Post-Fight Thoughts: Khabib Nurmagomedov -vs- Dustin Poirier
In the aftermath of UFC 242, at least I can say I was right about one thing: I said the fight wasn't going to be close — no matter who won — and that was absolutely the case. As much as I earnestly believed that Dustin Poirier had a real shot at handing Khabib Nurmagomedov his first professional loss, and wresting the UFC lightweight title from him, it was not to be. Nurmagomedov brought his A-game and Poirier, while enthusiastic and brave, simply could not stop the Dagestani grappler from mauling him in trademarked fashion.
Poirier had little success, and when he did it was during the fleeting moments that the fight was contested on the feet, at range. As soon as Khabib was able to close distance and get his hands on Poirier, it was one-way traffic; like everyone else before him, Poirier was helpless to defend the takedown and only managed to get back to his feet a few times — and was summarily dragged right back down to the mat. After the second round, Poirier even lamented to his corner "I can't get him off of me," vocalising a feeling nearly every single one of Nurmagomedov's opponents have felt after spending time in the cage with him.
At this point, it seems to be clear that if Khabib takes you down then you're not getting back to your feet. And, if you do somehow manage to get back up, Nurmagomedov will just smother you against the cage and take you down again. By the end of 2 rounds, Khabib had spent something like 7/10 minutes controlling Poirier on the ground. In the third, it looked like things would play out like the previous 2 rounds and then Dustin made a terrible mistake in jumping for a guillotine choke out of desperation. The choke briefly — and I mean very briefly — looked tight, but Khabib defended well. Poirier adjusted and tried again, this time Khabib seemed to be intentionally letting him wear his arms out chasing the choke in vain. Lo and behold, that was the case and, after he thoroughly gassed his arms out, Poirier was all but helpless as Khabib scrambled to his back and quickly sunk in a tight rear-naked choke.
As shocking as the jumping guillotine was it, it merely brought the fight to its seemingly inevitable conclusion quicker; Poirier was not winning that fight short of a miracle. Khabib Nurmagomedov remains an unsolvable puzzle, dominating the deepest division in not only the UFC but MMA as a whole. His stand-up may still be rudimentary, but it continues to improve as well, and his grappling pressure is both exhausting and tremendously effective. I thought Dustin Poirier would be able to avoid being backed into the cage and taken down, but this was not the case; I don't know if the plan was to accept this fate and battle back to the feet, but that's not going to work — we don't need any more evidence of this.
I know, easier said than done, but staying in the centre of the cage and avoiding the grappling is absolutely crucial. Khabib's grappling is different, it's exhausting and debilitating; he basically straight-jackets you and waits for you to panic before beating you up. A strong wrestler could theoretically avoid instances of contact, and then exploit the deficiencies of Nurmagomedov's striking game, but we've yet to see that. As it stands, Khabib looks poised to have a long title reign. I'd like to see him finally fight Tony Ferguson, and I hope that the MMA gods don't squelch a fourth attempt at pairing them up. Aside from Ferguson, the only other credible challenger I see is Justin Gaethje — provided the latter wins his main event fight with Donald Cerrone this coming Saturday.
Dustin Poirier takes a tough loss here, but he's still a very talented, marketable fighter. He's already tweeted about rematching Conor McGregor and, honestly, that's the only Conor fight I could get interested in. I don't know what the actual chances of such a fight happening are, but the fight makes sense on paper. Both of Khabib Nurmagomedov's most recent victims have their own history, and seeing them run it back 5+ years later, at a new weight class, is a great story. Regardless, I don't think Poirier is going anywhere, and his stock doesn't take much of a hit here. Khabib's historic dominance somewhat cushions the blow; losing to this guy, decisively, is not some mark of shame but rather business as usual.
If nothing else, I think Khabib Nurmagomedov has silenced any doubt as to his greatness. You can't crticise anything about Khabib's performances or level of competition thus far, he truly is the real deal. I wasn't surprised that Khabib won, but I've never gotten used to seeing him dismantle elite fighters with such ease. I know Khabib will eventually lose if he fights long enough, but until it actually happens it will seem impossible.
Published: September 10th, 2019.