The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 242 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is heading to the United Arab Emirates for the first time since 2014 with UFC 242. A whopping 11 of the 14 fights on the card have betting odds with one fighter favored at -150 or above, giving little room for the underdogs. With plenty to discuss about this early morning card, it's time to delve into the UFC 242 edition of Prime Picks.
Khabib Nurmagomedov Wins Inside Distance (+110)
Before diving into this main event, the lines are so strongly in favor of the Russian that he sits at -450 to Dustin Poirier's comeback at +360. This analysis does not like to pick fights that are so far in favor of another where a bet on it could be risky. To make $100, a prospective bettor would need to place $450 on Nurmagomedov to win. While we expect the undefeated champion to successfully unify the belts, we instead would prefer to propose a few additional options for savvy pickers. If selecting one fighter to win by stoppage is too risky, the line for "Fight doesn't go to decision" sits at -170, which is also reasonable. It stands to reason that the only way Poirier will likely win this fight is by doing finishing "The Eagle," so this could be a more suitable option for those that see this contest ending before the final bell.
Until he faced Conor McGregor in October, Nurmagomedov had never officially lost a single round on any judge's scorecard, spanning ten outings inside the Octagon. Many believe, including all three judges scoring for Sherdog that night, that Gleison Tibau should have handed the Russian his first loss, or at the very least won a round on any card. That said, he did officially drop the third round on all three scorecards against McGregor, although he went on to tap the Irishman in the next round with a neck crank.
Nurmagomedov has established this level of dominance with his relentless wrestling game, scoring a phenomenal 52 takedowns in his now 11-fight UFC tenure. Although he averages a little under five takedown a fight, the number may be inflated because he grounded Abel Trujillo a record-21 times en route to a dominant decision win. In each of his last eight fights, though, he has taken every opponent down at least twice, and his three most recent appearances, he officially landed three on McGregor, six on Al Iaquinta and four on Edson Barboza. Simply scoring takedowns is not enough, as the Russian utilizes an overwhelming top control that often keeps his adversary planted on their back for the remainder of the round, all while pummeling them with effective ground-and-pound.
Poirier has looked solid in each of his last five trips to the Octagon. His opponents in the last two years, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje and Anthony Pettis, would rival many campaigns for the toughest strength of schedule around. Any time he encountered trouble, such as when Gaethje compromised his lead leg with frequent brutal leg kicks, he found a way to overcome it and win. What he has not encountered, however, is an opponent that will truly test his defensive wrestling skills. This does not speak to a weakness of his adversaries or his skills, but rather a startling lack of offensive wrestlers in the top ranks of the division as one would find in others, like welterweight.
While "The Diamond" holds a decent takedown defense rate of 69 percent, and some of his opponents have had respectable wrestling chops, none have really tested Poirier on the ground dating back to his thriller against Chan Sung Jung in 2012. Because of this, Poirier's ground skills have largely not presented themselves, but against Nurmagomedov, it will be the most important tool in his arsenal. As has been addressed in the past, it is not simply one attempt a fighter will face against Nurmagomedov, and instead one that chains to the next and so on. Accurate on a bit less than half of his attempts, it may not be the first, second or even third takedown attempt that will get the job done, but rather through attrition. We expect the American will find himself on his back often, struggling to defend against an oppressive top game. As the fight progresses, fighting off their back for multiple rounds, even the most cardio-savvy fighter will struggle. As each of Poirier's last three losses have come by stoppage, we expect that Nurmagomedov will follow suit, finishing the American in the later rounds.
Paul Felder (+135)
A badly swollen eye did not deter Edson Barboza from taking an exciting decision over Felder in 2014, handing "The Irish Dragon" his first career loss. Less than four years into his pro career when they first fought, Felder has gained far more experience in his next nine fights following the loss than he did in his first 10 while unbeaten. Simply put, this is not the same Felder that he used to be, as he tended to rely too heavily on spinning strikes that made him somewhat predictable in their first meeting. Coupled with his willingness to take everything Barboza dished out including lightning-quick leg and body kicks, Felder has never eaten as many significant strikes as he did in his fight with Barboza.
