Dustin Poirier’s path to UFC lightweight gold was punctuated by a performance against Max Holloway which Nurmagomedov admits was impressive but will the American’s concussive striking be enough to upset the champion at UFC 242?

In the midst of the suspension levied against Nurmagomedov for his actions post-fight at UFC 229 last October, the UFC mandated the introduction of an interim title in his absence to determine the Russian standout’s next foe among a logjam of contenders in the talent-rich 155lb fold.

When it came down to it, surging lightweight contender Poirier and reigning 145lb champion Max Holloway, a fighter undefeated in 13 bouts, were the two chosen. And, in defiance of the oddsmakers, it was Poirier who claimed the win after five-rounds of pressure, toughness and pinpoint striking. 

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UFC 242 build-up: Khabib and Poirier make their final preparations ahead of fight week in Abu Dhabi

Holloway’s scalp was added to a recent list of achievements which includes Poirier’s wins against Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje but none were as impressive as becoming the first man in six years to defeat Holloway.

However, Poirier’s recent run has taken place almost exclusively in a kickboxing context. Alvarez and Gaethje both have admirable wrestling prowess in the cage but neither man’s style is predicated on that particular element of fighting, nor is Holloway’s, leaving questions as to whether Poirier has the necessary grappling chops to keep Nurmagomedov from smothering him, as he has done to 27 men before him.

Last fight, when he fight with Max Holloway, honestly, he surprised me when he win,” Khabib said recently to Brett Okamoto of ESPN.

Honestly, I think Max Holloway was going to beat him. He [Poirier] showed good skills, good heart, and right now we’re going to fight. He impressed me with his boxing.”

Boxing, though, doesn’t work from one’s back and Khabib forecasts an entirely different type of challenge when the first bell rings on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi.

I think the difference between all his opponents and me, like Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Max Holloway, Jim Miller, all of these guys, nobody can wrestle like me,” he continued. “I’m going to put pressure, like very good pressure. He’s going to have to wrestle with me for 25 minutes.”

Khabib’s two most recent fights, Conor McGregor and Al Iaquinta, showcased the Russian’s increasing comfort in the standup game. While he didn’t abandon his trusted strategy against McGregor, the fight was notable for extended sequences in which he engaged the usually razor-sharp McGregor in prolonged striking exchanges. 

Against Iaquinta he did this for practically the entire five rounds, much to the ire of his coaching staff. This time though, Khabib is saying he will go back to basics.

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‘If I beat Khabib, I’m the best lightweight ever’ – Poirier confident ahead of UFC 242

With me, he has to wrestle. He has to be ready for this. I don’t think he’s ready for this. He’s not like a great knockout artist, he’s good at his boxing, but even if he catches me with a kick, knee, or punch or something, I’m going to keep going. He has to be ready for 25 minutes. I’m going to give him really good pressure.

Despite this assertion it would be foolish to diminish Poirier’s chances to win the fight. The American Top Team fighter is currently enjoying the best form of his career but whether this is enough to flummox the usually indefatigable Russian is another question to which we will receive the answer very soon.

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