A breakdown of the fights on the main card of UFC 242 on Saturday at The Arena at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Khabib Nurmagomedov (27-0) vs. Dustin Poirier (24-5, 1 No Contest)
Class: For Nurmagomedov’s lightweight title
Line: Nurmagomedov -450
Storyline: Nurmagomedov has been a juggernaut, barreling through all challengers with a straight forward aggressive attack and dumping opponents on their back. Once in top control, he is strong and relentless in inflicting damage, often calmly talking to them to explain how there is little they can do except give up. There’s no secret to his strategy, yet nobody has been able to do anything about it. Poirier at least possesses a skill set that could present a problem. He will certainly pose a threat when the fight is standing as the superior striker, though Nurmagomedov has come a long way in that area. Poirier has had issues with takedown defense, which is a problem here, but he’s not helpless on his back. His strength, athleticism and experience will give him an opportunity to get back up if he’s taken down, and Poirier also poses a dangerous threat on the ground should a submission opportunity arise. Still, he’s going to do everything he can to stay on his feet, and if he’s able to, there is potential for an upset that would shake up the division.
Hill’s pick: Nurmagomedov by decision
Fang’s pick: Poirier by third-round knockout
Edson Barboza (20-7) vs. Paul Felder (16-4)
Line: Barboza -155
Storyline: This should be an entertaining clash of kickboxers with slightly different styles and a rematch of a 2015 Fight of the Night bonus winner. Barboza was awarded the unanimous decision on that night and is a slight favorite, but the outcome will largely come down to the range at which the bout is contested. If Barboza can stay outside and have room to unleash his full arsenal of kicks, it will be a long night for Felder. If Felder can stay inside and pressure Barboza, it will neutralize his best weapons and give him a chance to win his fifth straight fight. Felder is enjoying a late-career surge at age 35, having won four of his last five bouts. He won’t have to look far for the right game plan, as he is coming off a win over James Vick in which he constantly pressed forward to stay inside of Vick’s kicking range. It required Felder to eat some big shots, but he’s willing to do that to get his hand raised.
Hill’s pick: Barboza by decision
Fang’s pick: Barboza by decision
Islam Makhachev (17-1) vs. Davi Ramos (10-2)
Line: Makhachev -370
Storyline: Ramos is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace with four straight wins who has been hyping himself as the man eventually to be the kryptonite to Nurmagomedov and the one who will dethrone him. Ramos will have to settle for a teammate and close friend of the champion for now. Makhachev employs a similar style to his longtime training partner, aggressively moving forward and throwing opponents to the ground before dominating from top position. He’ll have to be careful, though, because of the ability of Ramos on the mat. In a bout in which both fighters are so proficient on the ground, it could turn into a war of attrition in a battle of whose standup game is more evolved. This is a huge step up in competition for Ramos.
Hill’s pick: Makhachev by first-round knockout
Fang’s pick: Makhachev by decision
Curtis Blaydes (11-2, 1 No Contest) vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov (20-4)
Line: Blaydes -525
Storyline: After a mediocre start to his UFC career in his first four fights, Abdurakhimov has won three straight to earn himself a matchup with a legitimate contender in Blaydes. Abdurakhimov will have his hands full with Blaydes, a wrestler whose level of cardio is rarely seen in heavyweights. Blaydes is developing as a striker, but he won’t want to test himself against Abdurakhimov for long. Both of Blaydes’ career losses have been against striking phenom Francis Ngannou. A win for Blaydes will move him one stop closer to a title shot.
Hill’s pick: Blaydes by decision
Fang’s pick: Blaydes by second-round knockout
Mairbek Taisumov (27-5) vs. Diego Ferreira (15-2)
Line: Taisumov -275
Storyline: Taisumov might be ranked higher and progressed further had visa issues not limited his opportunities. He hopes those are mostly resolved as he continues to work his way to the top of the division and build on a six-fight winning streak. There seems to be a fairly straightforward path to victory here, as his right hand is particularly vicious and Ferreira isn’t sound fundamentally with his defense. Ferreira is dangerous on the ground and has two knockouts during his three-fight winning streak.
Hill’s pick: Taisumov by second-round knockout
Fang’s pick: Taisumov by second-round knockout