Greetings, fight fans! The UFC's tertiary excursion to the richest city in the world is now behind us. The event was held in an arena appropriately named "The Arena," a naming convention that's pretty understandable when you consider that they literally built the entire thing for this event. As impressive as it is that they can throw money and man hours around in such cavalier fashion, one important feature failed to make the cut: air conditioning. In a humid, thousand degree climate. Needless to say, being in the event was akin to sitting in a pressure cooker, whether you're a fighter or a spectator, and while plenty of fighters were able to perform well regardless you gotta wonder what effects it still had on them. This was a legitimate concern going into and during the event, and it was fortunate that we didn't have any medical emergencies, as the already scorching heat was no doubt intensified by the volume of people and the hot lights in the arena. Not a good look at all, Abu Dhabi! It's actually horribly negligent. But enough about that, we just saw the most unstoppable force in MMA remain unstopped to cap off some solid fights in the Middle East, so let's get down to just what the hell happened!


The Main Card

"Khabib Time" continues as he obliterates Poirier's title hopes

Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Dustin Poirier by submission via rear naked choke (2:06, R3) to become the Undisputed UFC Lightweight Champion

Not the finish, but eh, close enough!

What even is Khabib? He's easily the most dominant wrestler in MMA, and at this point it's hard to deny that he isn't flat-out the best pure wrestler in the sport as well. We know what he wants to do and what he does, but with each fight it becomes increasingly difficult to figure out how one can navigate their way to a victory over him outside of just catching him with something. His standup is anything but pretty, but it's undeniably effective both offensively and defensively, and most importantly it doesn't impede on his ability to wrestle. Now part of this is just that Khabib is so athletic that he can get away with it; he shoots blindingly fast takedowns, so all he needs to do is feint or throw a strike up top, and as soon as your hands come up in response he's on your waist and/or legs before you can fully react. This was doubly effective in this fight given that Poirier regularly employs a high guard.

This fight was what has become classic "Khabib smash." Typically against dangerous strikers, Khabib will keep his distance early to lull them into relaxing or coming toward him, and generally he waits to shoot until they're at least somewhat close to the perimeter of the cage (past the black "mini octagon" bounds in the center). This way he can shoot takedowns and easily push them back to the cage, which is where the majority of his takedowns happen. Over time the threat of that takedown allows him to become more aggressive on the feet so that he can just pressure his opponent back to the cage, cut them off with punches, and get in on them for easier takedowns. This worked like a charm on Poirier, who historically is only a moderately good takedown defender, and as mentioned is keen to throw up a high guard or hard punches when his opponents engage him. In fact, it was probably Khabib's most accurate performance in terms of takedowns, as he landed 7 of 8 for 87% accuracy, whereas he normally has to chain several together to get his opponents to the ground.

It really didn't take long for Poirier to be thrown off his game, as an early overhand from Khabib led into the first takedown attempt of the fight. Poirier was able to stay upright, but not for long before Khabib sneakily tripped him to the ground as he so expertly does. From there Poirier tried to hit a switch, but Khabib never broke his grip and just ended up transitioning to the back. From there we received a bit of foreshadowing to the conclusion of the fight, where Khabib worked for a rear-naked choke and secured a very tight neck crank that looked to have Poirier at least thinking of tapping. However, he was able to fight the hands and get to his feet...only to be dragged back down to the floor. Poirier once again tried to hit a switch, and this time he ended up mounted, where he ate punches and elbows before the end of the opening frame. No more switches for Dustin!

Who just shuts down a switch like that AND goes right to back mount?

Poirier was fortunate to even make it out of round one.

Round two saw Khabib hit with perhaps the most significant shot we've seen him take, a big switch-stance overhand right that stunned him and sent him retreating backwards to get his bearings. It's nice to see so many fighters these days successfully using switch-stance overhands to cover more distance and catch fighters who consistently lean out of the way of punches. As with any time Khabib is hit clean, there was quite a bit of hubbub about him being hurt and close to finished, but he was certainly not too hurt and nowhere near being close to finished. In fact he stunned Poirier with a sneaky left hook as he swarmed in to follow up, and that's really what allowed Khabib to move away and reset.

