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UFC 242: Khabib vs. Poirier - Fights to make

All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest event in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

UFC 242 didn’t always deliver the biggest thrills. But, the PPV portion delivered a bevvy of extremely high level MMA action. Elite fighters at the top of their game, fighting to carefully crafted gameplans. And to cap it all off, Khabib Nurmagomedov added to his astounding unbeaten record, unifying the lightweight title in the process. Paul Felder solidified his place among lightweight’s premier action fighters. And Curtis Blaydes made sure that his name won’t be far away from the heavyweight title-hunt for the foreseeable future.

So, is there any other lightweight title fight to make than Khabib vs. Ferguson? Does Paul Felder get his top 5 opponent—or just end up retiring? And will the UFC finally find Islam Makhachev a ranked opponent (probably not)?

I’ll be answering all those questions – and many more – using the classic Silva/Shelby fight-booking methodology from years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Look out for the UFC Copenhagen: Hermansson vs. Cannonier Fights to Make article for your own chance to do some fantasy matchmaking for UFC 243.

This week’s winner is longtime BE reader Timqwe (aka ‘Tim’).

KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV

Tim - Khabib once again showed his dominance over the Lightweight division. Besides maybe a minute in the second round, he outclassed and out-grappled Poirier. Being a defending champion in the current UFC of course means there are always a couple options available to you that aren’t necessarily the most fair sportswise. He could always fight Holloway moving up, or move up himself to fight the Covington/Usman winner, when that happens. And of course, Conor McGregor and GSP always hang around as the ‘money fights.’ That being said, while it is an interesting matchup, I dread a Covington vs Khabib buildup. Ultimately though, the right thing to do is booking Fergusson vs Khabib again (for the 5th, 6th time?). Just keep someone ready to step in if needed.

Zane - I mean... there really isn’t much to say here that isn’t abundantly obvious. Sure the UFC could book Conor vs. Khabib 2, just because the money at stake is so big. Or, they could put the winner of Gaethje vs. Cerrone in there, just because it fits some sort of imagined timeline or because it’s easier to negotiate. Even GSP’s name has been getting tossed around. But, the top contender is Tony Ferguson. No one else. No one should be passing him by. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson is the only lightweight fight that MUST be made. Everything else can wait.

DUSTIN POIRIER

Tim - Personally, I was disappointed in Dustin. Not for his grit and courage, but for the gameplan he came out with. Backing yourself that fast into the fence was a recipe for disaster. He could fight Paul Felder, but I don´t like booking a winner vs a loser here. Cerrone would be a nice opponent if he loses to Gaethje. And if Poirier is willing to fight an up and comer, he could retry fighting a wrestler and see if he can beat Gillespie. For now, though, I am going to say he should fight Al Iaquinta. Al is still high ranked, but has been trading wins and losses and this match should conclude who is still and the title hunt and who falls wayside.

Zane - Poirier knew exactly what he needed to do against Khabib. Survive the bad spots, pressure hard on the feet when he got the chance, and keep his compusre. But, knowing a thing is a lot different than being able to make use of it. Khabib was able to push Poirier back too often and get him to the mat too easily. And once he was there, Khabib absolutely smothered him. Still, that performance shouldn’t leave Poirier far out of the running for future big fights. And if Donald Cerrone drops his upcoming fight to Justin Gaethje, then he and Poirier could make a great battle. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind seeing Poirier rematch Gaethje win or lose. And of course there’s also Edson Barboza right there with a loss just a notch down the card. That’d be a battle of top flight exciting lightweights that it really feels like we should have seen already. While part of me says Poirier should wait for Cerrone or Iaquinta, the rest of me just can’t ignore what a good fight Edson Barboza vs. Dustin Poirier should be. Book it.

PAUL FELDER

Tim - That fight was close, to say the least. I’m not sure I agree with the decision, but the second round was close enough that I’m not bothered by it. As long as we can all agree that 30-27 either way does not make any sense, right? Lightweight is mostly stuck right now, with guys either fighting or moving divisions. If he wants a top 5 fight like he said, he is probably going to have to wait for the Gaethje/Cerrone winner. If he is willing to fight someone lower ranked, matchups with Charles Oliveira or Gillespie sound appealing. Let´s go with the Gaethje/Cerrone winner for now, though.

