This weekend, the octagon is erected in Abu Dhabi for the 2nd time in the UFC’S rich 25-year history. Not only is this a historic event in terms of the venue, a purpose built arena which will be used for the first time, it will also go down in promotional history, as two of the best 155 pounders go head to head in a mouthwatering title unification clash. To go with the marquee main event, a main card packed to the brim with emerging and seasoned talent is on the cards, a lineup which will showcase some of the best Russian talent the UFC has to offer, along with a bunch of hungry prospects looking to spoil proceedings for the men from the motherland. The co-main event showcases another two of lightweights finest, a rematch, as Edson Barbosa and Paul Felder look to put on a brutal display of limb throwing to make an onward push toward that all-important gold strap. In this piece, I will be giving you an insight into all 5 main card bouts, increasing the already ridiculous levels of hype and giving you a better understanding as to what is at stake!
Maribek Taisumov vs Carlos Ferreira
To kick off the main card on Saturday, two of the best lightweights without a number next to their name will take center stage. First off, we have Carlos Diego Ferreira. Carlos is riding a wave of momentum right now; he is unbeaten since 2016 and is riding a 4-fight win streak with wins over notable contenders like Rustam Khabilov and Olivier Aubin-Mercier. This man isn’t to be underestimated in that shark tank of a division. He does, without a doubt have one hell of a ground game, that 3rd degree black belt in BJJ sure does serve him well although he hasn’t actually secured a submission victory since his UFC debut in 2014. The thing is, he hasn’t needed to. He has developed a ferocious striking game as his MMA journey has progressed and is very well versed in all aspects of the game, he throws those limbs with bad intentions and is really well equipped for any style of opponent he may have to come up against. A 5th straight win over a 2nd straight Russian warrior is the task at hand to secure a potential ranked matchup next time out. This time, not a battle-hardened grappler who will look to tip him to the mat and grind him out, but a Chechen knockout artist who has a knack for spinning jaws.
Maribek Taisumov has been on the brink of the top 15 for some time now but just can’t seem to get that big matchup. The guy has amassed 6 straight wins, 5 of those being KO/TKO victories and has just looked unstoppable on the feet. There is no telling where this matchup will end up but all I know is that Carlos will have to have his wits about him when throwing hands with this man, he can and will put your lights out in an instant. He does have a very good 87 percent takedown defence rate and likes to sprinkle some in of his own at times, I can only help but think that won’t be the case here though. So, this matchup could be a pivotal one at 155, it will establish who is truly ready to make the leap into the abyss of the UFC rankings and could really set one of these guys up with a run at the very top.
Curtis Blaydes vs Shamil Abdurakhimov
Next up we have a ranked heavyweight bout between two fighters who are very much at opposite ends of their careers. Let’s start with Shamil Abdurakhimov. At 38 years old, Shamil certainly isn’t getting any younger and we all know age does catch up with you when fighting at that level, well, there are a few outliers. That being said, power is one of the last things to go and oh boy this guy has it in abundance with a strong kickboxing skillset to go with. This isn’t your average Dagestani who will take you down and ragdoll you like there is no tomorrow, this guy is a striker and a danger to stand with. That’s not to say that he can’t grapple, that’s certainly not the case as he has shown in previous outings, he just tends to get the job done on the feet a lot of the time, and why the hell not. He has put together a nice 3 fight win streak, 2 of those being via KO/TKO and one being a solid decision over former champ Andrei Arlovski, however, the guys he has fought are totally different to the guy he is going to face. He won’t stand and bang and play into your game, this guy adopts the conventional Dagestani style and implements it with extreme success. The man I am referring to is of course Curtis Blaydes.
