The UFC's return to Abu Dhabi is finally upon us.
On September 7 at The Arena, undefeated Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will return to face Interim Lightweight Champion Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 242.
With history on the line in the promotion’s third ever event in Abu Dhabi, here are our official predictions for UFC 242.
UFC 242 Predictions
Khabib Nurmagomedov (C) vs. Dustin Poirier
All of UFC 242 is carried on the back of this Lightweight unification fight between division champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim title holder Dustin Poirier.
This is Khabib's first fight since his notorious victory over Conor McGregor at UFC 229, which resulted in a post-fight brawl between both teams and a nine-month suspension for the champion.
Poirier earned this fight with Khabib after defeating Featherweight Champion Max Holloway by unanimous decision to win the Interim Lightweight Championship.
This fight will be determined by who controls the pace. Poirier is the far superior striker and arguably has the best boxing at the top of the Lightweight division. Against Holloway, he showed that his combination of accuracy, power and output put him a step above the rest when on his feet.
Khabib, however, is the most dominant wrestling force the 155-pound division has ever seen. The former Sambo World Champion grinds his opponents to the ground and suffocates them with consistent pressure, movement and ground strikes to command all momentum.
But Khabib doesn’t shy away from standing with his opponents, a rare trait among wrestling-dominant fighters. Against McGregor, he stood in front of one of the division's most feared strikers, even scoring the only knockdown of the fight himself with a right overhand. The Dagestan fighter uses his striking to work on level changes, all in an effort to shoot for the takedown at the perfect time.
Even if the first takedown attempt fails (Poirier boasts a 69-percent takedown defense rate), Khabib will continue to shoot. On average, the Lightweight Champion shoots for over five takedowns per 15 minutes, meaning that he will eventually get his opponent to the ground no matter how many tries it takes.
In a stylist matchup, you typically go with the fighter who is more of a master of their discipline. In that case, Khabib outdoes Poirier. Once he gets Poirier to the ground, he'll force the interim champ to expense his gas tank early and have little to no energy as the fight enters the championship rounds.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Nurmagomedov via Unanimous Decision
Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder
A spot in the Top 5 of the Lightweight division potentially hangs in the balance in this rematch.
Barboza and Felder first met in 2015 on the UFC on Fox: Dillashaw vs. Barão card, taking home Fight of the Night honors.
The Brazilian earned the unanimous decision victory after a war, leaving both men weakened and bloody in the center of The Octagon®.
Four years later, the two find themselves pitted against one another again, but this time as the co-main event of a historic pay-per-view.
This is Barboza's first fight since his brutal outing against Justin Gaethje in March that saw him knocked out halfway through the first round. Barboza failed to set up any of his offense, instead taking damage for the entirety of the fight and crippling under Gaethje's pressure.
This is Felder's second fight back at 155 pounds after an excursion to face 'Platinum' Mike Perry at Welterweight last year. In his return to the division back in February, Felder outpointed James Vick to earn a unanimous decision victory.
Both Barboza and Felder's styles haven't changed drastically since their original fight, so expect similar fireworks. However, both men's chins have been put through the ringer over the years, weakening as each fighter now sits in their mid-30s.
Expect both men to come out aggressively in hopes of a performance that will thrust them into title contention. Felder called himself an 'idiot' after the first fight due to his game plan, so prepare for him to be more strategic with his strikes and his distance management against Barboza's kicks. While still an effective striker, Barboza has looked one dimensional in his last couple fights, relying heavily on his kicks to crack down his opponents.
If Felder truly has figured his opponent out, look for him to take the win in an exciting rematch.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Felder via TKO
Islam Makhachev vs. Davi Ramos
If you're looking for a Khabib-like performance before the main event, this is the fight to watch.
Islam Makhachev is Nurmagomedov’s teammate and trains at AKA in San Jose with the Lightweight Champion before every fight. Like Khabib, Makhachev is a Sambo World Champion and uses downward pressure and wrestling to smother his opponents.
The Dagestan fighter is riding a five-fight winning streak, propelling him into the Top 15 after a dominant victory over Arman Tsarukyan back in April.
Brazilian Davi Ramos is one of the most dangerous Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in the Lightweight division and will give Makhachev a run for his money on the mat. Ramos has won his last four fights, with three of the victories coming by way of rear naked choke.
This fight will be a stylistic matchup on the ground. Both men are accomplished grapplers, with neither shying away from putting in the work down low. Ramos is comfortable on his back but might not be able to work as effectively to gain position with Makhachev constantly applying the pressure from the top.
Makhachev uses his shoulders to pin his opponent down and restrict movement, which will thwart Ramos' ability to work from his back in hopes of a submission play.
While Ramos is his most dangerous opponent to date, expect Makhachev to grinds out a decision victory and continues his move up the division ranks.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Makhachev via Unanimous Decision
Curtis Blaydes vs. Shamil Abdrakhimov
While Curtis Blaydes isn't currently in title contention at Heavyweight, a victory over Shamil Abdrakhimov in Abu Dhabi would throw his name right back into the mix in a division devoid of unique fights at the top.
After falling to Francis Ngannou in 45 seconds back in November, Blaydes got back in the win column with a unanimous decision victory over Justin Willis at UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs. Pettis in March.
Abdrakhimov is the winner of his last three fights and is being rewarded with a fight against a Top 5 opponent. But the Russian striker may be trying to jump the line too quickly. While Abdrakhimov is a superior striker to Blaydes, his wrestling pales in comparison to the former NCAA National Champion.
Blaydes will try to get the fight to the ground as quickly as possible and start his work from there. Unless he's tagged early within the first round, this should be an easy victory for Blaydes.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Blaydes via Unanimous Decision
Mairbek Taisumov vs. Diego Ferreira
Mairbek Taisumov has fought once a year for the past five years. While this is due to a visa issue that prevents Taisumov from fighting in the United States, it also becomes an issue that holds back one of the Lightweight divisions most exciting fighters. Taisumov hasn't lost a fight since 2014, yet he doesn't find himself in the division rankings due to consistent inactivity.
He'll stand across the cage from Diego Ferreira at UFC 242, a potent striker who has won his previous four fights.
Expect both men to stand and trade in this bout as they try to make a name for themselves as the first fight on the main card. Taisumov has an extensive Muay Thai background and experience kickboxing, so look for his distance management to play a factor as he pushes the striking exchanges to his liking.
While his inactivity may eventually be his downfall, Taisumov is the more skilled striker of the two and should come out with the victory in exciting fashion.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Taisumov via KO
ATTEND UFC 242 WITH AN OFFICIAL TICKET PACKAGE
Join the UFC VIP Experience in Abu Dhabi with the special Elite or Ultimate packages for UFC 242. Packages include a reserved seat to the weigh-ins, hospitality suite access, meet-and-greets with UFC fighters and much more!