UFC 242 comes to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates with a lightweight title bout featuring undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Dustin Poirier.
Nurmagomedov was launched into stardom by his rivalry and submission win over Conor McGregor, but he has been out since the October 2018 bout while serving a suspension for his behavior after the bout.
With the banishment now behind him, he'll turn his sights to Poirier, who is on an absolute tear in the division. Poirier has defeated three former champions in his current five-fight win streak. He's hoping to add the Russian to his list of victims.
That won't be an easy task. The Eagle is undefeated for a reason and will be looking to continue his reign atop the lightweight division.
It's a card with a great main event and an interesting mix of up-and-comers and veterans.
Main Card (ESPN+ PPV 2 p.m. ET)
- Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (-440; bet $440 to win $100) vs. Interim Lightweight Champion Dustin Poirier (+350; bet $100 to win $350)
- Edson Barboza (-160) vs. Paul Felder (+130)
- Islam Makhachev (-320) vs. Davi Ramos (+260)
- Shamil Abdurakhimov (+350) vs. Curtis Blaydes (-500)
- Diego Ferreira (+210) vs. Mairbek Taisumov (-260)
Prelims (FX 12 p.m. ET)
- Joanne Calderwood (+180) vs. Andrea Lee (-220)
- Zubaira Tukhugov (-550) vs. Lerone Murphy (+375)
- Liana Jojua (-165) vs. Sarah Moras (+135)
- Ottman Azaitar vs. Teemu Packalen
Early Prelims (Fight Pass 10 a.m. ET)
- Belal Muhammad (-370) vs. Takashi Sato (+290)
- Muslim Salikhov (-110) vs. Nordine Taleb (-120)
- Omari Akhmedov (-105) vs. Zak Cummings (-125)
- Don Madge (-180) vs. Fares Ziam (+150)
Odds via Caesars
The Eagle Lands Another Title Defense
Nurmagomedov's fights have mostly followed the same pattern: Mercilessly pursue takedown, secure takedown, relentlessly pressure opponent on the ground until they give up, repeat.
In today's landscape, it isn't often that a somewhat one-track-mind fighter can impose the same game plan on so many fighters. Yet Nurmagomedov finds a way to basically do just that.
His standup game has improved drastically throughout his time in the UFC. But he makes no bones about wanting to get the fight to the ground and wear down the opponent.
The approach will be no different with Poirier. The Diamond does have a shot at pulling off the upset. His latest streak can't be ignored, and he has the kind of power that could potentially change a fight at a moment's notice.
That's a risky pick, though. More often than not, opponents don't have the opportunity to land anything of consequence against Nurmagomedov. The combat Sambo veteran is too good at closing the distance and getting the fight where he wants it.
Al Iaquinta and McGregor have managed to make the fights competitive in stretches. It wouldn't be shocking if Poirier is able to do the same.
He'll have his moments, but it's still hard to pick against the unbeaten champion until we see someone do it.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via fourth-round TKO
The Irish Dragon Outpoints Edson Barboza in Fight of the Night
The last time Paul Felder and Edson Barboza met in the cage, it was a memorable Fight of the Night that resulted in the Brazilian picking up the win.
This time, four years later, the only difference is that Felder is a more well-known commodity. These two still figure to put in a Fight of the Night performance.
Both electrifying strikers are looking to stay relevant in a loaded lightweight division. Felder spends more time at the announcing table than he does the Octagon these days, but he still has solid skills in the cage. In his last outing, he earned a unanimous decision over James Vick.
Barboza is showing some wear and tear from years in the cage, though. The 33-year-old is just 1-3 in his last four fights, with a third-round TKO win over Dan Hooker representing his only victory since March 2017.
Felder has become more well-rounded as his career has progressed and is a different fighter than the one that lost to Barboza in 2015. With Barboza appearing to decline and Felder not fighting as often these days, it wouldn't be surprising to see him pull off the small upset this time around.
Regardless of who wins, this should be an excellent candidate for Fight of the Night.
Prediction: Felder via unanimous decision
Curtis Blaydes Takes Out Another Heavyweight
Curtis Blaydes is often the forgotten heavyweight contender. There's nothing flashy about his style, but he's only ever lost to Francis Ngannou.
Given the incredible one-of-a-kind power of Ngannou, that's nothing to be ashamed of.
Simply put, Blaydes has only lost to the opponents he has faced who boast otherworldly power. Shamil Abdurakhimov hasn't shown that he belongs in that category.
The Russian has nine knockout wins to his name and most recently defeated Marcin Tybura by second-round knockout. But he's also been knocked out by the likes of Derrick Lewis and Timothy Johnson.
Blaydes doesn't typically lose to the caliber of opponent that Abdurakhimov represents. On a card that has little name recognition, this will be a chance for Blaydes to stand out, and that's exactly what he should do.
Prediction: Blaydes via second-round TKO