By: Jesse Donathan
The lightweight unification bout between the champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Dustin Poirier went off without a hitch Saturday afternoon, with Nurmagomedov dominating Poirier in route to a third-round rear naked choke submission victory over the American Top Team representative from Coconut Creek, Florida. Nurmagomedov, who captured the title at UFC 223 in April of 2018 against Al Iaquinta before defending the title some six months later against Conor McGregor at UFC 229 has firmly solidified himself as a superstar in one of the sports most exciting divisions.
At lightweight, grappling with Khabib Nurmagomedov is like falling victim to an avalanche to his opponents as Nurmagomedov convincingly shutdown Poirier’s offensive arsenal from start to finish. With the sheer dominance of a tidal wave, Nurmagomedov was all over the now former interim champion like white on rice in the first round of their UFC 242 main event at The Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on ESPN+ PPV.
It was a dominant display of grappling by the Dagestani champion, not just simply the boring, blanket variety of wrestling where one fighter lays on the other like a busted can of biscuits either.
Nurmagomedov outclassed and bullied Poirier on the mat in route to a convincing 10-9 round on my judges score card, looking every bit the undefeated force of nature that he is billed as. In between rounds, a disorganized and unprepared scene unfolded on camera as Poirier’s camp appeared excited in comparison to the calm and collected demeanor of other notable camps in the business of mixed martial arts generalship and strategizing.
By the start of the second round, Poirier already appeared to be winded, the high pace Nurmagomedov is famously known to put on his opponents noticeable in Poirier’s body language. In a testament to what kind of physical condition “The Diamond” is actually in, he would turn up the heat in the offensive department throughout the second round, controlling the stand-up throughout much of the time the two fighters spent on their feet as he chased the elusive Nurmagomedov around the Octagon who appeared to respect the kickboxing ability of Poirier enough to not engage in any kind of reckless manner.
Eventually however, Khabib would push Poirier up against the chain link fence, securing another takedown in route to clearly controlling Dustin on the canvas. Poirier would eventually make his way to his feet several times, only to be pinned against the cage and manhandled back to the mat pretty much at will by the American Kickboxing Academy representative out of San Jose, California by way of Dagestan. The second round was another clear cut 10-9 round for Nurmagomedov who is simply a dominant grappling force in the lightweight division that Poirier struggled to find an answer for.
Within a minute of the third, Nurmagomedov had again attempted to put Poirier up against the chain link fence in hopes of yet another takedown only to be met with a guillotine choke submission hold by Poirier which he threatened Nurmagomedov with for a rather meaningful period of time. Poirier would ultimately abandon the hold altogether as Nurmagomedov immediately moved to take Poirier’s back in what would prove to be a pivotal moment in the fight.
Threatening with a rear naked choke, Nurmagomedov would soften Poirier up with punches before again seizing Poirier’s neck and sinking in the rear naked choke, coaxing the tap from Poirier and bringing an end to the most anticipated fight of the evening at UFC 242. Immediately following his victory, Nurmagomedov would scale the Octagon fence and embrace UFC President Dana White in the crowd in a gesture that seemed to bring a smile to the surprised White’s face.
“Khabib Nurmagomedov admits Dustin Poirier’s guillotine was “close” to putting him away,” writes USA TODAY Sports Mike Bohn in a September 7, 2019 social media recap of UFC 242 on Twitter. As Boxing Insider previously reported, the undisputed UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov has a propensity to lead with his head up, leaving his neck exposed as he looks to close the distance and initiate takedowns from a variety of different angles, leaving himself potentially vulnerable for submission in the process. Though Poirier ultimately failed in bringing Nurmagomedov down in the opening moments of the third, it’s a dangerous game Nurmagomedov is playing and he may not fair as well in the future under a different set of circumstances unless he mends this hole in his game up.
