Pre-Fight Thoughts: Khabib Nurmagomedov -vs- Dustin Poirier
While the fight takes place at a peculiar hour, and in a locale with a terrible human rights record, there is nothing about the pairing of Khabib Nurmagomedov that one could complain about. The undisputed and interim UFC lightweight champions will finally clash, after the former's suspension — the result of a post-fight brawl he instigated with Conor McGregor's corner men — it's good to see the promotion try and reconcile what has been a tumultuous title picture for the past 3 years. It's a compelling match-up and a fight between the true champion and his top contender. While Khabib was on the sidelines, Poirier won the interim belt with a career-defining dismantling of UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway; there simply is no other fight for either of these two men other than this one.
There has been a lot of analysis done in prelude to this fight, and the most salient point is that whoever wins will likely do so in a very one-sided fashion. Whether it's a case of Khabib Nurmagomedov diving at Dustin Poirier's feet, snatching a leg and dragging him to the mat — and his inevitable doom — or the latter taking advantage Khabib's lack of striking defence and just blasting him to sleep, the winner will be decisive. This is not the type of bout where late comebacks are going to happen; while it is not impossible, the route both will need to take to win doesn't leave much room for that. If Khabib can't secure the takedown, it won't take long for him to get picked apart by Poirier's boxing. Likewise, if Poirier can't stay off the ground, then he's going to be battered and smothered and the fight will rapidly progress out of each.
One of the most obvious questions this fight poses is: can Poirier defend the takedown and handle the grappling battles? I was to say the answer is probably; Khabib Nurmagomedov is an excellent fighter, but he is neither the most clever or subtle. Khabib shoots for takedowns with pretty much the same entry every time; his success is due to a mix of raw strength, skill and tenacity. Even Conor McGregor was able to stuff the initial takedown attempt for defend for a while, but Khabib's relentless pressure eventually turned the tide. Nurmagomedov's striking is also very basic, so Poirier will likely have a number of opportunities to exploit by defensive and offensively. Khabib is very good at a small number of things and, thus far, that's been sufficient to steamroll everyone he's faced. It's possible that his wrestling carriers him to another one-sided victory, but Dustin Poirier seems very credible as a challenger.
Over the course of his move to lightweight, Poirier has vastly improved as a fighter; not only has the move up in weight seemingly rejuvenated his ability to take punches, but he's grown into a physical beast and has corrected the holes in his mental game as well. I don't know if there is another example that quickly comes to mind, of a fighter who has worked so diligently to address their failings and has had such success in doing so. Poirier's ability to battle back from adversity — like in his fights with Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje — was as impressive as the actual finishes in those fights. Nurmagomedov is still rightly favoured in this contest, everything we've seen in his past performances says he's as good as everyone says he is. Still, Dustin Poirier has been on a tear — things seem to be falling into place perfectly — and there is nothing to say he cannot win this fight.
I'm actually going to pick Poirier to win this fight. I can't really discount anything in Nurmagomedov's arsenal, I just find Dustin Poirier to be the more impressive fighter; Poirier has the wider array of skills, is very capable in all aspects of MMA, and has proven he can fight tactically and intelligently at the highest level. Khabib does what he does, and he does it very well. It's hard to find much fault with Nurmagomedov; whatever criticism you have, he's still undefeated in 27 professional fights and none of them have been close. Still, there's a first time for everything, and Dustin Poirier brings the skillset and mentality to shock the world.
Published: September 6th, 2019.