Abu Dhabi: In the end, there will be no fence-sitters when the world champion takes on the pretender at UFC 242 at The Arena on Yas Island on Saturday.
On the one hand, there is the reigning UFC Lightweight champion Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov; and on the other, is the pretender, Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier. Khabib would certainly want to light up proceedings for his growing legion of followers and fans while continuing his ever-bloating legacy as he prepares to placate an euphoric opponent from across the Atlantic and improve his enviable record at 28-0.
The bout will be a UFC lightweight championship title unification fight between the current and interim champions, and the Russian from the Dagestan region was in a sedate, respectful mood at the customary weigh-in on Friday evening.
27-0Habib’s dominant record in mixed martial arts fights
“Tomorrow night, everything will be settled,” Khabib cautioned after the stare-down with Poirier.
The American was not too flashy. “It has been a crazy ride for me so far, and tomorrow we reach the pinnacle,” he said on Friday evening.
The warning horn, though, had already been sounded earlier during the week. “If you are a fighter then you want to be the best,” Khabib had said during his build-up at Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex.
“You have to always aspire to be No 1 or nothing at all. I need to worry about being the No 1, but at the same time I shouldn’t care too much about it. I need to just focus on every single opponent who wants to challenge me.
“Saturday is perhaps one of the most important fights for me. I defeat Dustin and maybe I become the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.”
Saturday’s bout will bring down the curtains on the week-long Abu Dhabi Showdown Week that had got under way from September 1. Going in with an unbeaten 11-0 record in the UFC and an even more dominant 27-0 mark in MMA fights, Khabib has time and again insisted he is the best in his weight division.
Khabib had landed in the UAE nearly two weeks ago to acclimatise and prepare himself for the Poirier challenge. The Russian, who will celebrate his 30th birthday on September 20, will have his father Abdulmanap in his corner for the first time during the Abu Dhabi bout. He is currently ranked No 2 in the official pound-for-pound rankings behind Jon Jones, widely regarded as one of the most dangerous and greatest fighters of all time.
On the other hand, Poirier comes in on red-hot form. A professional competitor since 2009, the 30-year-old American enters UFC 242 on the back of a series of successes including a couple of wins over champion Max Holloway and once each against Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethie and Anthony Pettis to take his UFC win-loss record to 17-4 and his overall MMA card at 25-5.
There are another 11 bouts lined up on the night with the next big one being the re-match, after nearly five years, between American Paul Felder and Brazilian Edson Barboza.
But the entire world will be looking at the big one: Khabib vs Poirier. And ultimately, when the curtain does come down, there will be just one winner standing.