Poirier put Khabib on his bike in round two.

Shortly after that, Khabib feinted, shot in, and Poirier found himself unable to consistently stay on his feet again. One of the biggest edges I gave Poirier over Khabib's previous opponents prior to this fight was that he's grown to be pretty unshakeable. When the going gets tough he tends not to break, but to take a second to evaluate and continue coming on strong, which is bolstered by his strong cardio. After this round, he looked the most defeated I've ever seen him look since his move to lightweight, and even exclaimed to his corner out of frustration that he couldn't get Khabib off of him.

This is what Khabib does; he breaks opponents. He wears on them and batters them until they're either looking for a way out, expending all their will on a last-ditch effort, or just looking to survive. Poirier found his last-ditch effort in round three in the form of a quick arm-in guillotine attempt when Khabib shot in on him. It was tight and the moment was certainly tense, but Khabib remained calm, passed to half guard to relieve pressure, and turned to his side to further weaken the choke before slipping out and getting Poirier's back. A spent Poirier grabbed a hold of Khabib's wrist to prevent the choke, but then looked up, allowing that arm to slowly slide under his chin. A few punches from Khabib's free had got Poirier to release his grip, and the choke was locked in for the tap. In a way Poirier gave him the choke, but really he just didn't have much fight left to give and that's when mistakes come out.

The closest Khabib has come to being in real trouble.

I have to put myself on blast here. Although I certainly wasn't going to pick against Khabib in this fight, I was pretty front-and-center when it came to the sentiment that Poirier was an extremely dangerous opponent for Khabib and absolutely shouldn't be overlooked. Normally I'm irked when I get the story of a fight wrong, but in this case it was just too damn impressive. Of course even in breaking this fight down I couldn't ignore the fact that Poirier has mostly fought opponents who wanted to strike with him, and even among wrestlers he's never fought one anywhere close to Khabib. How do you prepare for him? There's no one in your camp that does what he does. Watching Khabib work on the ground is pretty sublime from a technical standpoint. By the time you figure out a counter he's already figured out a counter to that counter, and he excels at controlling more than one part of your body at once. You might be focused on getting control of your wrist back to dig for an underhook, and next thing you know he trips your supporting leg out and you're on your back. No one has figured it out, and who knows if anyone will before he retires, which is apparently not too far off? He is just on another level, not just when it comes to wrestling, but by extension fighting in general. He has flaws, but he not only succeeds in spite of them, he absolutely dominates and rarely pays for them. That's pretty incredible.

And of course, my heart goes out to Poirier. He didn't look like he belonged in there for this fight, but he did. He earned it with amazing performances against elite fighters, and certainly provided good reasoning for why one might think he was a threat to Khabib's title and undefeated record. He may have felt that he let people down, but it's been an absolute joy watching him develop as a fighter and become one of the best lightweights in the world after moving up from featherweight. Who's next for the Thugjitsu black belt? I'd say Donald Cerrone if he fails to get by Justin Gaethje next weekend, but I guess I also wouldn't be opposed to a Gaethje rematch. Alternatively, if Conor McGregor decides to grace us with his presence anytime soon, I'm sure that's a rematch Poirier wants.

For Khabib, it's Tony Ferguson. The cursed matchup that has been scheduled and fallen through four times over a nearly four year stretch needs to finally happen. Ferguson could be an opponent to actually pose a legitimate threat to Khabib, but hey, how many guys have we said that about only for them to be throttled? If you want to talk about unbreakable fighters, no one at 155 fits that bill more than Ferguson, so it should at least be interesting.

And lastly, as I feel I've already written a full article just on this fight, how about "good guy Khabib?" I think it's good that after the McGregor post-fight brawl debacle he's doubling down on respect and denouncing trash talk for the sake of hype. He was pulled into McGregor's world and seems to be making an effort to remind people that he's not about that life. I thought it was great that he wore Poirier's shirt after the fight and announced he's selling it and giving the proceeds to Poirier for his charity work. Vitriolic call outs and boasting can be fun if I'm being honest, but this is the kind of stuff I like to hear more after fights.

