- Undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov makes his return to the Octagon for the first time since beating Conor McGregor, looking to reclaim his title from the Lightweight interim champ Dustin Poirier.
This is a rare afternoon start time (2pm ET for the main card, 10am ET for the prelims) because of the time difference in Abu Dhabi as the UFC travels to the capital of The United Arab Emirates. The crowd is almost certain to offer its full support to Nurmagomedov, whose fans travel in packs to see him fight.
UFC 242 also includes a lightweight fight between Edson Barboza and Paul Felder, which should be the afternoon’s most entertaining bout. The card is full of fighters who are fun to watch, though a fair gripe about 242 is that the majority of the fights just aren't that important.
But the main card offers three fights with significant stakes, and make no mistake: this card is all about Team Khabib.
Nurmagomedov fights in the main event, and there are also bouts featuring his training partners and close friends Islam Makhachev and Zubaira Tukhugov. Nurmagomedov’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, will also be present at 242, which is rare because he has had visa issues in the past trying to enter the United States.
Although this fight is considered a neutral site, Poirier is certainly walking into a venue that will be rooting heavily for his opponent.
Here are the top questions entering UFC 242, along with my predictions:
1) Can Dustin Poirier stop Khabib Nurmagomedov’s takedowns?
Dustin Poirier presents many challenges for Khabib Nurmagomedov, and he will be victorious if he can stop Nurmagomedov’s takedowns and not allow his control to be taken from him. Simple as that may sound, no one has ever been able to accomplish it against Nurmagomedov (27-0).
The way in which Nurmagomedov grapples on the cage, violently pulling down his opponents—and keeping them down—before delivering a suffocating succession of his signature ground-and-pound is likely to spell the end of Poirier (25-5-1).
But Poirier trains out of ATT with some of the best fighters in the world, and he is known for being a fast, crisp boxer. He also has great jiu jitsu, so this could potentially turn into a fight where Poirier’s jiu jitsu is up against Nurmagomedov’s wrestling.
Poirier’s win against Max Holloway this past April reminded the fight world how dangerous he is when he’s landing his combinations. Nurmagomedov is not an elite striker and often hangs his chin out. If Poirier can develop a rhythm where he is stopping takedowns and landing big shots on his feet, he will put himself in the driver’s seat.
If Poirier can control Nurmagomedov’s posture, stopping the takedowns and avoiding Nurmagomedov from grounding him out, then we could be looking at a new champion.
This fight is going to end in a finish. It will either be a knockout victory for Poirier or a submission for Nurmagomedov.
2) Is Tony Ferguson next in line for a shot at the UFC Lightweight title?
Nurmagomedov has stated openly he wants a fight with Tony Ferguson after he defeats Poirier, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that fight to happen.
Ferguson is the rightful heir to the throne. And while Nurmagomedov-Ferguson would make for a tremendous main event this December, the fight has been announced multiple times before and, each time, something interrupted that fight from happening. The Nurmagomedov-Ferguson fight seems to be the most unlucky in mixed martial arts, although people are eager to see it.
Poirier could obviously disrupt those plans. Regardless of whoever wins the main event at UFC 242, the winner should fight Ferguson next, permitting he is in a good state with his mental health.
3) What can Paul Felder prove with a win against Edson Barboza?
The Lightweight bout between Edson Barboza and Paul Felder is my pick for fight of the night.
Barboza (20-7) is one of my favorite fighters to watch work. He is incredibly fast, efficient and so clean on his feet—and there is no better kickboxer in the sport. Felder (16-4) has come a long way since his UFC debut in 2014. He’s developed into such a clean and technical fighter from the work he has put in at Roufusport, and he has also blossomed into one of the sharpest minds in MMA.
There is a significant amount at stake for Felder. While Barboza is still capable of putting on exciting performances, he is widely considered on the back nine of his career. This is not the same Edson Barboza of 2016, though he remains one of the top talents in the world at his weight. Felder needs to take this fight in order to show he is an elite fighter in the division.
Felder has had a lot of great performances but there have been mishaps, setbacks and stumbles along the way. If Felder wins this fight, avenging a loss from 2015 in the process, he will be knocking on the door of a top five challenger in his next fight.
4) How do Islam Makhachev and Zubaira Tukhugov fit into UFC 242?
Islam Makhachev and Zubaira Tukhugov both train with Khabib Nurmagomedov, and they each have a fight on the 242 card. Much to the delight of the crowd, Team Khabib is poised to go undefeated at 242.
Makhachev (17-1) has a Lightweight fight against Davi Ramos (10-2). Despite Ramos’ abilities as a fighter, this feels like a showcase fight for Makhachev.
Tukhugov (18-4) fights Featherweight Lerone Murphy on the prelims. Murphy (8-0) is an exciting fighter, but Tukhugov lives and breathes fighting just like Nurmagomedov.
Their fan base travels well and the crowd will be entirely behind the three of them, and there will be much to celebrate if all three fighters walk away victorious.
5) What is the best fight on the preliminaries?
The women’s Flyweight fight pitting Joanne Calderwood against Andrea Lee is a great matchup.
Calderwood (13-4) has built herself up to big fights in the past only to let the opportunity slip away by falling short, though she remains an elite level kickboxer.
Lee (11-2) is one of the best female kickboxers in the world, but the past year-and-a-half has been a terrible stretch for her while enduring physical abuse from her estranged husband.
If Lee is able to find a way to victory, this fight will offer an incredibly feel good story before kicking off the main card.
6) A look into the crystal ball of UFC 242
My predictions for winners:
• Khabib Nurmagomedov over Dustin Poirier
• Paul Felder over Edson Barboza
• Islam Makhachev over Davi Ramos
• Curtis Blaydes over Shamil Abdurakhimov
• Mairbek Taisumov over Carlos Diego Ferreira