Zane - Whether or not fans feel Felder deserved the win, he put together a fantastic performance of pressure kickboxing to keep the fight razor close, ending on a very strong third round. He’s clearly found his stride with an improved focus on gameplanning for his opposition. He says he’s only taking top-5 fights or he’s going to retire. That would mean gunning for the winner of Gaethje vs. Cerrone most likely. But the winner of Iaquinta vs. Hooker may be a more reasonable option. If the Gaethje vs. Cerrone winner is willing, then that sounds like a fantastic fight for Felder. Otherwise, give him the winner of Hooker vs. Iaquinta.

EDSON BARBOZA

Tim - Edson didn’t necessarily have a bad performance, but it has been made clear once more that he has stopped evolving. The takedowns were a wrinkle we haven´t seen often, but that only concluded in getting cut open by elbows from the back. At 33 and 1-4 in his last 5, Barbosa´s days in the rankings might be nearing their end. To prove he still belongs there, he should fight Alexander Hernandez. Hernandez is physical enough to push Barbosa in the cage, but might not be technical enough to actually produce the pressure needed.

Zane - Felt like a win for Barboza to me. But even in a loss it should only further cement Barboza’s position as an all-time great, elite action fighter in the lightweight division. Win or lose, his fights are always a ton of fun. If Donald Cerrone happens to lose to Justin Gaethje next week, then he’d be a perfect next opponent for Barboza in the immediate future. Same can be said of Al Iaquinta if he loses to Dan Hooker. But, it’s hard to book a bout for someone purely off the chance that someone else loses. I wouldn’t even mind seeing Barboza face a young prospect on the rise, looking to make his name. Someone like Alex Hernandez. But, end of the day (and although I hate matching fighters from the same card) there’s no more sensible top-flight lightweight battle than Edson Barboza vs. Dustin Poirier.

ISLAM MAKHACHEV

Tim - Islam is a good fighter everywhere. Good striking, good wrestling, good grappling. Here is the problem. In a division as stacked as Lightweight, good does not stand out. And as long as Makahachev does not stand out, he is not going much further than #15. Luckily for him there is another fighter on the edge of the rankings who seems to be struggling to break through to a higher level. A fight with Hooker sound like just the right test to see who might still take that next step.

Zane - A totally decent performance from Makhachev if severely lacking in early excitement. Once Ramos got desperate late, however, Makhachev really put it on him. He called out the winner of Barboza/Felder after, but that seems exactly like the bout that neither man would want—as elite action fighters in the top 10. A bout against Gregor Gillespie or Alex Hernandez would be fun and fine, especially since it seems that a booking between them isn’t about to emerge any time soon. But, I also advocated in the past for using this bout as a potential launching pad for a new young prospect: Nasrat Haqparast. Makhachev probably deserves something a bit bigger, but it just doesn’t seem like he’s likely to get it. If he does, then a fight with Gregor Gillespie would be great. But if the UFC is going to keep Makhachev treading water, then Islam Makhachev vs. Nasrat Haqparast would be a hell of a fight.

CURTIS BLAYDES

Tim - Curtis is probably the best wrestler not named Cormier the Heavyweight division has seen since Cain still had functional knees. The only issue for Blaydes, there is a 6’4” 250lbs boogeyman called Ngannou roaming the division that is making it very hard for Blaydes to actually reach Stipe. Right now, there are 4 guys above him. Stipe will only be fighting Cormier or Ngannou, and Cormier and Ngannou will both only be fighting Stipe. That leaves JDS open. If JDS can not be convinced to take this fight, Blaydes will have to take a horizontal step and fight someone like Volkov or Ivanov. The only sensible matchup is Dos Santos vs Blaydes though.

Zane - Matching Blaydes up among the heavyweight elite is always a bit of a problem. On the one hand, he’s been utterly dominant against almost everyone not named Francis Ngannou. On the other, he’s got a style that’s just not exciting enough to make many other top talent eager to take him on. There’s talk of a bout between Alexander Volkov and Junior dos Santos out there, but if that isn’t going to happen, then either man would make a good opponent for Blaydes. Or if Walt Harris beats Alistair Overeem, that could work. But that’s no guarantee. Eventually, it seems that Derrick Lewis vs. Blagoi Ivanov is the best chance that Blaydes has of facing someone off a win right now. So, wait until UFC 244 is in the books, see who came out ahead, and book Curtis Blaydes vs. the winner of Lewis/Ivanov.

