The consensus leading up to UFC 242, is that if Dustin Poirier can’t negate the wrestling game of Khabib Nurmagomedov, the latter will remain undefeated. But, it sounds like Poirier has bigger concerns than the lightweight champ’s takedowns.
Nurmagomedov’s vaunted grappling game
If you’ve followed the career of Nurmagomedov, then you know few fighters, if anyone in the UFC, have had any answers for his wrestling and top game. Not only is Khabib widely regarded as one of the best wrestlers ever in the game, due to his ability to chain together a variety of takedowns, his top-game is ridiculously effective. Just ask Edson Barboza or Michael Johnson. Conor McGregor might argue that Nurmagomedov’s top-game is more about control, than damage. But, ultimately he was submitted by the champ in their battle last October.
Poirier’s take on the upcoming fight
Well, on account of Poirier’s six-fight undefeated streak, which includes defeating Max Holloway in May to win the interim belt, he’s been tapped to fight Khabib next. Recently Poirier’s gym, American Top Team, held a media day. While discussing his strategy for his September 7th bout with Khabib, Poirier said this (quotes via MMA Junkie):
“I keep going back and forth,” Poirier said. “I feel like I can submit Khabib, but feel like I’m going to stop him. I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but I’m either going to knock him out or I’m going to submit him…”
“Of course, it’s a huge danger,” Poirier said, while discussing Nurmagomedov’s top game in particular. “I don’t want this guy to get on top of me and start pulling away with rounds. We only have five of them. If you let a guy lay on you for three, you need a finish. That’s not what I’m trying to do in there.”
“I’m not worried about his takedowns so much. I need to hurt this guy. That’s a huge part of this training camp. Putting myself in good positions to win the rounds and win the fight. Staying off the fence. Getting up off the ground. But, at the same time, I need to do what I do.”
It’s certainly true that if Poirier can pop right back to his feet, if and when Khabib takes him down, his chances to win the fight will rise dramatically. But…will he be able to? Poirier is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but Khabib has scored wins over other black belts like Rafael dos Anjos and Gleison Tibau. He’s also out-wrestled fighters with solid wrestling pedigrees like Pat Healy, Michael Johnson and Al Iaquinta.
So, we shall see soon enough. UFC 242 is taking place at The Arena at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.