He spends a lot of time on the ground, but Khabib is a pretty stand up guy. HEYOOO!

Felder edges Barboza to avenge first career loss

#10 Paul Felder def. #7 Edson Barboza by unanimous decision (30-27, 28-29, 27-30)

This was not without controversy, and I'll say right off the bat that I didn't agree with the decision. Not so much because it was a flat-out robbery, because I wouldn't call it that; it was a fairly typical swing round fight, with Barboza clearly taking the first, Felder clearly taking the third, and the second being close. I felt Barboza landed the better quality shots and was more accurate in the round, but it was back-and-forth. What I really took umbrage with was the fact that we saw a case of dueling 30-27 scorecards in a fight where there shouldn't have been a single 30-27. When I heard the second and deciding 30-27, I thought for sure it must have gone to Barboza, but apparently the two judges weren't even the same kind of stupid. Judges gonna judge (poorly), I guess.

Barboza's reaction was essentially the same as my own.

I may have intimated before that I tend to value predicting how a fight plays out and which factors come into play over picking a winner correctly, and I think this fight was a good example of that, even if it can be argued that Barboza won the fight. I expected the fight to be somewhat similar to the first, but definitely closer just due to the fact that Felder has matured so much as a fighter and doesn't get as emotional. At the same time, my primary reasons for picking Barboza were that he had a clear speed advantage, Felder still tends to fight at his opponent's preferred range, and he doesn't typically pressure to the extent that gives Barboza issues. For the most part all those things showed to be true, at least in the first two rounds. He slammed lightning-fast leg and body kicks into Felder, while slipping out of harms way on most of Felder's counter attempts.

How does one kick so fast?!

In round two he was even able to time an explosive double leg as Felder advanced, though it may not have been worth it, as Felder opened up a nasty cut over his eye with an elbow from the bottom that appeared to give him some trouble in the fight (he actually gave Felder the opening to get to his feet because he had blood in his eyes) and forced Barboza to defend a slick armbar attempt.

Barboza flashed some explosive wrestling...

But Felder's got a bottom game!

Also expectedly, Barboza slowed a bit in round three and it led to Felder having more success as he was able to pressure and cut him off better. In the final stanza he turned up the aggression and volume while Barboza was more selective with his strikes than the previous two rounds. While I didn't care for the decision, these two still put on another great, back-and-forth fight where they both acquitted themselves well.

Even the spinning sh*t was pretty even.

This one got through cleanly though.

At this point Felder should be fighting for top five status, so I think the winner of Cerrone vs Gaethje suits him well. Barboza is in an interesting place because while he did look good here, he's in need of a win after having dropped four of his last five, albeit to top competition. Charles Oliveira is a dangerous opponent, but makes sense for him in terms of the rankings. I just never like the idea of putting struggling fighters against streaking ones, as Oliveira is on an impressive five-fight win streak. I wouldn't be opposed to them dipping outside of the top 10 and maybe pitting Barboza against Rustam Khabilov. Hell, I wouldn't even mind a rubber match.

Makhachev cruises past Ramos in tepid affair

#15 Islam Makhachev def. Davi Ramos by unanimous decision (29-27, 30-26, 30-26)

This was one of the easier picks on the card to make. Ramos is a beast on the ground, but other than being powerful and athletic, he doesn't have a ton to offer elsewhere for a technically sound fighter like Makhachev, and his takedowns aren't historically good enough to really be a threat there either. After an uneventful but clear Makhachev opening round Ramos became a bit more aggressive, though it didn't yield him much success. The biggest (really the only) moment for Ramos came when he stunned Makhachev coming in with a jab, but he recovered quickly and from there he just stayed mindful and was able to avoid it. Ramos either throws a jab or a looping right, so it made him pretty easy to predict. Round three was total domination from Makhachev as Ramos, knowing he was two rounds down, ramped up the aggression and rushed in on Makhachev. However, he rushed right into the Thai clinch where he was dropped with a knee up the middle essentially because he wouldn't stop throwing big hooks while Makhachev had a hold of him. Makhachev landed several clean followup shots on the ground, but Ramos was able to wrap him up and survive. At that point he wasn't so leery of Ramos' grappling, and spent most of the round stifling his bottom game.