A dominating force in the Octagon, its small details about Nurmagomedov’s overall game such as this that have the potential to mean the difference between a perfect professional mixed martial arts career and one married with a hard to swallow blemish on Khabib’s overall record. This detail, likely one of many, was exactly what the Dustin Poirier camp attempted to exploited at UFC 242 and by all accounts he nearly succeeded in doing so at that.
In the UFC post-fight media scrum, the champion Nurmagomedov expressed interest in a charity superfight at lightweight with UFC legend and former two-division champion Georges St. Pierre in Africa, specifically mentioning Congo by name multiple times at the presser. A multiple time defending welterweight champion at 170-pounds not so long ago, St. Pierre came out of retirement in 2017 to capture the UFC middleweight title against the champion Michael Bisping before relinquishing the title not long after.
It was a fight St. Pierre received by in large based off his longtime dominance in the 170-pound welterweight division and his obvious drawing power as one of the most popular fighters in the sport of mixed martial arts today. Where as the layman might mistakenly presume Georges St. Pierre had worked his way through the UFC’s middleweight division in order to have earned the right to have faced Michael Bisping; the actual fact of the matter is that it’s a different era in professional prized fighting today and the conventional hierarchical model has been completely thrown out the window.
If a superfight with Nurmagomedov were to materialize, Georges St. Pierre would be thrust into the driver’s seat of making history as quite possibly the UFC’s first three-division champion. St. Pierre would likely come into the fight with a size, strength and experience advantage against Nurmagomedov as a betting favorite to dethrone the UFC lightweight champion even though, again, St. Pierre will be inserted into a title picture he did not earn through traditional means.
“I want to do something that … at 155, I never did it before,” writes Milan Ordonez of a conversation Georges St. Pierre had with Joe Rogan on the JRE MMA Show in a May 24, 2018 bloodyelbow.com article titled, “Georges St-Pierre on drop to 155: I want the title or to beat a guy that’s on the rise.” St. Pierre would go on to explain that he wants, “The title, or beating a certain guy that’s on the rise. It could be Khabib Nurmagomedov, (or) if there’s another guy that is unbeatable.” Purely conjecture on my end, but perhaps St. Pierre is even jockeying for a 155-pound showdown with Conor McGregor himself as the mystery other guy?
A St. Pierre move to lightweight has been on the table as far back as 2011, with St. Pierre’s coach Firas Zahabi telling Sherdog.com’s TJ De Santis on the “Beatdown” show that from a starting point of 175-pounds, St. Pierre could cut to 155-pounds “easily” according to an October 25, 2011 mmamania.com article title, “Coach prefers Georges St. Pierre cut to 155, not bulk up for middleweight superfight,” by author Jesse Holland.
Unfortunately for St. Pierre, the Khabib Nurmagomedov sweepstakes includes a couple other viable contenders waiting in the wings for their chance to vie for Nurmagomedov’s UFC lightweight throne. “The fifth time might be the charm in the seemingly cursed fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson,” writes author Damon Martin in his September 8, 2019 MMAFighting.com article titled, “Dana White: Tony Ferguson next but if he turns down fight, Khabib vs. Conor McGregor 2 makes sense.”
According to Martin, “After four previous attempts to put the fight together fell apart due to injuries and weight-cutting errors, UFC president Dana White declared Ferguson as next in line to face Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title following Nurmagomedov’s win over Dustin Poirier on Saturday night.”
With the Nurmagomedov lottery including Tony Ferguson, Conor McGregor and Georges St. Pierre, it’s a safe bet the UFC is holding their cards close to their chest as negotiations continue to be on going with all parties involved. For the time being, Ferguson is next in line to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov until he isn’t. “But” with the Nurmagomedov camp talking St. Pierre, the UFC talking Ferguson or maybe Conor McGregor, its likely a matter of dollars and therefore sense as to what the future ultimately holds. While Tony Ferguson is the lightweight divisions rightful number one contender, I won’t hold my breath until that cage door closes behind him that he is Nurmagomedov’s next opponent.