Perhaps the gulf between Khabib Nurmagomedov and the rest of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight division was wider than first thought.
“The Eagle” improved to an almost unimaginable 28-0 and unified the 155-pound title, as he submitted Dustin Poirier with a rear-naked choke in the third round of their UFC 242 main event on Saturday at The Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Poirier decided it was time to call it a day 2:06 into Round 3, becoming the runaway Dagestani freight train’s latest victim.
Nurmagomedov offered the Lafayette, Louisiana, native a few glimmers of hope: Poirier appeared to connect with a sharp right hand in the second round and went all-in on a guillotine choke in the third. It was a classic case of fool’s gold. Nurmagomedov extricated himself from the guillotine, moved to the American Top Team rep’s back and snuck the rear-naked choke into place when Poirier made the mistake of leaving his chin too high and his neck exposed.
In the aftermath of UFC 242 “Khabib vs. Poirier,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson: Nurmagomedov followed a tried-and-true combination, as he built toward a finish with takedowns, positional control and ground-and-pound. It took him a little more than 12 minutes to crack Poirier’s code, a rear-naked choke giving the American Kickboxing Academy standout the 10th submission win of his career. Few viable contenders remain for Nurmagomedov at 155 pounds, though Ferguson definitely qualifies. “El Cucuy” extended his run of consecutive victories to 12 on June 8, when he prompted a second-round doctor stoppage against Donald Cerrone at UFC 238. The UFC has attempted to book Nurmagomedov-Ferguson on multiple occasions, only to have injuries and failed weight cuts derail those plans. Maybe now the stars can finally align.
Paul Felder vs. Justin Gaethje-Donald Cerrone winner: While it was not without controversy, Felder exacted a measure of revenge in the co-main event by taking a contentious split decision from Edson Barboza -- a man who handed “The Irish Dragon” his first career defeat four years ago. The Brazilian outperformed Felder by narrow margins in terms of significant strikes and total strikes, but those advantages did not translate to the scorecards. While a trilogy bout certainly seems feasible, the two lightweight rivals appear to be headed in opposite directions. Felder has won his last five fights contested at 155 pounds. Gaethje will face Cerrone in the UFC Fight Night 158 headliner on Sept. 14.
Islam Makhachev vs. Al Iaquinta-Dan Hooker winner: Though he remains in Nurmagomedov’s domineering shadow, Makhachev has begun to carve out a niche of his own at 155 pounds, separate from his longtime teammate and training partner. His unanimous decision over 2015 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Davi Ramos pushed him to 7-1 under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner and figures to open the door to an opportunity against a Top 10 opponent. Iaquinta has been paired with Hooker at UFC 243 on Oct. 5 in Melbourne, Australia.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Junior dos Santos-Alexander Volkov winner: For every heavyweight not named Francis Ngannou, Blaydes has become a serious problem. The Elevation Fight Team export posted his second win in as many outings, as he smashed Shamil Abdurakhimov’s nose with a devastating elbow strike and forced a stoppage 2:22 into the second round of their heavyweight showcase. Since he joined the UFC roster in 2016, Blaydes owns a 0-2 record against Ngannou and a 7-0 mark against everyone else. Dos Santos will collide with Volkov in the UFC Fight Night 163 main event on Nov. 9 in Moscow.
Diego Ferreira vs. Alexander Hernandez: Ferreira lifted his stock to an all-time high with his unanimous decision over the highly regarded Mairbek Taisumov in a three-round lightweight feature. The former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder overcame a sluggish start, pressed a merciless pace and wore down Taisumov to such a degree that he managed to outland the Chechen by a staggering 100-32 margin across the final 10 minutes. Ferreira, 34, has pieced together a five-fight winning streak since his knockout loss to the aforementioned Poirier in April 2015. Hernandez last competed at UFC on ESPN 4, where he was awarded a unanimous verdict over Francisco Trinaldo on July 20.