Caution: knees may be imminent in the Thai clinch.

It wasn't the most thrilling fight, but Makhachev got it done in pretty dominant fashion. Hanging out just on the fringe at #15, a fight with the winner of the upcoming Al Iaquinta vs Dan Hooker fight could boost him into the top 10. Ramos can take on Stevie Ray or Damir Hadzovic.

Blaydes cuts "Abrek" open en route to dominant TKO victory

#4 Curtis Blaydes def. #9 Shamil Abdurakhimov by TKO via strikes (2:22, R2)

This also offered few surprises. For as impressive as Abdurakhimov has looked in dispatching Chase Sherman and Marcin Tybura, he just hasn't displayed the defensive wrestling to stop someone so strong and focused on that aspect as Blaydes. Also, he just hasn't shown to be on that level where he can handle the kind of pace Blaydes brings. That was apparent early when Blaydes shot a takedown within the first 20 seconds and took him down, transitioning to his back with a rear waist lock and settling into the ride position. Every time Abdurakhimov would get to his feet, Blaydes would just drag him back down into the same position and ride him. Late in the round he managed to flatten him out, get to mount, and land hard punches and elbows before the horn.

Blaydes tried to get him out of there early, but that pesky horn ruined it.

In round two Abdurakhimov managed to land a nice uppercut, but quickly found himself heaved to the ground with a double leg. Blaydes once again worked his way to the ride position and landed hard right hands that had the referee threatening to stop the fight. Abdurakhimov rolled to his back in response and it just led to some brutal elbows, one of which cut him open badly and forced the stoppage.

Blaydes continues to roll at heavyweight and run through everyone not named Francis Ngannou. He finds himself back on the path to contendership, and the winner of the recently announced Junior dos Santos vs Alexander Volkov fight should get him that much closer. Abdurakhimov is still a solid heavyweight in his own right and there are a few fights that could make sense for him, from the loser of Tai Tuivasa vs Sergey Spivak or Blagoi Ivanov vs Derrick Lewis, to a rematch with Walt Harris if he fails to get by Alistair Overeem.

Ferreira outworks and outlasts Taisumov

Diego Ferreira def. Mairbek Taisumov by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27)

The annual Taisumov fight brought to us by his inability to obtain a visa and fight in the US did not go as he planned. This was the one fight where I wondered how much the heat had an effect because Taisumov looked great early and then just gassed uncharacteristically fast in the latter half of the fight. On the flip side, Ferreira in turn showed extremely impressive cardio in keeping such a high pace over 15 minutes in that heat. This was a bit of an upset, as Taisumov's superior striking and footwork figured to get him the win, especially with Ferreira's tendency to be aggressive and leave defensive openings. Taisumov looked as expected in the opening stanza, sliding out of harm's way for the large majority of what Ferreira threw and coming back with crisp counters, including a right hand over the top to the temple that rocked Ferreira and a hard followup right uppercut that had him retreating. The fight looked to be going as many fans, oddsmakers, and pundits expected it too.

Taisumov looked his normal, dangerous self in the opening round.

In the second round, everything changed. Taisumov's output stayed more or less the same while Ferreira ramped things up and really got Taisumov moving and expending energy. He still landed some solid shots and effective counters, but it was clear the pressure was wearing on him a bit. Round three was where the wheels fell off, and Taisumov was clearly exhausted. His footwork was much sloppier than it normally is, and he struggled to get away from the steady stream of punches coming his way. He didn't have the energy to come forward with anything but single shots, while Ferreira constantly stayed in his face with combinations, and was dominated for his efforts.

Ferreira has really been turning a corner as a fighter, and his standup is looking much less wild and dependent on power, and instead more tight and measured. He hasn't gotten that shot at a top 15 guy yet, and Alexander Hernandez or Charles Oliveira would be good fits for him. Oliveira especially could make for a pretty amazing fight. Taisumov is a bit harder to nail down because he fights so infrequently these days and with his visa issues he probably won't get ranked opponents anyway at this point. He's still an delightful striker to watch, and I'd love to see him against another talented striker in David Teymur.