In the opening round, Barboza did drill Felder in the groin with a spinning kick, and Felder did not take much time to recover, which could have proved to his disadvantage. This is not at all to take away from Barboza's performance, who outstruck the Philadelphia native throughout most of the fight. Felder had his moments in the second round, but Barboza did more to capture the win. Landing almost 50 percent of his strikes, Barboza was able to score at range because he utilized his footwork to stave off Felder's forward movement. Felder largely walked straight at Barboza, while the Brazilian circled away and avoided some of the more ferocious spinning or flying strikes.
Going strike for strike is not advisable against Barboza, even if the Brazilian has gone through a bit of a rough patch, emphatically dropping three of his last four. The offensive wrestling skills that have given Barboza trouble in the past will not likely be what Felder leans on, but instead with his intelligent pressure and powerful right hand, along with his elbows should he close the distance effectively. Above all, Felder cannot remain complacent while absorbing rapid-fire kicks from Barboza, and his recent tendency to check kicks, as he showed when facing James Vick, will prove to his benefit greatly. We expect that "The Irish Dragon" will have learned a great deal from the first time they fought, and through all of his experience he will rise to the test and exact revenge on Barboza.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov Doesn't Go to Decision (-185)
This fight is another example of lopsided odds that may prove too risky to take outright, and that goes doubly so considering this fight takes place at heavyweight. Both men hit the scales in their last bouts around 260 pounds, and the odds see Blaydes as the prohibitive favorite at -500 and climbing. As is often remarked about the heavyweight division, anything can happen with two massive men throwing at reckless abandon, so even though Blaydes should win, this is a fickle sport. Instead, the best action on this fight, for the time being, is that this fight will end inside the distance.
Although Blaydes sports a 73 percent knockout rate, each of his three career decision victories came throughout his last five victories, against Justin Willis, Mark Hunt and Daniel Omielanczuk. Both of Abdurakhimov's losses inside the Octagon, against Derrick Lewis and Timothy Johnson, came when the Russian was put on his back and pounded out. Although Andrei Arlovski was able to get Abdurakhimov to the canvas multiple times, he was unable to capitalize on it to any notable degree. Blaydes, with a takedown accuracy percentage above 50 percent, will almost undoubtedly rely on his power wrestling skills and vicious ground-and-pound to do some serious damage. We see this fight ending before the final horn due to this, but the line also has an escape route — if Blaydes gets careless and is caught by the Russian, you can still come out ahead.
Muslim Salikhov (+100)
Salikhov signed with the UFC in the midst of an 11-fight win streak, with stoppages in his last 10 including victories over respectable names like ex-UFC vets Melvin Guillard and Ivan Jorge. He promptly debuted against a buzzsaw of Alex Garcia, and had the wind taken from his sails as he was planted on his back and eventually tapped out. The Dagestani fighter was able to rebound successfully by starching Ricky Rainey with a huge right hand in April 2018. Unfortunately, The "King of Kung Fu" has been on the shelf ever since, due to a suspension that was later lifted when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency cleared him in a manner similar to that of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Taleb did pick up a one-sided decision over Kyle Prepolec in March to break up a two-fight losing streak, although in his two defeats he looked as if age was catching up to him, as the French-born fighter turned 38 in June. This fight could play out multiple different ways depending on how Taleb approaches the contest. If the Canadian resident tries to make this a grappling match, aggressively pursuing the takedown like he did in prior bouts against Vik Grujic or Chris Clements, he may find some success. If he remains in kickboxing range, his more youthful opponent Salikhov should have a sizeable advantage. Although Salikhov opened as a major -195 favorite, the line has shifted significantly to put him as the slightest of underdogs. We expect this will not affect him, as he shucks off any clinch or takedown attempts to pummel Taleb on the feet and score the minor upset.
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