Khabib Nurmagomedov on UFC 242: I'm better than when I beat Conor McGregor
Russian believes he has found new levels as he prepares for September 7 clash in Abu Dhabi with Dustin Poirier
Khabib Nurmagomedov has warned Dustin Poirier he is a vastly improved fighter to the one that comprehensively defeated Conor McGregor last year - and that UFC 242 will see the best of him come fight night in Abu Dhabi on September 7.
The undefeated lightweight champion, whose professional record stands at 27-0, takes on the interim belt-holder in the title unification match at The Arena on Yas Island, in one of the most highly anticipated bouts of the year.
Nurmagomedov, 30, has not fought since that emphatic victory against McGregor in Las Vegas last October, when a post-fight brawl between the two camps marred the event. Nurmagomedov, who won via submission in the fourth round, was later suspended for nine months and fined US$500,000 (Dh1.83 million).
However, Nurmagomedov, one of the sport’s biggest attractions and arguably the greatest wrestler in its history, believes he is an even more refined competitor now – something that is sure to resonate with Poirier ahead of their clash at UFC 242.
“I’m a much better fighter than when I fight with McGregor”, Nurmagomedov told The National from his UAE base on Friday. “Because I won this fight, and with winning comes experience and with winning comes everything that I have right now.
“Before the McGregor fight people talked about striker versus wrestler. But after fight a lot of people changed their mind because in the stand-up he can’t do anything with me - nothing. I gave him a hard punch, and he went down.
“But right now no one talks about this. Because they understand I can stand with anybody in this division. I feel great with my stand-up, I feel great with my grappling, my wrestling, with my pressure, experience. Everything comes together. Right now I feel I’m a much better fighter than before.”
Having spent the past few weeks training in the Emirates, Nurmagomedov says he is in better shape than he has ever been, a run that includes his past four memorable victories, each one against dangerous opponents.
The Arena - in pictures
“I feel I improve a lot, not only my condition, my striking, my boxing, my kicking, my elbow,” he said. “If you can watch my fights, when I fight with [Edson] Barboza, after fight with [Al] Iaquinta, Conor, even when I fight with Michael Johnson, every fight I improved my game.
“If you understand you cannot improve your game and you stay at one level, you have to retire. This is my advice.”
Asked if his extended time in the UAE gives him an advantage over Poirier - the American travelled to Abu Dhabi only on Thursday - Nurmagomedov said: “I don’t know; one week before the fight is enough, I think. Ten days, 12 days, is a little bit hard of course because of the time change and climate change.
“We came here almost 20 days before fight. Right now, more than a week here, I just finished training, I feel great. I feel amazing, thanks to God.
“I don’t think about my opponents, what they do, what they feel, what their plan is. I never focus on my opponents. I always focus on myself.
"What I’m going to do, how I feel, how’s my weight, how much I have to cut. I don’t have to worry about my opponent - this is his problem.”
UFC 242 marks the promotion's return to the UAE capital for the first time since 2014, and is the first event in a five-year partnership signed earlier this year with the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi).
It brings to a close the inaugural Abu Dhabi Showdown Week, which runs September 1-7.
Updated: September 1, 2019 06:02 PM