The start of the NFL season is a big deal, but so is UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi. Khabib Nurmagomedov will look to defend his title against interim champion Dustin Poirier in a tremendous lightweight matchup at The Arena on Yas Island. That is one of 13 fights set for this strong pay-per-view card.
We’ll be taking a look at the fights on the slate, paying extra attention to the main card matchups. Four of those matchups come from the lightweight division, so it is a big night for champions and contenders in that division.
Be advised that this one has an early 10:15 a.m. ET start time on Saturday thanks to the time difference. The main card is expected to begin around 2 p.m. ET for those that want to watch something other than college football.
Don Madge and Fares Ziam start us off in the lightweight division on UFC Fight Pass. Madge is the -160 favorite with +140 on the takeback for Ziam. Ziam has a bit of a reach advantage and Madge has not fought since October 27, 2018. This is a step up in class for Ziam, hence the line. Madge beat Te Edwards in his UFC debut 11 months ago, while Ziam is making his UFC debut after fighting in much smaller promotions.
A couple more familiar names are next in Omari Akhmedov and Zak Cummings. The 35-year-old Cummings is having something of a career resurgence with four wins in his last five fights, including a finish over Trevon Giles last time out. Akhmedov, however, is the -120 favorite here with a 3-0-1 record in his last four fights. He returned from a long layoff to beat Tim Boetsch last time out. This fight looks too close to call, as Akhmedov probably has the higher ceiling, but Cummings has been fighting regularly.
Nordine Taleb and Muslim Salikhov are next up. Taleb has been bet into a small favorite at -120. Taleb is surely the more experienced fighter, at this level, anyway, with UFC fights dating back to 2014. Salikhov is fighting in UFC for just the third time. Taleb is the longer fighter and the better takedown artist. He’s also been stronger at landing significant strikes in UFC. He’s a good bet at a low favorite price.
Belal Muhammad is a big favorite over Takashi Sato to finish up the UFC Fight Pass portion of the card. Muhammad is -360 and appears to be the much better all around fighter. This is a money line parlay piece.
Undefeated UFC debutant Ottman Azaitar is a clear-cut favorite against Teemu Packalen at 155 pounds to improve to 12-0. Azaitar has been fighting on much smaller circuits, with his most recent stint coming in Brave. Packalen is 1-2 in three UFC fights, but we haven’t seen him since March 18, 2017 against Marc Diakiese. Azaitar is another money line parlay piece at -235.
This is a big fight for Sarah Moras. Moras, who was on TUF 18 and then TUF 19 has lost her last three fights. UFC contracts typically go in sets of three fights and she’s got five under her belt with a 1-4 record. She is an underdog to Liana Jojua, who won the Fight Nights Global title back in February 2018. She hasn’t fought since, but she is fighting here and will be fighting against a wounded animal hoping to stay alive. The -145 price on Jojua is a tad heavy under the circumstances, but Moras also isn’t up to UFC standards.
Another perfect record is on the line as Lerone Murphy takes on Zubaira Tukhugov at 145 pounds. This is the only featherweight fight on the card, as Murphy faces long odds to improve to 9-0. He is a +325 underdog, with -400 on the more experienced, more polished Tukhugov.
One more fight appears on the prelims before we get to the really good stuff. Andrea Lee is a -225 favorite against Joanne Calderwood in the only women’s fight on the card. Lee has done nothing wrong since joining UFC. She’s won all three fights after winning the LFA flyweight title in her final match there. Calderwood, meanwhile, has dropped three of her last five fights and struggled in a unanimous decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian last time out. This is a springboard type of match for Lee, as she should keep moving up in the division.
Diego Ferreira (+230) vs. Mairbek Taisumov (-270)
Round props aren’t out yet at time of writing, but we wanted to get this card up nice and early for you. This should be a pretty good opening fight. Taisumov had a string of five straight KO wins snapped last time out, but he won handily over Desmond Green. Unfortunately, that win was about a year ago and he went nearly a year between fights before that. The 31-year-old was five pounds overweight in that win over Green and tested positive for stanozolol back in April.
