Early risers will get a treat when UFC 242 kicks off at 9:15 a.m. ET from Abu Dhabi on Saturday morning. It’s a time most fans around the world can appreciate, and the card is a darn good one. Obviously, the main event of Dustin Poirier vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov is the most anticipated bout on the card, but there are some very compelling matchups outside the headliner. The rematch between Paul Felder and Edson Barboza, the return of Mairbek Taisumov against Carlos Diego Ferreira, and Andrea Lee vs. Joanne Calderwood are among those contests that will have my full attention.
This event has some incredibly well-matched fights, but I’ve found four that I’ve earmarked for possible upsets. Let’s jump right in and give them a brief breakdown.
Andrea Lee $8,800 vs. Joanne Calderwood $7,400
Andrea Lee is a strong, technically sound striker with excellent countering ability and a great gas tank. She has proven to be a tricky grappler, as well, but I believe Calderwood might have the advantage on the ground, provided she stays active and doesn’t get in her own way. “JoJo’ basically gave her most recent fight away to Katlyn Chookagian when she took the last round off, foolishly assuming she’d done enough in the first two rounds to win the fight.
Hopefully, she’s learned from that mistake and will apply herself from start to finish in this bout. Calderwood is known for her devastating clinch skills, but getting Lee into the phone booth could prove dangerous, as “KGB” is a volume striker and quite capable in close quarters. If she could utilize those amazing teep kicks we’ve seen from her in the past to keep this fight at range and then keep the fight there, working Lee’s middle over with bodyshots, Calderwood has an excellent chance of taking the victory.
Prediction — Joanne Calderwood via Decision
Islam Makhachev $9,200 vs. Davi Ramos $7,000
Makhachev is a very technical fighter who happens to be dangerous on both the ground and on the feet. He possesses power and skill, but his technical prowess is born of necessity because he’s not as naturally gifted an athlete as one might think simply by looking at his resume. In his most recent fight, Arman Tsarukyan — a virtually unknown talent — gave him more than a handful of trouble, and an aggressive opponent could cause similar problems for him.
Davi Ramos is an exceptionally gifted grappler and also packs some heat. He’s a bit of a wild striker who likes to wing haymakers, but is quite an aggressive, forward-moving juggernaut. Makhachev easily is drawn into ground wars when he faces grapplers, and Ramos is going to be ready for that. When you’re a third-degree BJJ blackbelt and have an ADCC title to your credit, you tend to use those advantages by getting the fight to the ground, and Ramos is very adept at that. It’s a bold prediction, but I think Davi has a great chance at outworking and outclassing Makhachev.
Prediction — Davi Ramos via Submission
Edson Barboza $8,500 vs. Paul Felder $7,700
Barboza might have taken the first fight four years ago via unanimous decision, but I think the results will be different this time around. Both men clearly have evolved since then, but where Barboza is a club, Felder is a razor-sharp switchblade. Barboza has been going to war in several of his fights and was viciously knocked out by Justin Gaethje in his most recent outing. The seams are starting to come undone, and Felder is an opportunist that will take advantage of that.
Felder’s striking has become a technical marvel with great accuracy and quite a bit of crispness to his punches. His win over James Vick was a masterclass, and it is that fight that really shows how much he’s grown in the four years since that fateful July night. I think Paul has everything he needs to put on another stellar performance.
Prediction — Paul Felder via Decision
Khabib Nurmagomedov $9,300 vs. Dustin Poirier $6,900
Khabib is all that and a bag of chips. He’s ridiculously strong and has a seemingly never-ending energy supply. He has a nasty blast double and once he has you down, he’s like a lead blanket with arm hammers. He deals in blunt force trauma when he has top position, punishing his opponents with savage ground-and-pound.
So, how does Poirier win? Dustin wins with his excellent volume striking and ability to keep an aggressive, forward pace. Khabib traditionally has had problems with athletes that dictate the pace and range, so if Poirier goes in with that in mind, gets him in close quarters and peppers those ribs with hard shots, he can break through that cardio shield. He has good takedown defense and plenty of power to explode back to his feet, and should the fight stay on the ground for any length of time, he’s a savvy grappler with a BJJ black belt to aid him in the exchanges there. Poirier also has a fantastic gas tank, and unlike Khabib, he doesn’t need to take rounds off to preserve it. His conditioning is one of his best attributes, and the coaching team at ATT has honed him into a well-oiled fighting machine.
That coaching team is also a key factor, as ATT has the best staff of all the supercamps, in my humble opinion. Mike Brown, Phil Daru, Mo Lawal and countless others all have a hand in crafting some of the best gameplans in the sport. Just look at how Mike Brown worked with Jorge Masvidal on that flying knee before his fight with Ben Askren. That was pure genius. I have no doubt that a master plan will be implemented Saturday that will have been custom-designed to maximize Poirier’s potential while minimizing Khabib’s. Not to mention the wealth of elite level talent that he gets to spar and grapple with on a regular basis. I know this is another bold pick, but I have great confidence in Dustin’s skillset and excellent fight IQ to take the title away from Khabib. It won’t be a walk in the park, but I think he gets it done.
Prediction — Dustin Poirier via Decision
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