Saturday’s performance by Khabib Nurmagomedov left no confusion over the top lightweight on the planet with the Dagestan-born fighter cementing his spot among the sport’s greatest.
The lightweight affair between Nurmagomedov and interim champion Dustin Poirier headlined the promotion’s first card in Abu Dhabi since 2014 and the first of a new five-year pact with the Department of Culture of Tourism.
Inside of a makeshift arena where local temperatures were listed at 99 Fahrenheit during the broadcast, Nurmagomedov cooled off any doubts regarding his time off since defeating Conor McGregor last October.
Nurmagomedov turned in a dominant performance through patience with Poirier’s game plan, securing takedown-after-takedown and the mounting pressure placed the interim champion in figurative quicksand.
Poirier attempted several guillotine chokes with each unsuccessful and placing him underneath Numragomedov, which never proved fortuitous. Poirier’s best moment was at the start of the second round, landing with a right hand and throwing wild strikes to try and surprise Nurmagomedov. He did not panic and took Poirier down and continued his top positional control.
In the third round, Poirier applied his deepest guillotine of the fight but Nurmagomedov still escaped, took the back of Poirier and locked in the rear-naked choke that forced a tap as the champion extended back.
After the murderers’ row of wins Poirier has racked up over the past two years including Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez, and Max Holloway, it was an enormous statement from Nurmagomedov given the performance he put in on Saturday.
Several hours after the fight, Conor McGregor tweeted “Book my rematch for Moscow.”
While McGregor can interrupt any championship plans, it seems unconscionable to deny Tony Ferguson the next championship fight after his streak and nature of how he was stripped of his own interim title.
In the co-feature, Paul Felder and Edson Barboza had an excellent lightweight fight with Felder avenging his 2015 decision loss and earning a split victory.
The scorecards were a mess for this fight with one judge scoring it 30-27 for Felder and another 30-27 for Barboza. The deciding judge scored it 29-28 for Felder, which was the most accurate account.
The first round was a strong round for Barboza through his kicks to the calves, legs, and body. The second round was a very close round that could go either way. Felder was constantly responding top Barboza’s kicks with strikes of his own. He withstood a double leg takedown and cut Barboza open with elbows off his back. The third round was a strong one for Felder, landing 31 significant strikes to Barboza’s 19.
Felder has won five of his last six fights, improving to 17-4 and wants a top fighter within the lightweight division. He added that he had a terrible weight cut this past week.
Islam Makhachev won his sixth fight in a row with a unanimous decision over Davi Ramos.
The fight was largely contested on the feet with Makhachev doing enough in the first two rounds to be awarded the rounds on my card. He was offset by Ramos’ jab in the second round that he withstood and landed several left hands. In the third round, Makhachev drilled Ramos with a knee from the clinch and unloaded on top with strikes. Ramos pulled guard and lasted the duration.
Makhachev improves to 18-1 and is 7-1 in the UFC while snapping the four-fight win streak obtained by Ramos.
In a heavyweight bout, Curtis Blaydes continued his run towards the top end of the division by stopping Shamil Abdurakhimov in the second round.
Blaydes showed off more wrestling skill with several takedowns in the first round and using his elbows as exclamation points at the end. Blaydes continued with takedowns in the second frame, busting the nose of Abdurakhimov and a follow-up shot that had referee Marc Goddard step in and halt the action.
At 12-2, Blaydes has won six of his last seven fights and was a sizable favorite entering this fight.
The pay-per-view portion opened with a lightweight fight as Diego Ferreira showcased his striking and conditioning for three rounds over Mairbek Taisumov.
The first round was close, but I edged it towards Taisumov, who stunned Ferreira momentarily with a right hand. In the second and third, Ferreira was relentless with his striking output through the roof. His combinations were too much for Taisumov to compete with as Ferreira mixed in kicks to all points of the body and outpaced Taisumov to earn the decision.
It was a mild upset with Taisumov winning his previous six fights. Ferreira extends his win streak to five and improves to 16-2.
Here are the full results from the card:
*Don Madge def. Fares Ziam by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
*Omari Akhmedov def. Zak Cummings by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
*Muslim Salikhov def. Nordine Taleb by KO at 4:26 of Round 1
*Belal Muhammad def. Takashi Sato by rear-naked choke at 1:55 of Round 3
*Ottman Azaitar def. Teemu Packalen by KO at 3:33 of Round 1
*Sarah Moras def. Liana Jouja by TKO at 2:26 of Round 3
*Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Lerone Murphy ended in a split draw (29-28, 28-28, 28-29)
*Joanne Calderwood def. Andrea Lee by split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28)
*Diego Ferreira def. Mairbek Taisumov by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-28)
*Curtis Blaydes def. Shamil Abdurakhimov by TKO at 2:22 of Round 2
*Islam Makhackev def. Davi Ramos by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-27)
*Paul Felder def. Edson Barboza by split decision (30-27, 27-30, 29-28)
*Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Dustin Poirier by rear-naked choke at 2:06 of Round 3 to retain the UFC lightweight title