Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:57 AM

UFC 242 Best Bets

The Octagon returns to Abu Dhabi for the third time in the promotion’s history for Saturday’s UFC 242 card. The Early Prelims on UFC FightPass start at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, while the Prelims are on FX at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. The main card starts at 1:00 p.m. Easter on pay per view.

The show is headlined by a bout to unify the lightweight championship. Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov (27-0 MMA, 11-0 UFC) is the reigning 155-pound champ, but he was issued a nine-month suspension after successfully defending his belt for the first time with a fourth-round submission win over Conor McGregor at UFC 229. After finishing McGregor, Nurmagomedov jumped over the cage and jumped into the crowd to attack members of McGregor’s team.

With Nurmagomedov sidelined, the promotion tried to make an interim title fight between current featherweight kingpin Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway and Tony Ferguson, but Ferguson turned down the fight. Therefore, Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier accepted the offer and beat Holloway via unanimous decision (49-46 X3) to claim the interim strap.

As of Friday afternoon, most books had Nurmagomedov listed as a -450 favorite, leaving Poirier at +350 on the comeback. The total was 3.5 rounds shaded to the ‘over’ at a -130 price.

Nurmagomedov’s father and life-long coach will be in his corner for the first time in his UFC career. That’s because the elder Nurmagomedov has struggled to get a visa to attend fights in the United States. Nurmagomedov won the vacant 155-pound belt by defeating Al Iaquinta, who took the fight on less than 48 hours of notice, by UD at UFC 223.

Poirier (25-5-1 MMA, (17-4-1 UFC) started his UFC tenure as a featherweight but moved up to 155 after suffering a first-round knockout loss to McGregor at UFC 178. The Lafayette, LA., product promptly won his first four lightweight scraps, including three first-round KOs. After a first-round KO loss to Michael Johnson on Sept. 17 of 2016, Poirier has been unstoppable.

First, he won a majority decision over Jim Miller in a Fight of the Night contest. He was seemingly on his way to victory over former lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez at UFC 211 until Alvarez connected with an illegal knee to the head. The bout was ruled a no-contest when Poirier couldn’t continue.

Poirier dusted himself off and defeated former lightweight kingpin Anthony Pettis by third-round KO in another FOTN. Next, an epic four-round war (that also took FOTN honors and was my pick for 2018 Fight of the Year) with Justin Gaethje ended with a KO win for Poirier. On July 28 of last year, Poirier settled things with Alvarez in a second-round KO victory.

The 30-year-old Poirier will enjoy a two-inch reach advantage over Nurmagomedov (72-70).

Prediction: I’m feeling/smelling the upset here. We know Poirier will own a significant advantage when the fight is standing. The question is whether he can defend Nurmagomedov’s takedown attempts. ‘The Eagle’ mauls opponents when he gets them on the ground and is probably the best wrestler in UFC history outside of (perhaps) Georges St. Pierre. However, Poirier’s ground game is underrated. He’s only been submitted once and that was in 2012 to The Korean Zombie in the fourth round of an epic scrap. I believe Poirier has more muscle and will test Nurmagomedov’s chin like it’s never been tested before. Now I’m certainly not implying risking much here, but I’ll be on Poirier for one unit for a +350 payout.

In the co-main event, we have a rematch between lightweight Paul ‘The Irish Dragon’ Felder and Edson Barboza, who won a UD (29-28 X3) over Felder in the summer of 2015. It was an outstanding scrap. I had bet on Barboza, who clearly lost Round 1. The second and third rounds were both close, and I felt fortunate to get the victory when Barboza’s hand was raised.

Felder has been on a nice run since his father passed away a couple of years ago. The Philadelphia native is 4-1 in his last five outings. The only loss was a split-decision defeat to Mike Perry when Felder went up a weight class to 170 and took the fight on short notice.

Felder collected a pair of Performance of the Night bonuses with first-round KOs of Alessandro Ricci and Stevie Ray in 2017. He added a second-round KO finish over Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira in December of ’17. Felder suffered a broken arm against Perry last summer, but he returned to win a UD over James Vick in February.

Barboza has been in the top-10 of the lightweight loop for years, but he’s gone 1-3 in his past four fights. The Brazilian kickboxer possesses some of the nastiest leg kicks of any fighter on the entire UFC roster. The 33-year-old Barboza has a 4.5-inch reach advantage against the 35-year-old Felder.

Barboza owns notable career scalps over the likes of Ross Pearson, Danny Castillo, Evan Dunham, Bobby Green, Pettis, Gilbert Melendez, Beniel Dariush and Dan Hooker. However, he took vicious beatings when he faced Nurmagomedov at UFC 219 and Kevin Lee in April of 2018. Barboza bounced back to finish Hooker with a third-round KO, but then he suffered a first-round KO loss to Gaethje back on March 30.

Prediction: I’m on Felder for 2.5 units at a +130 price. Felder is in peak form, while I think Barboza’s three recent losses in violent fashion have taken their toll on him.

One last pick: I’m on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for one unit for a +150 payout in the heavyweight showdown between Curtis ‘Razor’ Blaydes and Shamil Abdurakhimov.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.

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