Khabib Nurmagomedov retains the UFC Lightweight Championship following UFC 242

In front of an Abu Dhabi crowd polka-dotted with papakhas, “The Eagle” reigned supreme once again.

Khabib Nurmagomedov defended his lightweight title with a rear-naked choke finish at 2:06 in the third round at UFC 242, sending interim champion Dustin Poirier back to the United States without the gold around his waist.

Nurmagomedov basked in the moment in front of the roaring crowd before thanking his family, coaches, and teammates who stood with him inside the Octagon.

He then turned his attention to his opponent. Nurmagomedov and Poirier exchanged t-shirts after the bout came to a close, and the champion said that he will be auctioning off the memorabilia from the fight and donating the proceeds to Poirier’s charity, The Good Fight Foundation.

Nurmagomedov addressed the respect he felt for his opponent, a drastic change from his last bout with “bulls**t guy” Conor McGregor that ended in a post-fight fracas.

“We show really what is MMA,” Nurmagomedov said. “MMA’s number one thing is respect. When you come gym, first things what your coach, everybody teach you, ‘Hey, you have to respect gym. You have to respect teammates, coaches’ … MMA is not about trash-talking.”

With no signs of bad blood, the two fighters showed that clear respect for one another with a glove touch before the title fight began.

It was Poirier who brought the offense first, taking the center and utilizing his kicks to keep the wrestler out of range. He varied his targets, but Nurmagomedov eventually took his first shot after about a minute and a half of feeling out.

Poirier was backed against the cage, and Nurmagomedov was eventually able to drag him down. After attempts to reverse, Nurmagomedov latched onto the back of the interim champion. He was able to get his forearm on the chin of Poirier and tried to squeeze before deciding to work the ground and pound again.

The shots from the back opened up another chance for Nurmagomedov to squeeze the chin, but the attempt again wasn’t enough as Poirier was able to turn out of the submission attempt.

Poirier was able to briefly get up to his feet only to be dumped down once again since he couldn’t break the grip of “The Eagle” and move off of the cage. The round ended with more strikes from the top that took a toll on the interim champ, but the chance to get back to his corner and discuss the game plan with his corner was a win in its own right after a difficult opening five minutes.

The two engaged on the feet to open the second round, and Poirier was able to land and force Nurmagomedov off of his stalking game. The champion stumbled backward and managed to regroup, eventually getting the fight back where he wanted it with a takedown.

After the early success in round two, Poirier found himself in the same situation — his back planted against the cage and Nurmagomedov leaning on him and looking for a fight-finishing sequence. Once again, it was Nurmagomedov who clearly won the round.

On the surface, Poirier tried to mask his frustration. He brought his striking out again in the third round, this time with even less success.

Poirier had a glimmer of hope though. He latched onto a guillotine choke.

Nurmagomedov was able to slip out after some time, much to the dismay of “The Diamond.”

Then, “The Eagle” went in for the kill.

Poirier showed signs of exhaustion after dumping the last of his energy into the submission attempt. Nurmagomedov saw this, found the back once again, and this time, the choke was in. With the arm of the champion wrapped tightly around his neck, Poirier tapped.

Wearing his disappointment inside the cage, Poirier poured his heart out in his post-fight interview as the crowd’s boos from before the bout turned to cheers in appreciation for his effort.

“I just feel like I let myself down,” Poirier said as he fought back tears. “I didn’t cut any corners preparing for this. I felt like my whole career set me up for this moment, but … Maybe there were times in there I could’ve did more. I was just so prepared, and now I gotta wake up and look at myself in the mirror every morning with this result.”

The loss is Poirier’s sixth of his professional career. Each time he has been defeated, “The Diamond” has bounced back to win his next outing.

“If anything adversity’s taught me in the past it’s when times are good, be grateful, and when times [are] like this, be graceful,” Poirier said. “So I’m gonna just go home, spend some time with my family.

“It’s been a long road, and I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished in this sport. I have a lot of tread left in the tires, but right now I just need some time to think, man.”

Before leaving the Octagon, he offered an apology.

“I’m sorry for anyone I let down with this performance,” Poirier said. “I promise you I wanted this more than anything.”

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