Khabib Nurmagomedov still remains the best lightweight on planet earth today, and possibly, the greatest 155-pound fighter we’ve seen in the history of the sport. “I can’t get him the f**k off of me, man.” Dustin Poirier’s words to head coach Mike Brown after the second round, the perfect sentence to describe the offensive grappling of the Dagestan native. A third-round rear-naked choke for the 30-year-old Sambo specialist unified the lightweight championships, as he scaled the Octagon fence once more, this time celebrating with promotion president Dana White.
A distraught Poirier gave his take on the contest with UFC commentator Jon Anik in his post-fight interview, but in all honesty, Khabib is undefeated for a reason, his grappling is sofar unmatched and there’s only a couple of candidates at lightweight which may offer the kryptonite to null him. Paul Felder continued his surge through the lightweight rankings in last night’s co-main event, via a somewhat dubious split decision over Edson Barboza in the pair’s rematch. Felder issued call outs to three perennial contenders afterward, offering out Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier:
The grappling exploits of Khabib Nurmagomedov are some of the best we’ve seen ever in mixed-martial arts. Granted, we didn’t see a necessarily early takedown attempt for him, but when he shot, he scored. Shooting for the double with Poirier backed up against the fence as expected, Khabib as he so often does, transitions to the single leg and eventually bulldozed through. On multiple occasions throughout the almost twelve-minute matchup, Poirier tried to execute a switch, unsuccessfully which time and time again allowed Nurmagomedov who still had his hands clasped to mount and back mount.
Khabib told after the fight, how the jab straight Poirier landed early in the second round didn’t have that much of an effect, but his somewhat wobble gave a clear indication otherwise. Poirier swarmed and started winging huge hooks which he needed to do, but the accuracy or lack of allowed Khabib to recover. Another expertly timed double leg entry had Poirier on his back moments later. A mix of trips, body locks and doubles seen Khabib take an incredible six takedowns with him into what proved to be the final round.
In my pre-fight Fighter Profile breakdown of Dustin Poirier, I emphasized the importance of the guillotine if Khabib shoots a double near the fence. Poirier elected for this almost ‘hail mary’ play in the opening third-round exchanges, but ultimately blew his arms out, and failed to secure the legs of Nurmagomedov. Khabib did admit to reporters afterward that the guillotine was deep, but the sheer length of time Poirier chose to squeeze for ultimately allowed Khabib to search for the finish. Splitting between a neck crank and rear-naked choke, Khabib eventually forced the issue with Poirier tapping. 28-0.
Going forward, there is only one fighter that deserves his shot at Khabib Nurmagomedov and more importantly his first shot at undisputed UFC gold. That fighter is Tony Ferguson. Both Khabib and Ferguson now hold staggering twelve fight win streaks in the organization and after four failed meetings, surely it’s fifth time lucky for one of the most highly anticipated bouts in Octagon history. The matchup makes itself. Ferguson, an incredibly dangerous mixed-martial artist both standing and off his back in particular, with slashing elbows, wicked D’arce chokes and an incredibly active guard. There’s not much more to be said.
Conor McGregor has fruitlessly campaigned for a rematch since his October 2018 defeat to Khabib, and took campaign trail to Twitter last night; “Book my rematch for Moscow.” I think we can pump the brakes on Khabib vs. McGregor II for a while longer, McGregor needs to reinstate himself into the win column. What better way for either Dustin Poirier or McGregor to re-build their head of steam toward the lightweight summit, than a re-run of their 2014 meeting.
Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder II:
These two lightweight kicking experts truly put on a show in their first matchup in 2015, and four years later, the score is level after a similarly exciting showcase. 30-27 Barboza, 29-28 Felder, and 30-27 Felder shocked me I must admit when I first heard Bruce Buffer announce the split decision. How one judge scored three rounds in favor of Paul Felder is beyond me, especially considering Barboza’s second-round takedown and significant strike leaning after rounds one and two. Felder came alive throughout the final round and categorically outpointed the Brazilian in terms of total strikes, but to judge all three rounds in favor of the Philly native, just seemed bizarre.
Nevertheless, Paul Felder has now chalked up five consecutive victories at 155 pounds, and will surely crack the top ten as a result. He’s called for matchups with Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson, but I think a clash with next weekend’s loser between Gaethje and Donald Cerrone makes the most sense. Whoever wins in Vancouver next Saturday puts themselves in a strong position to welcome ‘The Notorious’ one back to the Octagon before the turn of the year.
Edson Barboza now finds himself in somewhat of a predicament in the lightweight picture after that split decision loss, losing four of his last five outings at 155 pounds. Islam Makhachev called for the winner of the co-main event slot last night, but a win over Barboza would be the biggest of his professional career to date, similarly to teammate Khabib who nullified Barboza’s striking with his wrestling. Another supremely talented grappler, Gregor Gillespie could leap through the rankings with a good showing against Barboza, and although he’s called for a meeting with Anthony Pettis, I believe ‘Showtime’ is currently occupied with welterweight duties.
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