On paper, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s upcoming lightweight title unification bout with interim champ Dustin Poirier might look like a straightforward win for the unbeaten Russian star.
But, while Poirier may be an underdog, he’s a live one and one who might just spring an upset and turn the lightweight division on its head.
Here’s are five legitimate reasons why “The Diamond” could spring a shock and dethrone “The Eagle” in Abu Dhabi at UFC 242.
1. He’s battle-tested
While Khabib has largely dominated his opponents so far, Poirier has done the hard yards operating at a higher level than Khabib for much of his MMA career.
He’s lost a few fights along the way, but he has also made his mistakes in the cage and learned from them.
Khabib is operating at the top of the game now, but when faced with the very best, each and every time, he may find himself in positions and situations he’s not used to. Poirier has seen most things already, and that top-level experience could play to his favour on fight night.
2. He has excellent defensive wrestling
Khabib’s game-plan hinges on one key assumption – that he can take his opponents down and keep them there. Poirier is as scrappy as they come and has excellent takedown defence.
He is also more than competent at getting back to his feet, if he ever does get taken down. Also, he’s been submitted just once in his career – way back in 2012.
If Poirier can stop Khabib’s major weapon at source and keep the fight standing, expect the momentum of the fight to swing dramatically in the American’s favour.
3. He has good hands and hits hard
Poirier has always loved to throw hands in his fights, but ever since he moved up from featherweight to lightweight he has found a new dimension to his striking game.
If Poirier catches Khabib on his way in, or manages to stuff the Russian’s takedowns to effectively turn the fight into a stand-up battle, he will hold a significant advantage, and could test Khabib’s chin in a way nobody else has managed to date.
4. His cardio is outstanding
Poirier trains out of the world-class American Top Team and since moving up to 155 pounds has looked like an absolute monster at the weight.
It takes something pretty special to outwork, outstrike and outpace UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway, but that’s exactly what Poirier did in his last outing as he captured the UFC interim lightweight title.
His cardio will get a severe examination in Abu Dhabi, but based on what we’ve seen from him in past fights, it looks more than up to the job.
5. He’s looked in better nick than the champion this week
Fight week is always tough for fighters who have to cut weight to make their respective weight divisions, and a glance at the two men throughout fight week suggests that Poirier has had a much more comfortable time of it than Khabib.
Poirier happily did all his media obligations, worked out for the fans and has generally negotiated fight week with a smile on his face. Khabib, on the other hand, has looked significantly less comfortable.
He didn’t work out at the open workouts, and didn’t hang around at media day to face the press. It’s meant the press haven’t had the chance to talk to him ahead of the big fight.
Although both men made weight right at the start of the weight-in window, it may well be that Khabib’s road down to 155 pounds was a tougher one than Poirier’s. That may show itself on fight night, especially if the fight goes into the latter rounds.