Khabib Nurmagomedov (Matt Quiggins/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 242 Preview and Predictions

UFC 242 marks the third trip to Abu Dhabi in the promotion’s history. In the main event, the undefeated, untouchable Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov defends his crown against one of the most ferocious finishers in the sport, Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier.

In the shark-infested waters of the lightweight division, only the most talented and fierce competitors can survive. Poirier has had a resurgence since moving up in weight, looking full of energy and new skills. He has beaten three current or former top-organization champs en route to the interim championship. Nurmagomedov returns for the first time in 11 months to defend his crown and unify it with Poirier’s interim belt. Nurmagomedov is on the cusp of joining the G.O.A.T. conversation.

The rest of the card boasts some good match-ups. Top heavyweight Curtis Blaydes looks to climb back to the top of the division, but Dagestani Shamil Abdurakhimov comes in hot on a three-fight winning streak. Islam Makhachev, another Dagestan native, faces submission specialist Davi Ramos. Streaking lightweights Mairbek Taisumov and Diego Ferreira open up the main card. Oh, and there’s also the co-main event, a rematch between Edson Barbosza and Paul Felder… yeah, we don’t know why either.


UFC 242 gets started at 10 a.m. ET on Sept. 7 with the UFC Fight Pass early prelims. At noon ET, the action moves to FX — that’s not a typo, folks, as Disney now owns FX as well as the ESPN family of networks — as a result of scheduling conflicts on the first weekend of college football. The pay-per-view will be available through ESPN+ at 2 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Matt Petela and Jeff Wall preview all of the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Khabib Nurmagomedov has been unstoppable through 27 professional outings. He’s now set for a lightweight title unification bout against Dustin Poirier. Can Poirier become the first man to defeat Nurmagomedov?

Petela: Short answer, no. Poirier will make the fight competitive over the first two rounds, but eventually we will see what we have come to expect from Nurmagomedov: a methodical ground-and-pound beating that leads to either a devastating submission or forces the referee to halt the contest to prevent further damage.

I’ve tried to convince myself that Poirier had a chance at victory based on Al Iaquinta’s performance against Nurmagomedov, but the more I watch that fight and look at the circumstances surrounding it, the less I see that as a reasonable blueprint for Poirier to follow en route to victory. Nurmagomedov looked human against Iaquinta, but the week leading up to UFC 223 was a whirlwind in which both fighters had to make adjustments at the last minute. This accounted for the way the fight turned out much more than any deficiencies in the champ’s game.

Iaquinta comes from a wrestling background and competed at a high level growing up on Long Island at Wantagh High School. He relied heavily on the takedown defense that has become second nature to him more than implementing a game plan to stop Nurmagomedov. The champ’s team likewise had no time to prepare a game plan to counter what Iaquinta brought to the table.

Given the lengthy training camp and barring any freak incidents leading up to the fight, Nurmagomedov will be well prepared to thwart Poirier’s efforts at dethroning the undefeated champion. Poirier will likely be able to defend the takedowns early in the fight and have his moments on the feet, where he has a clear advantage, but eventually Nurmagomedov will be able to get the fight to the mat, where he is most comfortable, and make Poirier look like a fish out of water. That’s no knock on the grappling of Poirier; it’s just that Nurmagomedov demonstrates a pressure and control from the top that is nearly impossible to mimic in training.

Wall: I looked back at the Iaquinta fight as well. Iaquinta neutralized Nurmagomedov’s top game. He was even able to keep the fight in the center of the cage to stuff more takedowns. Nurmagomedov has a higher fight IQ than people realize, and he switched it up and beat Iaquinta with a jab. He can’t beat Poirier with a jab.

However, Poirier will be more aggressive and take more risks than any other fighter the champ has faced. Poirier even said as much in the lead up to this fight. It’s not something we’ve seen anyone try against Nurmagomedov, who usually makes fighters narrow down their games with his pressure.

We also have to keep in mind that Poirier has MMA’s best coach in Mike Brown, who will no doubt have a few tricks in his game plan. Poirier will be walking a tightrope, though. His strengths are in his pocket boxing, clinch strikes, and grappling. All of these areas are within Nurmagomedov’s strengths. However, there is just something about the Poirier we’ve seen over the last few fights. Poirier takes the title with a fourth-round stoppage.