The Prelims

#5 Joanne Calderwood def. #6 Andrea Lee by split decision (29-28, 27-30, 28-29)

She's not just all knees anymore.

This was another somewhat close affair, but one I ultimately agreed with. Oddly enough, as of this writing neither this nor the other split decision (Felder vs Barboza) are listed on MMA Decisions, so I can't even track how the media scored the fights, but I did see a couple pundits saying they scored this one for Lee. The contest was very back-and-forth on the feet, even if the stats make it appear lopsided in favor of Calderwood, and that's mostly due to Lee typically landing a bit heavier in the first half of the fight while Calderwood favored high volume throughout. With the standup being as close as it was, a lot of the wrestling and clinch work decided who had the edge at many points. Lee essentially took the first round with a late takedown and some elbows from on top. That wrestling success extended into round two with an early takedown and some solid positional work and ground and pound. Calderwood managed to make it to her feet, land a big elbow on the break, and score a double leg of her own late in the round, which was the closest of the fight. In round three Lee was pretty tired and couldn't find takedowns as easily, and Calderwood made her pay for it with knees and punches. She showed some impressive cardio given the volume she threw on the feet and the amount of grappling and clinch work in the fight. Essentially the only fight left for Calderwood would be the winner of Jennifer Maia vs Katlyn Chookagian, the latter of whom she lost a close decision to just three months ago. Unless they give her recent title challenger Liz Carmouche. Lee can fight the loser of the fight or the loser of Jessica Eye vs Viviane Araujo.

Zubaira Tukhugov fought Lerone Murphy to a split draw (29-28, 28-29, 28-28)

In another interesting decision, this one managed to go to the always disappointing split draw. While I scored the fight for Tukhugov, it's certainly not unfathomable to give Murphy the last two rounds, and I thought Tukhugov earned a 10-8 for the opening round after dropping Murphy and nearly finishing him. While only one judge saw that 10-8 round, it only meant that we got a split draw instead of a majority one. Murphy looked pretty crisp on the feet, while Tukhugov's time spent at AKA with Khabib and Makhachev has clearly been paying off, as he came into the UFC mostly a striker but was able to effectively use a very similar wrestling style as his fellow Dagestani stablemates here.

Sarah Moras def. Liana Jojua by TKO via strikes (2:26, R3)

I wouldn't say I had high hopes for Jojua when it was announced that she'd signed with the UFC, but I certainly expected her to look better than she did. It was one of the clearer cases of UFC jitters I've seen because while she's fairly raw as a fighter she typically shows a bit more composure and is more assertive with her offense. She was uncharacteristically tentative and essentially just allowed Moras to walk her down and get the better of the standup despite being the better striker on paper.

Where was this meanie against Moras?

She managed a takedown in round two, but when Moras was able to kick her off she literally just accepted bottom position when she had the space to try and stand. In the final round she shot for another takedown that was easily stuffed, and Moras transitioned to her back, effortlessly got to back mount, and pounded away while Jojua turned to and fro trying to defend until the referee had seen enough. It was a much needed win for Moras, who missed weight and was on a three-fight skid, and although she had a much easier to manage opponent in front of her this time, she performed well. Comparing Jojua's performance to her pre-UFC fights is like night and day, and if she can't turn in a better one than this one I don't see her lasting long in the UFC, unless they extend her stay due to her being easy on the eyes. But that doesn't sound like the UFC, right?

Ottman Azaitar def. Teemu Packalen by KO via punch (3:33, R1)

Wasted.

There isn't a ton to Azaitar other than being an aggressive power puncher, but that was all he needed to remove Packalen's soul from his body here. Similarly there isn't much to Packalen other than being a long, slick grappler, and seeing how all fights start on the feet you had to figure this was probably a more dangerous fight for him, especially coming off a near two-and-a-half year layoff following another brutal knockout loss. Packalen has the build of someone who could be nightmare on the feet; his reach could prove valuable from distance, and when opponents get in close his grappling could come into play. However, he's simply just a terribly awkward and stiff striker.

As you can see, striking defense is not Packalen's strong suit.

