Islam Makhachev, UFC 302

Will Islam Makhachev have a wrestling heavy approach at UFC 302?

Announced this week, Islam Makhachev will have his old training partner and all time UFC great Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner for this weekend’s fight at UFC 302. He takes on Louisiana legend Dustin Poirier in what is likely his final bid for undisputed UFC gold.

Islam Makhachev departing from the original plan

Since Khabib Nurmagomedov retired from MMA in 2020, he’s had a love/hate relationship with the sport that brought him to international fame. After his father passed away due to complications with COVID-19, Khabib said his mothers wishes were that he does not compete anymore in MMA and that he respected the wishes of his mother. He continued training, though not as intense, and bought a young MMA promotion, rebranding to Eagle FC.

In recent months, it’s come out that Khabib Nurmagomedov has been in hot water with the Russian government for owing $3 million in back taxes with his bank accounts, his charity, and Eagle FC essentially blocked. Speculation aside, he is back in Islam Makhachev’s corner.

In his last two fights, Islam Makhachev has seemingly fallen in love with his hands and it’s gotten him into a hair of trouble at a couple points in his first bout with Alexander Volkanovski. The second Volkanovski bout ended when Makhachev knocked him out in the first round.

Now with Khabib in the corner of Makhachev again, fans may expect an emphasis on grappling against a former foe of Khabib and a long time staple of the division.

If anyone knows how dangerous Dustin Poirier’s striking is, it would be Khabib. In round two of the two’s 2019 fight, Poirier clipped Khabib which sent Khabib in a big retreat.

Dustin Poirier: Going for broke

This may or may not be the final fight of Dustin Poirier’s career. Now 35 yeas of age, Poirier has set himself up nicely for a post-fight life. We’ve already talked about Poirier being the most game fighter in the UFC today. His previous fight with Benoit Saint-Denis and the forthcoming fight with Islam Makhachev at UFC 302 are the latest manifestations of that.

There is something to be said about Poirier contemplating retirement for so long. Having a foot out the door can end bad for a fighter whose heart isn’t in it anymore. But there is something to be said about having nothing left to lose should Poirier be intent to hanging the gloves up, win or lose, this weekend.

Dustin Poirier will have nothing to lose. He can go for broke. Jump the guillotine. Swing for the fences. A free Dustin Poirier is a dangerous fighter. That awareness is what Khabib Nurmagomedov will bring to Islam Makhachev at UFC 302.

Islam Makhachev: Bring out the singlet

This is not to say Islam Makhachev has abandoned his wrestling. The second fight with Volkanovski ended too quickly for him to really have the opportunity to shoot. The first saw him go 4 of 9 on his takedown attempts. Instead, I fully expect an Islam Makhachev that we saw against Bobby Green and Dan Hooker.

Shoot the takedown, punish, sub.

Poirier has an affinity for jumping guillotine. He did it against Khabib and had fans screaming when the choke seemed deep. Even Khabib admitted the choke was a good setup.

Against Saint-Denis, Dustin Poirier obsessively hunted the guillotine and the Frenchman made him pay for it. Poirier gave up nearly a full round of control time and looked on his way out before finishing Saint-Denis.

Give these positions up against Islam Makhachev and it will be a long night for “The Diamond.” Makhachev is an experienced finisher who is no stranger to extending time in positions to find the most optimal finish.

Expect a grinding performance from Makhachev at UFC 302. With Poirier’s recent knockouts of Saint-Denis and Conor McGregor, expect Khabib to urgently call for the takedown early and as often as it takes.

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Blaine Henry
Your friendly neighborhood fight fan. I watch way too many fights and my wife lets me know it.