that belt. Now, he tries to dethrone the most dominant force the 155-pound division has ever known.
Nurmagomedov's rise to the title saw him control each and every opponent. From his UFC debut in 2012 against Kamal Shalorus to his ninth UFC fight against Edson Barboza, he had his way inside the Octagon. At UFC 223, in his 10th UFC appearance, he got his chance for gold.
It was originally scheduled to be a fight against Tony Ferguson, but like many times prior to 223, the bout would not occur. In stepped Max Holloway, but he pulled from the title tilt a day before it was scheduled to happen (h/t MMAFighting.com's Shaun Al-Shatti). Having made the championship weight, Al Iaquinta was put opposite Nurmagomedov.
Iaquinta put up a valiant effort, but it was another all-Nurmagomedov bout. He took the title and advanced to the real money bout—a meeting with Conor McGregor.
After all the trash talk, Nurmagomedov punished the Irishman. He dropped him on the feet, took him down at will and smothered him with intense pressure. The submission presented itself in the fourth round. The post-fight scuffle grabbed headlines, but the in-cage performance was a showcase of how definitively better he was than McGregor and every other lightweight in the world.
It was that post-fight altercation that put Nurmagomedov on the sideline and opened the door for Poirier to taste (interim) gold. He won with an impressive showing against Holloway at UFC 236.
Poirier's six-fight unbeaten streak has seen him take home four Fight of the Night bonuses and another Performance of the Night bonus. He flew up the ranks with impressive showings against Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez.
Poirier is not a fly-by-night contender. He has been in the UFC since 2011. He has gone through his ups and downs but has hit his stride as one of the most well-rounded and dangerous fighters in the division.
The lightweight unification bout is Nurmagomedov's stiffest test to date. Poirier is a fighter who can be a threat anywhere the fight takes place and has an explosive offensive game that could lead to a shocking upset.
It is the most even lightweight title bout in years. The unbeaten, bear-wrestling, Dagestani machine versus the "Diamond" of Louisiana.
The UFC 242 main event is a showcase of exactly why the 155-pound division is the deepest, most talent-rich weight class in MMA.
The Co-Main Event: Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder
For being a co-main event, Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder lacks the stakes fans are accustomed to seeing for a pay-per-view affair. There is no title on the line, nor is there a title shot promised to the winner. It is just a top-10 clash between two fantastic fighters.
And that's OK.
The action that is promised between No. 7-ranked contender Barboza and No. 10-ranked Felder is nothing short of sensational. It is guaranteed violence.
These two are arguably the two best pure striking talents in the UFC, and they are getting prime real estate on a UFC card to electrify audiences worldwide. Which is the expectation for their styles and what makes this a must-see fight.
Felder is coming off a solid win over James Vick in February, but Barboza is seeking redemption after getting steamrolled by Justin Gaethje in March. One fighter trying to keep his momentum and another attempting to reverse the trajectory he is on. It puts both fighters' backs against the wall as they try to leave a lasting impression in Abu Dhabi.
While it would not be ideal for the UFC or fans around the world, there is the possibility of one of these men playing the role of back-up for the main event. Should anything go wrong, Barboza and Felder should prepare for five rounds and come in on championship weight just in case they are called upon to replace either main event fighter.
The side effect is that both should be in prime condition for a 15-minute donnybrook. There are no excuses.
Barboza vs. Felder is the can't-miss action fight of UFC 242.
Fight to Keep an Eye On: Joanne Calderwood vs. Andrea Lee
The battle between No. 5-ranked flyweight contender Joanne Calderwood and No. 6-ranked Andrea Lee is currently scheduled to be the first fight of the evening. A strange choice as it could well be the second-most important fight of the night behind the main event.
And stylistically speaking, it should also provide excitement.
The UFC's new flyweight division is shallow. That much is known. As with any shallow division, a fighter is just an impressive win or two from challenging for gold. Calderwood is coming off a loss to No. 2-ranked Katlyn Chookagian, but a win puts her right back in the hunt. As for Lee, a victory would be her eighth straight and move her into the top 10.
This flyweight clash has a lot of significance.
Both Calderwood and Lee are primarily stand-up fighters. It should provide quality action on the feet. Should it hit the ground fans can expect quick, exciting scrambles as they jockey for position or fight to stand back up. It promises to be a fun matchup between two of the division's top contenders.
While much of the undercard lacks significance, this fight is a reason to check-in early.
Best of the Rest
Curtis Blaydes vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
Stipe Miocic reclaimed his throne, but the division isn't going to stop there. No. 4-ranked Curtis Blaydes is going to hunt for another win to make a claim at getting his shot in 2020. Standing opposite him will be No. 9-ranked Shamil Abdurakhimov.
The next heavyweight challenger could be Daniel Cormier, Francis Ngannou or even Jon Jones. It's unclear which of those three will be next for Miocic, but after those names it gets very hazy. This is a perfect opportunity for Blaydes or Abdurakhimov to shine and enter that discussion.
Mairbek Taisumov vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira
The first bout on the main card is a lightweight clash between two talented fighters seeking to break through to the top 15.
Carlos Diego Ferreira may be one of the most unheralded fighters in the division. Since returning in 2018 after a two-year layoff, he has gone 3-0 in the UFC. Mairbek Taisumov once had a prospect tag stuck on him as well, but fighting only once per year since 2016 has forced him into the background.
While there are no rankings attached to this fight, do not kid yourself into thinking it is not a top-end matchup in the 155-pound class.
This is a sleeper pick for Fight of the Night.
Belal Muhammad vs. Takashi Sato
Want to turn on UFC Fight Pass and catch a fun fight? Here it is.
Belal Muhammad and Takashi Sato aren't going to be a contender for the welterweight title anytime soon, but this fight may only be behind Barboza vs. Felder in terms of pure "fun."
Muhammad has been one of the most consistently fun performers in the UFC since joining in 2016, and he made an emphatic debut against Ben Saunders in April.
This is like a summer blockbuster at the movie theater: a good excuse to grab some popcorn and enjoy mindless fun with no need to think about the future.