Imagine stepping into a cage with a man who wrestled a bear for satisfaction. It sounds frightening and outright disturbing, perhaps even incomprehensible. This is the task that Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier faces on Saturday when he takes on the unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Khabib, as he’s commonly referred to in UFC circles, is the unequivocal favourite. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who believes Poirier will end his 27-match-winning streak in professional mixed martial arts (MMA). Not because anyone is doubting Porier, but rather because of the calibre of fighter he faces in Khabib.
Khabib is known as “The Eagle”, but when the bell in the octagon rings, his style is more reminiscent of a python hunting its prey. Ambushing his opponent and taking him to the ground, the Russian wraps his feet around his adversary and begins to wear his opponent down. He does not give the fighter a chance to catch their breath for even a second.
The lightweight champion has vowed to do the same to Poirier in Abu Dhabi. At the UFC 242 press conference held in August, Khabib said he would “maul” his opponent.
“I am going to do the same thing I always do, defend my title. This guy [Poirier] fought six strikers in his last six wins, but he never fought an opponent who wrestles,” he said.
“I am going to wrestle with him all night, make him tired, and then make him tap,” Nurmagomedov added.
While wrestling is the prime aspect of the Russian’s game, he is no slouch on his feet. Commentators doubted his standup game last year before his mammoth fight against Conor McGregor, but The Eagle hushed all detractors.
In the second round, he threw a right hook across the Irishmen’s jaw that began the smashing he had promised. By the fourth round, it was over with Khabib victorious through a submission hold.
However, that fight was just less than a year ago, and Khabib has not fought since. He was banned for the chaos that erupted after the battle. After choking Mcgregor, Nurmagomedov leapfrogged the cage and descended into the crowd to attack McGregor’s jujitsu coach, Dillion Danis, which incited a brawl between the two camps.
Khabib promised that he would not scale the cage again, but does not apologise for his actions that night, because McGregor and his team insulted his father, wife and religion in the build-up to the match.
The UFC had to suspend and fine both fighters, because of the stain it left on a sport that was only completely legalised in New York in 2016, after criticisms of excessive violence and brutality were finally pushed to the side.
On Saturday Poirier, the reigning UFC interim lightweight champion, will be searching for opportunities to expose the Russian’s ring rust.
However, in Khabib, we have a fighter who averages a takedown every three minutes, something Poirier will be looking to avoid.
But conceptualising and executing a game plan is everything the American is about. He had to do it in his fight against Max Holloway in April, which saw him put on his “best performance ever in an octagon”, according to UFC commentator Joe Rogan.
Poirier has admitted that he has made special adjustments to his training camp for this fight and understands that he goes in as the underdog, but believes that he will be the fighter who tears through the brute from Dagestan.
“To beat Khabib, it takes pressure, it takes confidence and it takes years of sacrifice. I am all of that and come September 7, I am going to shock the world,” he said.