Ferreira has gone a little while between fights. He bested Rustam Khabilov back in February and then had a match with Francisco Trinaldo cancelled because he had issues with the weight cut. He missed weight against Khabilov. Both of these guys seem to have issues following the rules.
In any event, Taisumov may be the rustier fighter based on the lack of reps, but he’s had a better resume than Ferreira, whose career hit some snags going two years between fights after going up against guys like Dustin Poirier and Olivier Aubin-Mercier.
Pick: Mairbek Taisumov
Shamil Abdurahimov (+400) vs. Curtis Blaydes (-500)
The only non-lightweight fight on the main card is actually the polar opposite. It is a heavyweight fight between Shamil Abdurahimov and Curtis Blaydes. Blaydes is just the better all-around fighter, as the line indicates. He’s got 30 pounds and some reach on Abdurahimov. He’s the harder hitter and better takedown artist. He’s only lost twice in his career, with both losses to Francis Ngannou.
The -500 price tag could very well be a bargain. You can cut down on the juice a bit by trying Blaydes by stoppage, but he has gone to the scorecards three times in his last six fights and Abdurahimov has only lost by KO twice in his UFC career and that was in the main event rounds against Derrick Lewis and then against Timothy Johnson in his debut.
Blaydes is a money line parlay piece.
Pick: Curtis Blaydes
Davi Ramos (+285) vs. Islam Makhachev (-345)
If you just look at the records, this looks like an even fight. Unfortunately, if you dig deeper, we’ve got a big line on the favorite for a reason. Islam Makhachev is just better than Davi Ramos in all areas. The only worry here is that Ramos is an aggressive spark plug of a fighter at 5-foot-6 and he will keep coming. Makhachev lands a better percentage of significant strikes and is the better fighter on the ground.
Ramos does have three sub wins in his last four fights, but he has fought a lower caliber of opponent. Makhachev has a really high fight IQ, which will likely carry him through this fight. If he avoids any big hits from Ramos, he should cruise to victory, but we’ll see. I like to try the underdog in fights like this, but Makhachev is just better all around and Ramos will have a hard time getting inside, as the favorite stands four inches taller.
Pick: Islam Makhachev
Paul Felder (+130) vs. Edson Barboza (-150)
These are two extremely familiar names for fight fans. Paul Felder is coming off of a really solid win over James Vick in what was one of the better fights of that February card. It was a big bounce back effort for Felder, who had lost to Mike Perry by split decision at UFC 226.
Felder is a brawler. He’s a good underdog bet because he keeps going until he can’t anymore. Doctors stepped in against Francisco Trinaldo, but he has not been stopped at any other point in his career.
Thirteen of 20 wins for Edson Barboza have been by stoppage. Barboza did take Nurmagomedov the distance at UFC 219, but that fight may have taken a lot out of him, as he’s lost two of his last three fights since. The 33-year-old only made it 150 seconds against Justin Gaethje back in March. Let’s see how he bounces back here.
Barboza has the better resume of opponents, but he has struggled with the better fighters. Felder isn’t in that category. Felder fights forever, so this looks like Barboza by decision, which can help cut down that -150 juice.
Pick: Edson Barboza
Dustin Poirier (+360) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (-450)
Dustin Poirier is the interim champion, but make no mistake who the champ is in this division. It is the overwhelming favorite Khabib Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov is 27-0 after his win over Conor McGregor at UFC 229. Up until he fought Edson Barboza at UFC 219, Khabib had some questions. He still hasn’t fought the level of opponents that Poirier has, but his talent is unquestioned.
You really do have to hand it to Poirier. He’s getting better as he ages, with wins over Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez, and then Max Holloway for the title. How will Poirier handle the pressure? How will he handle Khabib’s tremendous wrestling? If Poirier can keep the fight upright, he very much has a chance, but it is hard to keep defending takedown after takedown from Khabib.
Eventually, Khabib should wear Poirier down, but it wouldn’t be a total stunner if Poirier caught him early in the fight. Khabib hasn’t fought many guys with this kind of striking power and Poirier does have a modest reach advantage.
The favorite should win, but Poirier may be a more alive dog than people think.
Pick: Khabib Nurmagomedov