Blaydes is ranked at number 4 after his last victory over Justin Willis in March, that fight was a true testament to what he does best. Yes, his striking may have come along very well since moving camps but it’s not his bread and butter, it’s not how he is going to win. He takes you down, holds you down and mauls you. Just ask Alistair Overeem, just ask Mark Hunt, they experience it all firsthand. There is a reason this guy has only had 9 fights in the UFC yet already has the record for the most takedowns in UFC heavyweight history! His wrestling is incredible, we even heard that from Nurmagomedov himself, Blaydes has some of the best wrestling at heavyweight right now and it’s relatively unmatched until you get to the top dogs like Cormier and Miocic. Although Shamil might be stronger in the grappling department than guys like Mark Hunt and Justin Willis, Curtis will find a way, he always does unless its against a freak like Ngannou. This win would surely open up a top 5 fight, one that would get him back into the title picture. For Shamil this fight could be huge, at 38 this could be his last run at a title shot, a win over Blaydes would only put him 1 or 2 wins away, it’s an opportunity he won’t want to miss out on.
Islam Makhachev vs Davi Ramos
What a fight! We go back to lightweight for this next one and oh my god, for you guys who appreciate clean and thrilling grappling, this matchup has you covered! Islam Makhachev, one of the single biggest prospects in MMA right now sitting at number 15 in the lightweight rankings, this guy trains with Khabib and his father… what more do I need to say. A Dagestani who is an international Master of Sport in sambo, in recent times that has really been a recipe for success in MMA. A guy like Islam doesn’t need to be able to strike, he is so crafty with his trips and sweeps and so dominant when he gets the fight to the mat, striking isn’t an issue. Yet the man sure can strike, he has KO power which we do occasionally see on show, just ask Tibau. He is one of those fighters who you can usually count on as a safe bet, guys usually can’t match him in all areas of the fight, these Dagestani guys are overwhelming, and Islam is special. Oh and the submissions, oh boy the submissions, you give up an inch of leverage or limb this guy is going to pounce on it, he will squeeze and crank until you can’t take it no more and the squeeze these guys have is something else. These dudes are taking over. Grappling may be Islam’s strong suit but the man he stands across the octagon from may just be even better at it.
Davi Ramos, there aren’t many better when it comes to MMA grapplers than this man. Not only is he riding a 4-fight win streak in the UFC, he is a BJJ world champion too! He secured the gold medal in the ADCC world championships in 2015, as well as the ADCC south American championship in 2014. This guy gets you to the mat and you are in his world, his domain, he won’t just dominate you and pepper you with strikes, he will constantly be looking for the sub like a parent trying to find their car keys. He is relentless, overpowering and very very crafty on the mat, a guy like Islam could show us how good his grappling really is. On the feet the man has a ferocious aura to him, he isn’t afraid of banging, he will hunt you down and swing heavy leather in an almost John Lineker esque manner. He is a scary scary man at 155 and definitely a guy not to be overlooked. With a big win over Islam he may well creep into the rankings and so this fight is huge for him, a chance to take his career to the next level. Islam will be looking to make a statement, cementing himself at the top table for the foreseeable future, taking out a legit killer in the process.
Paul Felder vs Edson Barbosa 2
In the co-main event of the evening, we have a rematch of epic proportion! Two of the flashiest and most aggressive strikers in the division do battle as Paul Felder looks to get revenge on the man who took his 0 four years ago, possibly the most venomous kicker in MMA, Edson Barbosa. Paul has won his last four outings at lightweight, 3 of those victories coming via TKO/KO stemming from an elbow strike. This is a man who knows how to use all of the utensils he has at his disposal to full effect. His fight against Mike Perry at 170 showed how much of a dog this guy is, he will eat as many shots as it takes to crack back twice as hard, he will fight through injury and he will stop at nothing to put on a sensational display of mixed martial arts for the fans! This is a guy who will put on a war with any fighter in that division and will go through any lengths in order to get his hand raised after 15 hard minutes. Paul has grown massively since their first bout, he has taken out some big names and built up some highly flammable momentum, trailblazing himself into the mix at 155lbs. He will be hungry as ever, not only to test his new and improved self against one of the best strikers in the division, but also to avenge that loss he was handed all those years ago.
