Former UFC professional Dan Hardy says that Poirier may prove more of a challenge for Nurmagomedov than many of his Middle East fans expect
American fighter Dustin Poirier has vowed he is ready to unseat Russia’s Khabib Nurmagomedov as UFC lightweight champion at the upcoming UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, a fight that analysts say may be closer than that Nurmagomedov’s many fans in the region expect.
To earn the chance to battle Nurmagomedov, Poirier first had to face then-reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway in April. He won the fight by unanimous decision after a tough five-round battle.
Speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Poirier said he was confident of victory against Nurmagomedov, adding that he is better prepared than he has ever been in his 31-fight career.
“At the moment, I’m the most well rounded, focused fighter and athlete that I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “I’ve paid the cost to be the boss. Paid in full with blood, sweat and tears. This is my life’s work.”
Poirier added that he is “mentally ready for 25 minutes of bleeding, sweating and being uncomfortable.”
“This is about my experience and the lessons I’ve learned through trial and error [in other fights], and my commitment to my craft,” he added.
Although Nurmagomedov appeared at the media event on Thursday for a face-off with Poirier, he did not make any comments or take any questions from reporters.
Among those who believe that Poirier may win an unlikely victory over his Russian opponent is former UFC pro Dan Hardy, now a colour commentator and analyst for UFC.
According to Hardy, a Poirier win is possible – but will be difficult.
“If I was in Dustin’s camp, I’d probably be telling him to expect to lose the first two rounds,” he told Arabian Business.
“The first two rounds against Khabib, with the magnitude of the event and the pressure on his shoulders, will be horrendous for Poirier,” he added. “He’s going to get taken down and beaten up, and he’s going to be tired.”
Hardy added, however, that if Poirier manages to survive the first two rounds of the fight, his odds of winning the fight dramatically improve.
“If it gets to the third round and he walks out fresh enough to fight, I think he’s got a good chance,” he said. “If he stops a couple of take-downs and forces Khabib into a striking match, it becomes a much more even and a much more winnable fight for Poirier.”
Additionally, Hardy said that Poirier has the benefit of studying Nurmagomedov’s performance in UFC 223 in April 2018 against American fighter Al Iaquinta. Nurmagomedov dominated the fight against Iaquinta, who failed to capitalise on opportunities after stopping repeated take-downs from the Russian.
“He didn’t put pressure on afterwards,” he said. “Poirier has got the benefit of watching that fight to see the opportunities that he would have capitalised on.”
While Hardy acknowledged that Nurmagomedov is a fan favourite in the Middle East and will have the support of an overwhelming majority of the crowd, he said that the pressure from fans may work in Poirier’s benefit.
“The majority of Khabib’s career has been going to a fight with a small team around him, sometimes into a place where people didn’t expect him to win, didn’t want him to win, and hoped he didn’t win,” he said. “This is a very different event. The whole arena is going to be on his side.”
The expectations of his adoring fans, Hardy added, are likely to weigh heavily on Nurmagomedov.
“As good as he is, a lot of Khabib fans still look at him with rose-tinted glasses,” he said. “That puts the pressure on him to live up to an expectation that perhaps nobody can achieve.”
While Hardy said he still believes it is a “safe” prediction to believe Nurmagomedov will win by decision, the outcome is by no means certain.
“There are holes in his game. He’s not perfect,” he added. “At some point, someone will expose those holes, and it might be Poirier.”