POIRIER
Dustin Poirier Image Credit: AP

Abu Dhabi: When UFC 242 erupts at Yas Island on Saturday evening, it will herald an exciting new era in top-level sporting entertainment that the UAE is already well-known for around the world.

From the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to the Dubai Rugby Sevens, Race To Dubai golf event, Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and — of course — the Dubai World Cup horse racing, the UAE hosts some of the most prestigious sporting events on the planet.

UFC 242: Khabib vs Poirier, one of the most-anticipated contests on the mixed martial arts scene, will further propel the country’s reputation for supporting and fostering myriad sports.

The event will mark the UFC’s third visit to Abu Dhabi, and first since Roy Nelson knocked-out the legendary Antonio Nogueira at UFC Fight Night in April 2014.

Khabib
Khabib Nurmagomedov Image Credit: AP

Khabib Nurmagomedov against Dustin Poirier is a match made in heaven. It is a title unification bout between current champion, Khabib, and interim champion Poirier.

I’m focused on making history and taking Khabib to places he has never been. I feed off good energy and I’m ready to rock.

- Dustin Poirier » Interim champion

“This is champion versus champion, the two best in the world, with 25 minutes to see who is the best,” Poirier said on Thursday. “That’s it, that’s exciting to see it. If you’re a fight fan, this is the kind of fight that you’re out there looking for. This is the pinnacle of mixed martial arts.”

No doubt about it. It’s one of the most important fights on the UFC roster this year, with close to 15,000 fans expected to fill the purpose-built Yas Arena and over two million more signing-up to watch a live broadcast across the planet.

Khabib will attempt to cement his legacy as the best UFC lightweight fighter in the world with a victory over the hungry American, Poirier, who has an agenda of his own — to shock the world and dethrone the Russian.

Unbeaten in three years, Poirier appears to be the toughest opponent Khabib has faced, given the fact that the Russian made light work of the much-feared Conor McGregor at UFC 229 in October last year.

I am very excited about my comeback. I’m hungry and it’s going to be a very big show. It’s going to be a big, big night for my legacy.

- Khabib Nurmagomedov » Champion

This is only the second title that Khabib will bid to defend his lightweight title since that fight.

Poirier lost to McGregor at UFC 178 in September, 2014, but is one of the most improved fighters on the promotion’s roster.

Khabib, the most undefeated UFC fighter in history, will step into the octagon as the -450 favourite (you risk $450 to win $100) while Poirier is the +350 underdog (you risk $100 to win $350).

However, being the underdog doesn’t worry Poirier. On the contrary, it fires him up.

“Of course, I love that story,” the American said on Thursday. “I’ve said all week, we’re strumming the same strings. That’s my whole life story. I know a lot of fighters say that — it’s very cliched — but I’ve been the underdog this whole time and I keep coming through.

“This is a historic night not only in mixed martial arts, but in my career. I’m the most in-the-moment, well-rounded and focused fighter and athlete I’ve ever been in my life.

“I’m focused on making history and taking to places he has never been. I feed off good energy and I’m ready to rock. I’ll be myself, go out there and show the world what I’m capable of. Two champions are going in and one champion is coming out — it’s going to be a huge fight,” added Poirier.

Khabib has been somewhat silent in the build up to Saturday’s mega-fight but revealed his thoughts in an earlier conversation with the media, after an absence of 10 months from octagon action due to a ban.

“I am very excited about my comeback,” said the Russian fighter from Dagestan. “I’m hungry and it’s going to be a very big show for everyone fighting in Abu Dhabi.

“My father is going to be in my corner ... so its going to be a big, big night for my legacy,”

The 13-fight UFC 242 card also features the co-main event between Brazilian Edson Barboza (-155) and American Paul Felder (+135) in a battle of veteran lightweights.

In other fights on the night, Khabib’s teammate Islam Makhachev looks for a sixth consecutive UFC win when he takes on Brazil’s Davi Ramos, who is also chasing a fifth straight Octagon victory.

Russian-Austrian Mairbek Taisumov aims to improve his 27-5 MMA record against Brazil’s Diego Ferreira, who is undefeated in the UFC since January 2016.

In the only heavyweight bout American TKO specialist Curtis Blaydes will face Russia’s Shamil Abdurakhimov, who boasts a 20-4 MMA career record.

History will be made at UFC 242 as Abu Dhabi hosts its first-ever female bouts featuring top-ranked Scottish flyweight Joanne Calderwood and American Andrea Lee, while Georgia’s highly-rated Liana Jojua squares up against Canada’s Sarah Moras.