Edson is a guy as to where we all know what to expect when he steps into the octagon. He will kick and kick and kick and kick until he puts you face down on the canvas, renders you unable to walk or blasts your ribcage so much you are forced to give in. He may be 1-3 in his last four but who cares, this is a guy who just has those flashes of brilliance and whenever he secures a win, it’s either one of the most vicious beatdowns you have ever seen, an absolute war or a highlight reel worthy KO. His speed, ferocity and pure killer instinct is just unmatched when it comes to using the legs to incapacitate man, I mean we all saw what he did to Dan Hooker, he hammered his mid-section so much that it just got hard to watch. With the hand speed, reactions and pure limb throwing technique this guy has, it’s hard to bet against him in a striking affair like this. Gaethje may have flatlined him last time out but he will be all the more hungry to make a statement and get back into the win column to start surge back up the top 10. This is a pivotal fight for Paul, one that really gives us an idea as to where he really stands at 155. Is he ready to make the leap into top 10 territory or will he just fall short once again?
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Dustin Poirier
We move on to the centerpiece of the evening, the crème de la crème, the cream of the crop, this is a title unification bout for the ages. On the one hand we have Khabib, an undefeated Russian, a man so feared, so dominant and so relentless, that he does not yet have a single loss to his name. But what he does have is the undisputed title, something Dustin Poirier has been fighting his whole career to secure, something he has promised to take home for his daughter, a symbol to prove he truly is the best lightweight in the world. It is a classic striker vs grappler matchup, something Khabib is all too familiar with and all too successful at. Can Dustin be the one, can his boxing, pressure and will to win lead him to success and more importantly, that gold strap. The Diamond has endured a long and hard journey en-route to this title shot. He has defeated world champion after world champion, secured finish after finish and dreamt dream after dream, the difference is that those dreams are new ready to become reality. He is coming to a territory as to where Khabib is superstar, their Muslim hero down in Abu Dhabi, he is the man they are all coming to see put on a clinic, he is the man they are all expecting to win. Being the underdog is nothing new to Dustin, that young boy from Lafayette Louisiana always knew this day would come, and always knew the odds were there to be overcome and he seems to have always overcame them. The boxing he possesses now and has developed over the past few years, may very well be the best in the promotion right now. His angles, his accuracy, his footwork, his power, they all mesh together to form a deadly concoction of leather and face. Khabib has never been defeated, let alone finished, but if there is one man who can take him out, Dustin could very well be that man.
The problem is actually being able to fire off those shots to get the finish, Khabib doesn’t give you any time to think or any space to be able to do these things. He will stalk you, make you panic, lash you up like the eagle he is and dominate you on the ground. Guys can’t get up when they are down there with him, he presents a different level of top control that most guys aren’t used to, an incredibly cerebral yet destructive approach to beating a man down. All you can really do is try to out last the pain, he will beat you to a pulp unrelentingly, you try to transition to a more defensive position, he hits your reset button and bam, you’ve made no progress at all. Dustin may be a BJJ black belt, he may be able to handle himself on the ground better than guys like Connor, Johnson and Barbosa, but when have grappling credentials ever mattered against Khabib, he doesn’t respect them, he just mauls you whether you like it or not. He has improved on the feet yet still remains quite sloppy in defensive aspects, this will be Dustin’s chance to pounce and lay everything he has into Khabib’s cranium. It’s one of those fights where anything could happen, we obviously don’t know until the fight plays out which is the beauty of the sport we love. Can Dustin really be the one to dethrone Khabib and shock the world, or will Khabib continue with his usual ways, mauling yet another opponent, adding to his resume and continuing to define a spectacular legacy! I can’t wait!
That was my preview for the 5 main card fights on this weekends UFC 242 card, I genuinely can’t wait, a monumental event in the history of the UFC, one that could massively shape the lightweight division and will answer a hell of a lot of questions we are all waiting to be answered! Enjoy the fights!