Nurmagomedov (28-0) was relentless in his wrestling and ravenous in his desire to hold onto his lightweight title in Abu Dhabi, and when all was said and done, Poirier (25-6, 1 NC) had suffered the same fate as the 27 fighters before him, becoming just another digit in the Dagestani’s undefeated record.
For MMA fans watching around the world, it was not only the outcome that felt familiar, but also the manner in which it was achieved; indefatigable over five rounds, Nurmagomedov suffocates his opponents with constant, immense pressure, grinding them down with his grappling, breaking any belief that his fellow fighter has left, and while Abu Dhabi provided a unique backdrop for Saturday's fight, there was nothing unique about how it played out.
Despite Poirier’s best efforts – he fought as valiantly as any of Nurmagomedov’s foes – ‘The Diamond’ saw his sparkle diminish as the fight progressed, and then ultimately, he fractured.
History and hindsight may apply some inevitability to the result, but it would have been irresponsible to completely count Poirier out of this fight before it had begun; ‘The Diamond’ was cut with care and patience, defeating numerous dangerous opponents on his way to this, his first undisputed world title fight after eight years in the UFC, and he entered the main event in fine form.
The 30-year-old from Lafayette, Louisiana was riding a four-fight win streak, which included victories over Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis (both former UFC lightweight champions), Justin Gaethje (a former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion) and UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway. Three of those four victories came by stoppage, and the other earned him the right to be called interim lightweight champion.
And though form is temporary, Poirier possesses a rare class. He also possesses a rare versatility, exhibiting remarkable proficiency in various facets of fighting – he has achieved 12 wins by knockout, seven by submission and six by decision – demonstrating that the Louisianan is not limited to one road to victory.
But Nurmagomedov was a brutal roadblock on Saturday, halting the momentum that Poirier had built up over the past two years.
Save for a promising moment at the start of the main event’s second round, when Poirier propelled himself at Nurmagomedov with a series of staunch strikes and backed up the somewhat startled Russian, ‘The Eagle’ was never truly in trouble.
Nurmagomedov showed no signs of ring rust whatsoever, despite the contest marking his first since defeating Conor McGregor last October in Las Vegas.
On that night, the lasting image was of ‘The Eagle’ living up to his nickname and launching himself into the crowd to attack McGregor’s teammate and jiu-jitsu coach, Dillon Danis, but on Saturday there was no such brawl, only brilliance from the champion.
Repeated takedowns saw him control his challenger against the fence for the majority of the fight, wearing Poirier down with his weight and pressure. He used his impeccable technique to tie up Poirier on the ground, sapping his opponent’s stamina while asserting his dominance, and when Poirier briefly wriggled free at the end of the first round, Nurmagomedov initiated a violent assault with fierce ground strikes.
To Poirier’s credit, he never stopped working, and even managed to rise to his feet on several occasions. He also tried desperately to counter Nurmagomedov’s takedowns with submissions – most notably a guillotine choke, though actually decapitating the Russian might be the only way of stopping him at this point.
Either way, ‘The Diamond’s’ defiance did little but delay the inevitable.
Halfway through the third round – halfway through the fight – Poirier’s spirit broke as Nurmagomedov finally synched in the rear naked choke that he had been seeking throughout the contest.
As he sunk in the submission – as ‘The Eagle’ sunk in his talons – Poirier almost visibly experienced the same epiphany that everyone else has when sharing the octagon with Nurmagomedov: he is unbeatable, and he is undisputed.