Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov extended his incredible unbeaten streak by defeating Dustin Poirier in the headline title unification bout at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.
The Russian, competing for the first time since last October’s contentious clash with Conor McGregor, moved to 28-0 with the victory secured by submission in the third round, much to the delight of the 13,000-plus at The Arena on Yas Island. It was the second defence of his belt.
Interim champion Poirier, meanwhile, suffered the sixth defeat of a career spanning 32 fights, with the loss drawing to a close the American’s six-bout unbeaten streak.
Speaking immediately after, Nurmagomedov embraced his father, who has previously been prevented from attending his son’s fights in the United States because of visa issues.
“I have my father here, my brothers here – we were born together, we grew up together, everything I have, I have because of them,” Nurmagomedov said.
He also spoke of the importance of “respect” and praised his opponent, saying he wanted to forget the controversy around his previous title defence against McGregor, whom he accused of insulting his family, culture and religion.
“Me and Dustin Poirier have showed MMA is about respect not trash-talking,” Nurmagomedov said.
A disappointed Poirier said: “I’ve let myself down”.
Nurmagomedov’s win was preceded by the co-main event, when Paul Felder exacted revenge for defeat four years ago to Edson Barboza. The American triumphed in a pulsating encounter, taking the victory by split decision. Felder fell to his knees in tears upon hearing the verdict, then declared he wanted next a top-five contender in the lightweight division.
“It shows exactly what I said I’ve learned,” Felder said. “He hurt me again about five times to the body, the guy hit’s so hard.”
The main card kick-started with Brazil’s Diego Ferreira defeating Russian Mairbek Taisumov in their lightweight bout. Taisumov, a clear crowd favourite, concluded the fight badly bloodied, losing the contest by unanimous decision.
In the event’s only heavyweight bout, Curtis Blaydes saw off Russia’s Shamil Abdurakhimov in the second round, registering a TKO victory. The No 4-ranked fighter in the division moves closer to a title shot.
Elsewhere, Islam Makhachev fed off his heavy support to get past Davi Ramos in a unanimous decision. The Russian put in a strong display to take the success, before calling out the winner of Felder and Barboza.
Earlier in the night, Sarah Moras made history by winning the first all-female bout held in the UAE. The Canadian triumphed against Georgian Liana Jojua, taking the bantamweight clash by TKO in the third round.
“It feels so good to be the first female to win a UFC fight in Abu Dhabi,” Moras said. “It's amazing. It means the world to me and I hope it means the world to the people here. I hope more people can get into the sport and it opens their eyes. I hope this victory will be enough to get me another fight! It was the last fight on the contract, I hope UFC still likes me as I've still got a lot more to show."
Later on, Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood prevailed in the second all-female bout, beating American Andrea Lee on a split decision.
"It's such a relief to get the win,” she said. “There's so much pressure on fighters to get that 'W' because if you don't you're going home with half a pay cheque! I'm just happy that I put on a good performance.
"I knew as soon as we got matched up with Andrea it was going to be a hard fight, but there are the fights I want. This is going to be a pretty awesome memory for me and we'll get back to work. I'm here to bang it out with anyone in the division."