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Khabib Nurmagomedov appreciates respectful opponent like Dustin Poirier but he is still the ‘enemy’ inside the cage

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For the majority of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s career, he’s avoided trash talking opponents. That certainly wasn’t the case with his last fight.

Former two-division champion Conor McGregor launched a relentless verbal assault aimed at Nurmagomedov in the weeks leading up to their title fight at UFC 229 last October. The Irish superstar took the personal attacks to a whole new level of mental warfare but ultimately his tactics backfired because it only served to motivate Nurmagomedov that much more to smash him when they finally met in the Octagon.

It’s likely Nurmagomedov will never fully move past the insults that McGregor lobbed his way but he got the last laugh with the fourth-round submission win in their fight.

This Saturday at UFC 242, Nurmagomedov faces a different kind of animal in interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier, who hasn’t had a bad word to say about him in the lead-up to their fight. In fact, Poirier has said repeatedly that he doesn’t even like idea of pointing out Nurmagomedov’s flaws when fighting because he didn’t get to 27-0 in his career by accident.

Instead, Poirier has complimented the undefeated Dagestani champion at every turn while still showcasing the kind of confidence that has kept him undefeated for his past six fights including wins over three current or former UFC champions.

Though it’s safe to say Nurmagomedov prefers Poirier’s approach compared to that of McGregor, he predicts the outcome will be the same.

“This sport of mixed martial arts is all about respect. We have to respect each other,” Nurmagomedov said when speaking to MMA Fighting on the UFC 242 media conference call. “Even if you don’t like your opponent, you have to respect him because this is a very tough sport. Unforgivable sport. You have a family, your opponent has a family, a lot of people watch you, a lot of kids watch you. That’s why you have to be respectful. This is very important. My last fight is was a little bit crazy and a tough fight but now I have an opponent I want to show respect to. All about respect.

“When the cage closes, it’s going to be a very high level matchup in the lightweight division. Right now, this is the most important fight in the lightweight division because he’s interim champion, I’m the real champ and we have to fight and it’s going to be a high level fight even if we respect each other. When we go to the cage, we both understand who is enemy inside the cage.”

While Nurmagomedov’s disdain for McGregor was well documented, he doesn’t have any of those same feelings about Poirier. If anything, Nurmagomedov sees Poirier as a worthy challenger to his title with a wealth of experience to help carry him into this title fight.

“He has a very good win streak. He beat a lot of good guys,” Nurmagomedov said about Poirier. “Last fight, he beat very tough opponent Max Holloway. I think he deserves this. What makes him a tough opponent? His experience. He has good experience. Even if he lose a couple of times in the UFC, he has good experience.

“He has more than 20 fights in the UFC. He have a very big fight before, he fights with tough opponents. I think it’s about experience. This is my opinion.”

Experience aside, Poirier will still walk into UFC 242 as a decided underdog with most favoring Nurmagomedov to remain undefeated and leave with the lightweight title still wrapped around his waist.

Nurmagomedov believes that as much as anybody but he’s not going to look through Poirier because that is one mistake he will never make about any opponent.

“Right now when I watch Dustin Poirier, I think it’s going to be my toughest challenge. I always think like this,” Nurmagomedov explained. “Even when I fought Darrell Horcher, I think this guy’s going to be my toughest challenge. I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to underestimate this guy. I think a lot of people underestimate his ground game. I think he has a good ground game. He has good grappling, old school style, he’s not bad on the ground. He’s not bad on the feet. His kicking, his knees, his punching, his footwork. He’s a very good fighter.

“I think it’s going to be a very tough fight for me. I’m ready for this. The last 100 days, I train so hard for this fight. I’m still focused. The fight is around the corner and I’m really focused on Dustin Poirier. I will not underestimate this guy.”