DIEGO FERREIRA

Tim - I’m going to be honest, Ferreira was never really on my radar. I see now, he should have been. The man has acquired a win-streak with some of the most impressive un-ranked lightweights the UFC has to offer. If Gilbert Burns returns to the lightweight division, that could be an interesting match-up between two BJJ black belts. He seems to be staying at welter though. Diego could try to convince Makhachev to fight him and make it three Russians in a row. The young Tsarukyan would not be a bad option either. For now, I would like to see some more fireworks standing though, and match him up with Nasrat Haqparast, and see who can break through into the rankings.

Zane - Ferreira has been a fun action fighter for the UFC’s lightweight division for a minute now, but this performance suggests he may be leaving that mantle behind to make a serious run at the top 15. He put a brutal pace on Taisumov in sweltering heat, surviving a bad round 1 to pour on offense over the distance. If he can stay tough and push that kind of pace, he can be a problem for just about anyone. What better way to test out how ready his is for the top 15 than to give him another aggressive Brazilian grappler who has molded himself into a lethal striker: Charles Oliveira. Oliveira has won 5 straight at lightweight, finishing every one of his opponents. Put Oliveira and Ferreira in the cage together and see whose string of dominance breaks.

JOANNE CALDERWOOD

Tim - I´ll admit, I did not have the time to watch the entire fight here, so I´ll have to keep it short and go on my impressions on the last half of the fight. Calderwood apparently was ranked #5 in the division, but I´m not sure how? At least with this win she solidified that, and with Flyweight still in it´s building face, one more win might actually put her in line to be Valentina’s next victim. Jennifer Maia is coming off a win and is ranked 4th, so that seems like the right matchup to make. If not, Carmouche and Eye are fine opponents too.

Zane - One of the most complete performances of Joanne Calderwood’s career. She showed a great dedication to pressure, volume striking, all connected to her improved wrestling game. She’s gonna need another win or two to make herself a contender, but this is much closer to the kind of fight she needs to get there. With Chookagian/Maia likely to decide who has next against Valentina Shevchenko, there’s not a lot of easy answers for who Calderwood can face next. She could go winner/loser and take on recent challenger Liz Carmouche, or wait for the winner of Jessica Eye vs. Vivi Araujo. I’ll say wait. Carmouche may be ready to fight sooner, but Joanne Calderwood vs. the Eye/Araujo winner is definitely the more exciting matchup and a great way for Calderwood to try and prove she’s ready for Valentina.

OTTMAN AZAITAR

Tim - Azaitar channeled his inner Wanderlei, and came out swinging hooks at a Packalen—who just could not keep up. I’m not sure how well that style holds up in 2019, but it sure is fun to see. That also means I don’t want to ruin Azaitar right away by putting him against a hardnosed wrestler, tempting as it is. Action fighters like Drew Dober, Polo Reyes, Damir Hadzovic and Matt Frevola all sound like great matchups. Everyone there apart from Hadzovic is booked already, so unless Azaitar wants to wait on one of them, I am going with Hadzovic.

Zane - Given his level of competition regionally, I had (and may still have) my doubts about Azaitar’s ability to really compete at a high international level in MMA. But, he absolutely crushed his MMA debut, and possibly Teemu Packalen’s skull along with it. Win, lose, whatever, Azaitar seems like he’s going to be a fun fighter to watch. So, he’s gonna need some action fight bookings to bring out the best of that style. There are a couple other relative newcomers like Alex Da Silva, the Frevola/Pena winner, or perhaps one of the numerous recent Tuesday Night signings that could offer Azaitar a fun next bout. But, I think there’s one fight that would make for guaranteed action: Khama Worthy. Worthy is a high volume counter puncher with a dedicated action style. And he also killed it in his first bout in the Octagon. Ottman Azaitar vs. Khama Worthy would be a surefire banger.

OTHER BOUTS: Davi Ramos vs. Joaquim Silva, Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Oleksiy Oliynyk, Mairbek Taisumov vs. Vinc Pichel, Andrea Lee vs. Roxanne Modafferi 2, Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Kevin Aguilar, Lerone Murphy vs. Luiz Eduardo Garagorri, Liana Jojua vs. Lara Procopio, Sarah Moras vs. Tonya Evinger, Teemu Packalen vs. Devin Powell, Belal Muhammad vs. Warlley Alves, Takashi Sato vs. Cole Williams, Muslim Salikhov vs. Claudio Silva, Nordine Taleb vs. Curtis Millender, Omari Akhmedov vs. Krzysztof Jotko/Edmen Shahbazyan winner, Zak Cummings vs. Cezar Ferreira, Don Madge vs. Alex Da Silva, Fares Ziam vs. Rodrigo Vargas