Is the remainder of the main card truly pay-per-view material?

Wall: The main event is absolutely mouth-watering, but the rest of the main card is hardly even the caliber of a Fight Night event.

Curtis Blaydes and Shamil Abdurakhimov make for an interesting heavyweight fight. Islam Makhachev, who meets Davi Ramos, is an excellent fighter who needs a step up in competition. Yet, the biggest issue with this whole fight card is the co-main event.

I’m not sure anyone but Paul Felder wanted to see a rematch against Edson Barbosa. Felder has fought three times in the last three years. Barbosa is 1-3 in his last four appearances, and I’m willing to give him a bit of a pass here. He’s only fighting the best of the best, and even though his body is breaking after all the beatdowns, he is still a top fighter. At the moment, though, a co-headlining spot on a pay-per-view is too generous a spot for him.

Petela: This card certainly doesn’t resemble a typical UFC pay-per-view. However, much like with UFC 240, I expect the actual fights to deliver and be high quality, despite lacking many high-profile names.

I’m actually very excited about the co-main event as a litmus test of sorts to see just how good Felder has gotten over the last few years. Barboza has always been a very good fighter who falls short against the best of the best at lightweight. His three recent losses have come against Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kevin Lee and Justin Gaethje. His most recent win came over Dan Hooker, a fighter right at the edge of contendership. If Felder is able to emerge victorious in this rematch, then it will prove that he should be on the short list of people in line for a crack at the lightweight title.

Makhachev has been earmarked as the heir apparent to Khabib Nurmagomedov by many at American Kickboxing Academy, including the champion himself. This match-up between Makhachev and Ramos will be a real test to see if Makhachev has what it takes to be a future champ. Ramos, who is on a four-fight winning streak in the UFC, is no joke. Makhachev is by far the Brazilian’s toughest test. This fight will be one folks talk about after they leave the arena, even if it’s not a match-up that necessarily brings people to the event or leads many folks to purchase the pay-per-view.

Lerone Murphy, Liana Jojua, Ottman Azaitar and Fares Ziam — do we need to know these names?

Petela: Murphy is an up-and-coming fighter with an undefeated record who could become a threat to anyone in the featherweight division. He has ended three of his six victories within the first round, and that power will have the same effect on UFC fighters if he is able to connect.

Azaitar is another undefeated fighter with devastating power. The welterweight is riding a three-fight streak of first-round knockouts, and a win or two in highlight-reel fashion is all he needs to have his name mentioned as someone who deserves to take on a ranked opponent.

Jojua is on a five-fight winning streak. She’s set to take on Sarah Moras, who hasn’t looked great recently and is on a three-fight skid. I don’t see Jojua becoming a legitimate title contender, but she has a favorable match-up in her debut to at least kick off a several-fight tenure within the UFC.

Ziam, who takes on Don Madge, could be the best talent out of this crop of newcomers. The 22-year-old has put together a 10-2 record. Despite having a tough opponent in his first UFC bout, Zaim will put on a show in each and every fight he has within the UFC over the next several years.

Wall: Murphy has the physical tools for sure. He has great ground-and-pound mechanics. He has finished nearly every fighter he has faced, too, so the upside is there. The relative inexperience is a concern against opponent Zubaira Tukhugov, a 22-fight veteren. Tukhugov hasn’t fought since 2016, though.

Azaitar’s devastating power led him to a Brave Combat Federation lightweight title. The 27-year-old is UFC-ready and in his physical prime. With only 11 fights under his belt, he could stand to learn a lot more. That said, I do expect a big win for him on Saturday.

Jojua is an exciting addition to the UFC women’s bantamweight division. She’s a finisher who has earned the stoppage in six of her seven wins, including five by submission. The former Fight Night Global champ looks poised in the cage and is a terror on the mat. At 24, she still has a lot of room to grow. Despite all of this, I’m not sure I see her as a future champion either. She doesn’t have the athleticism that tends to make a difference at the top.

