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Will pressure make a Diamond at UFC 242?

Is Dustin Poirier the man to finally dethrone Khabib Nurmagomedov?

   This weekend in Abu Dhabi the undefeated lightweight 155lbs champion Khabib ‘The Eagle” Nurmagomedov will face the biggest test of his career in Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier. The current Las Vegas odds do not reflect the difficulty of this bout; listing the undefeated champion close to a 4 to 1 favorite at some locations over Poirier. However, I think this matchup is the first legitimate threat to Khabib’s undefeated record outside of the multiple canceled Tony Ferguson fights. The large consensus of fans and media understandably point to Khabib’s impressive victories over guys like Dos Anos, McGregor, and Johnson as to why he will get by Poirier without much trouble. However, despite this public opinion, I think Poirier is the best fighter to date to have a legitimate chance to knockoff the Eagle. I think there are several overlooked factors as to why Khabib may lose Saturday night.

   First, despite his overwhelming dominance, it is very straight forward when preparing to fight Khabib. Everyone in that Arena Saturday night including Dust Poirier and his team knows his opponents game plan. Nurmagomedov is going to come forward with pressure look to shoot or initiate the clinch along the cage so he can use his superior grappling, trips, and wrestling to get this fight to the mat where he is king. Khabib’s one big punch against a sloppy McGregor aside he does not want to exchange with gifted strikers like Poirier. Khabib’s striking has improved slightly since his debut in the UFC but it remains a weakness in his game against the elite in the division. Poirier’s team knowing the exact game plan of his opponent allows him to focus his camp on takedown defense, cardio, and escaping the clinch.

     Others may point to Poirier’s takedown defense as just being good, not great which could lead to problems against such a mauling grappler like Khabib. There are many aspects to takedown defense than just stuffing the initial takedown but many people just look at the defense percentage without recognizing a critical component after a takedown attempt or defense occurs; cardio.

     This is how typically Khabib overwhelms his opponents. Multiple takedown attempt after attempt; via trip, single leg, double leg, or slam until he breaks you. He has had his takedowns stuffed before: against Dos Anos, Barboza, and even McGregor all stuffed Nurmagomedov takedowns during their fights. They just were not able to maintain the energy and cardio necessary to keep him from eventually getting them with later attempts. This is the one critical difference I see Poirier having compared to some of Khabib’s other opposition. Poirier seems to possess an unlimited gas tank that lets him recover from some of even the draining of fights. 

     Looking at some of Poirier’s recent fights that went longer than 3 rounds against guys who like to rely on lots of pressure like Khabib, it revealed Poirier’s pace gets better as the fight wears on. In his most recent win against featherweight champion Max Holloway, a guy also known for his gas tank; Poirier had more strikes thrown & landed in rounds 3 and 4 than he had in round 2 of their fight. In his absolute war with Justin Gaethje, Poirier threw 351 strikes in a little more than 3 rounds of action before stopping Gaethje. Khabib has only ever thrown more than 300 strikes in one fight for his career against Al Iaquinta a last-second replacement opponent for the champion.

     This is the place I think Poirier can expose a ‘possible’ gap in Khabib’s game if he can find success avoiding early getting taken down and mauled on the mat. I don’t think Khabib’s cardio has ever been tested where he’s had to defend against offensive attacks late in fights. To his credit in most of his fights, he’s worn down his opponent by the 3rd, 4th, or 5th round so all they are doing is trying to survive against him vs actively trying to hurt him to win the fight. I anticipate Poirier testing Khabib’s gas tank for the first time in his career and I think once he is unable to break Poirier early his well-known weight cutting issues will allow Poirier to become the dangerous attacking fighter in the later rounds.

The other factor I thnk that is going underreported is the amount of attention and pressure surrounding Nurmagomedov this weekend. Yes, his fight with McGregor was bigger in the media attention and more emotional but Conor took the brunt of the spotlight leading up to the fight. This fight being in Abu Dhabi has put Khabib center stage to sell this fight for an international audience. He now has the expectations as the undisputed champion and center piece for the promotion. Media availability, endorsement deals, fans all begin to take away from training or the focus of the next opponent. The pressure of living up to expectations do different things to different fighters.

I think this added burden and pressure on Khabib may have hindered his preperation and attention for what is the toughest opponent of his career. Now will I be shocked if Nurmagomedov grinds and mauls Poirier like his previous 27 opponents; of course not. However, I think we see the perfect combination of circumstances and skill sets allowing for Dustin Poirier to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the year as he detrones Khabib.

Prediction: Poirier 5th round TKO

 

Rest of UFC 242 Main Card Predictions

Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder: +120 Felder

Islam Makhachev vs. Davi Ramos: +300 Ramos

Curtis Blaydes vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov: Blaydes by KO +110

Mairbek Taisumov vs. Diego Ferreira: Ferreira +212

 

Prediction Record since 2016 to Date (84-63-1) (+$1450.50)

  • Record & predictions based on Win vs Loss predictions only. Unless specified otherwise I use increments of $100 (for + odds predictions) & $110 (for – odds bets) as hypothetical wagers for each prediction.
  • Predictions & Records are for entertainment value only

All stats provided from http://UFC.COM & http://www.fightmetric.com/

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