Khabib Nurmagomedov will make his eagerly-anticipated return to action when he faces Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi on September 7.
The UFC lightweight champion beat Conor McGregor at UFC 229 back in October to extend his unbeaten record to 27-0.
However, the Russian star was then fined and banned for nine months for a brawl following his victory over McGregor.
Nurmagomedov forced the Irishman to tap out in the fourth round before jumping the octagon fence and fighting his rival’s team. McGregor then fought with the Russian’s camp as numerous brawls broke out.
McGregor was subsequently suspended for six months and fined $50,000 by the Nevada Athletic Commission, while Nurmagomedov was banned for nine months and fined $500,000.
The bad blood between the pair has continued since then, with the Russian warning McGregor to “bring security” if he decides to turn up to watch the bout in Abu Dhabi.
Poirier will head into the contest as the interim title holder after beating fellow American Max Holloway earlier this year. Read on as we assess the upcoming bout.
Preparation the key for both fighters
As Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, and that certainly rings true in mixed martial arts.
UFC Hall of Famer, Forrest Griffin, is currently Vice President of Athlete Development at the state-of-the-art UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, Nevada.
His organisation conducted research into discovering just what it takes to win in the UFC and its 2018 report revealed what it called “The UFC performance paradigm”.
The report assessed various elements of being a UFC fighter including fitness, health, injuries, training, performance benchmarks, nutrition and more.
Fight camp recovery was also investigated in detail, with aspects such as optimal rest and quality sleep analysed to ensure fighters make it to fight night in the best possible shape.
“Taking the first steps to understand the determinants of performance relating to these tactical aspects (e.g. win methods, KPIs) makes it possible to cascade understanding into additional technical, physical and psychological determinants in an accurate and intentional manner,” the report said.
“Adopting a truly integrated, multidisciplinary perspective on MMA performance, we bring together every aspect that goes into that success.
“From competition analytics to injury audits, physical benchmarks and philosophical strategies, we feel that no piece of the “performance puzzle” has been overlooked, and these insights provide a framework upon which coaches and athletes can take their development to even greater heights.”
Both fighters will be eager to embrace this ethos in the run-up to the bout and it will be enthralling to see who has the best preparation for the big clash.
Nurmagomedov camp confident of victory
Nurmagomedov’s victory over McGregor took his record to 11-0 in the UFC and 27 professional fights unbeaten overall.
It also catapulted him into the superstar category – a fact which has been recognised with the UFC agreeing a lucrative new deal with the Russian.
“We’re extremely happy,” Nurmagomedov’s manager Ali Abdel-Aziz told MMAFighting. “We’re well taken care of. We can’t ask for any better. We very grateful. Easiest negotiation I ever did. It was fair, straight to the point.
“This is one of the biggest deals in UFC history. I don’t care Conor (McGregor), I don’t care this is one of the biggest guaranteed money (contracts) in UFC history. When you do this kind of deal, people normally burn bridges. The bridges only got stronger, that’s all I’m going to say.
“The UFC stepped up. They give us what we want and they made a good business decision on their behalf and they made us a partner. We are all partners. We are in it together on this.”
The new deal potentially brings added pressure on Nurmagomedov, having previously been left behind by the likes of McGregor in the financial stakes.
Fighting in front of an expectant audience in Abu Dhabi adds an extra dimension, particularly as the Russian hasn’t always proved popular with the American public. Abdel-Aziiz believes Nurmagomedov will embrace the occasion.
“This is like a prince getting to show off all of his skills in front of his own people – this is coming home,” he added. “This is the people who have been supporting him, the whole entire Middle East, the whole north of Africa, 1.5 billion Muslims and the UFC did the right decision.
“Everything they said, they delivered. We have to deliver, too, that’s it.”
Poirier with a point to prove
Dustin Poirier is rated as a big underdog to beat Nurmagomedov despite his interim lightweight title victory in Atlanta during April.
Poirier took a unanimous decision against Holloway in the UFC 236 main event to continue his recent run of impressive form.
Victories over Holloway, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis have boosted Poirier’s so-called “skins on the wall” resume and he says Nurmagomedov’s name will be added to the list.
“I can beat anybody in the world – Khabib’s skin is going up next,” Poirier told MMA Junkie. “I can beat anybody in the world. I just need to put the work in and show up in the moment, ready to perform, and I can beat anybody.”
“It’s prestigious to be the first person to give Khabib that ‘L’. Me being the interim champ, it’s a piece of the world title. I understand that. We have to unify the belts.”
Poirier’s road to the interim title has been a roller-coaster ride and one which many pundits predicted would never happen.
The American has never been afraid of hard work, but it sometimes seemed like he was destined not to reach the top of his profession.
However, he has looked much improved in his most recent fights and it would be unwise to write off his chances against Nurmagomedov.
Poirier has fought just once previously outside of North America, losing by unanimous decision against Cub Swanson in London back in 2013.
Despite that defeat, Poirier insists that travelling to Abu Dhabi to face Nurmagomedov in front of what will be a partisan crowds holds no fears.
“That’s a big challenge to go over there – probably one of the biggest Muslim stars, sports stars for sure,” Poirier added.
“To go into enemy territory and fight their guy is going to be a huge challenge. But that’s what you sign up for. He’s the champ. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve got a long climb to go over there and pull off the upset.”