He stands upright, doesn't hide his chin, and makes bad decisions in the pocket that get him tagged like he did here. His response to Azaitar throwing the same no-setup overhand right he always does was to stand straight up, stay on the center line, and throw out an awkward jab. It's no surprise the right hand landed clubbed him behind the ear so hard he teetered over and fell face-first to the canvas; but not before hit appeared his hand reached out in an attempt to stop his soul from escaping before he hit the ground. In all seriousness, it looked scary there for a bit with Packalen twitching on the mat immediately after hitting the ground, but thankfully he was sitting up and communicating soon after. It's clear at this point that he shouldn't be in the UFC, but if he can't improve his striking defense he might want to save his brain reevaluate his career.

Belal Muhammad def. Takashi Sato by submission via rear naked choke (1:55, R3)

Muhammad is one of the more underrated fighters at welterweight. He consistently puts on solid performances win or lose, and is just a reliable, well-rounded fighter. From early on he found the straight right to the body-left hook over the top combo, and it stunned Sato several times before he finally started adjusting to it. Just when that happened he switched gears and took him down, ending the opening round in back control landing elbows. In round two Sato was a bit more competitive, though Muhammad still landed the better shots. To his credit however, Sato did manage a late takedown in the round where he was able to pass to side control. In the final round the striking was relatively even early on, but a little over a minute in Muhammad shot in and landed an outside trip before easily transitioning to Sato's back and locking up a rear-naked choke for the submission victory.

Muslim Salikhov def. Nordine Taleb by KO via punch (4:26, R1)

Despite how great he looks physically at 38, it looks like age might finally be catching up to Taleb. From questionable strategic decision making to just not seeming and sharp with his reflexes than he used to be, his diminished form has not only led to him losing more than he wins, but to being finished in fights that aren't the most competitive. This bout with Salikhov was pretty uneventful up until the finish, with both fighters opting for a lengthy feeling-out process.

Though it's not a Salikhov fight without at least one spinning sh*t.

Salikhov relied heavily on leg kicks while keeping his distance to avoid most of Taleb's returns, but his key weapon ended up being the jab to the body; this is what set up the finish. As Taleb circled out to his left, Salikhov feinted the body jab, causing Taleb to drop his hands, and he came over the top big a big overhand right that just flattened him. No followup shots were needed. After the fight Salikhov called out Jingliang Li, who recently got his breakout win over Elizeu dos Santos, and while I think it's a step down for Li, it'd make for a good fight.

Omari Akhmedov def. Zak Cummings by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

Akhmedov keeps on cruising along at middleweight and I finally hopped on the train prior to this fight. When he moved up I continued picking against him because of his lackluster cardio and propensity for energy sucking haymakers, but it seems that he's gotten a lot better at pacing himself. Against Cummings he fought someone with a very limited tool set at range who has mostly been winning without looking particularly impressive, but instead capitalizing greatly on his opponents' mistakes. This was just a case of Akhmedov being the slightly better striker (neither are particularly good) and the stronger wrestler. It wasn't very eventful, but a solid win for Akhmedov.

Still not the best defensively though.

Don Madge def. Fares Ziam by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

The prelim opener was an incredibly clinch-heavy affair where Madge better controlled the action down the stretch. It was another fairly tepid affair with most of the attacks being short clinch strikes, and the difference being made by Madge's takedowns in the latter two rounds. Not a very inspiring performance by either men, but hey, at least they got the slower fights out of the way early!


And that's all there was to UFC 243, live from the surface of the Sun Abu Dhabi! While it was more or less propped up by a big main event, the card managed to hold it's own for the most part, spacing out the finishes and action-packed fights pretty nicely. And it's always an event to see Khabib continue to make history. The weekend didn't stop there, with Invicta holding a one-night tournament that saw Miranda Maverick shine and emphatically avenge a February decision loss to Deanna Bennett in the finals, and Ryan Bader's first Bellator heavyweight title defense against Cheick Kongo being marred by an eye poke that may or may not have happened, resulting in a no contest. But this thing has been long enough so I won't talk about all that. Instead, I'll see you next week when Cerrone and Gaethje deliver large amounts of violence to our eyeballs. Sado, out!

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