Ziam does look like a great fighter. He’s the youngest of the group, but he has a good fight IQ and a balanced skill set. Ziam reminds me a bit of a young Rory MacDonald, but more calm and poised. Madge is a tough match-up stylistically, though. Ziam’s defensive footwork leaves a lot to be desired, and it could cost him in his UFC debut.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 242?

Wall: Dustin Poirier. After all the tough losses, including the humiliating loss to Conor McGregor and the knockout at the hands of Michael Johnson, this is the culmination of all the blood, sweat and tears he has been soaked in through the years. He has a chance to win the lightweight title from perhaps the best in the division’s history. The door of opportunity will be wide open for him. And what a guy to hold up the mantle! I don’t think there’s a charitable cause Poirier hasn’t given to. He’s just an overall great role model and a great person.

Petela: Paul Felder. With a win over Edson Barboza, he will undoubtedly be a top contender in the UFC’s most talent-stacked division. Felder has been knocking on the door at the upper edge of the lightweight division. With a victory in this rematch, it will be impossible to discount him as someone whose name should be in the conversation for a title shot. It will likely take one or two more wins before Felder gets a crack at the belt, but a victory here would be a big step in the right direction for the Philadelphia native and University of the Arts graduate.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 242?

Petela: Dustin Poirier. It’s not a fight most people expect him to win. With the depth at lightweight and Khabib Nurmagomedov as such a dominant champion, the reality will set in that the interim title is as close as he will get to being recognized as the best in the world at 155 pounds. Poirier is unlikely to get an immediate rematch, and a climb back into the top-contender spot through a murderer’s row at the top of the division is rather unlikely. It won’t be time for “The Diamond” to hang up the gloves, but he will be in that weird position near the top of the division without ever having a real shot at capturing undisputed UFC gold.

Wall: Russian MMA. One may argue that the fans are the biggest loser due to the lack of depth on this card. And while I am predicting Nurmagomedov to get his first loss, I’ll go with Russian MMA as a whole. They lose their new king — yes, he’s better than Fedor Emelianenko — and you probably won’t see the UFC go to Russia for a long time if he loses.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Wall: Mairbek Taisumov and Diego Ferriera. In a lightweight scrap, there is always a chance for fireworks. This is especially true of a fight that features Ferreira, a 15-2 fighter with nine finishes on his resume.

Petela: Belal Muhammad and Takashi Sato. Muhammad is 5-1 over his last six fights, with his lone setback coming against Geoff Neal. Sato’s most recent performance was a knockout win over Ben Saunders in South Florida. These two welterweights could end up putting on a “Fight of the Night” performance. If Muhammad is able to come away with a win, then it could set him up for a fight with another streaking welterweight, likely one with a higher profile that will garner him much more attention.

Pair this card with…

Petela: Bud Light. Not only does it match up nicely as an afternoon beverage that won’t ruin your chances at a productive evening, but, just like this card, it’s relatively light and far from memorable. While there are a number of fights that should deliver high-quality performances, it’s unlikely that fans in the stadium or at home see numerous jaw-dropping, highlight-reel finishes.

Wall: Persistence. You’ll need it before the main event.

Fight Picks

Fight Petela’s Pick Wall’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 2 p.m. ET)
LW Championship: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier Nurmagomedov Poirier
LW: Paul Felder vs. Edson Barboza Felder Barboza
LW: Islam Makhachev vs. Davi Ramos Makhachev Makhachev
HW: Curtis Blaydes vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov Blaydes Blaydes
LW: Mairbek Taisumov vs. Diego Ferreira Taisumov Taisumov
Preliminary Card (FX, 12 p.m. ET)
Women’s FlyW: Joanne Calderwood vs. Andrea Lee Lee Calderwood
FW: Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Lerone Murphy Murphy Murphy
Women’s BW: Sarah Moras vs. Liana Jojua Jojua Jojua
LW: Teemu Packalen vs. Ottman Azaitar Azaitar Azaitar
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 10 a.m. ET)
WW: Belal Muhammad vs. Takashi Sato Muhammad Muhammad
WW: Nordine Taleb vs. Muslim Salikhov Salikhov Taleb
MW: Zak Cummings vs. Omari Akhmedov Cummings Akhmedov
LW: Don Madge vs. Fares Ziam Ziam Madge