The UFC returns to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for one of the biggest cards of the year. We have a unification bout as Champion vs Interim Champion collide and 13 other bouts on the card.

As always, we’ll be giving you picks for the best bets on the card and 5Dimes will be providing the odds.

Barboza v Felder

Edson Barboza is a fighter who has amassed highlight reel moments in the UFC, the main one being his KO of Terry Etim, however as he approaches 34 years of age those highlights are little more than a footnote on the career of a nearly-man. It’s possible that if Jamie Varner hadn’t stunned a sold-out MGM Grand in Las Vegas back at UFC 146 by finishing the heavy favourite then Barboza could, and probably would, have fought for a title on at least one occasion.

It was a loss that derailed Barboza, and while he went 7-3 in his next 10, he always came up short when it mattered. Donald Cerrone took advantage of Barboza’s dislike for being hit, submitting him in the first. It was a pattern followed by Tony Ferguson, and most recently Justin Gaethje whereas Michael Johnson, Kevin Lee and Khabib Nurmagomedov dominated him on the ground en route to decision victories.

Paul Felder returns from a 7-month hiatus, much of which has been spent as a guest analyst on commentary with Jon Anik, no doubt looking within himself to identify whether the hunger remains for the fight. Felder has never been the most active fighter on the roster, typically fighting three times a year but he fought only once in 2018, a loss to Mike Perry as his commentary commitments have taken over.

Felder, like his opponent, needs this fight to see where he sits in the modern rankings, is he a fighter who is likely to challenge for gold, or is he best suited to life on the mic and watching other people get punched in the face. Its really a gatekeeper vs gatekeeper match up.

It’s a strange match to feature as the co-main event as a win for either advances neither. It makes no difference to the title picture, nor does it install one of them as a legitimate contender, unless a spectacular finish is achieved, and I don’t see that happening. This of course is a rematch of a 2015 bout. Barboza won that one by decision, and I think he does the same here. The Brazilian is more active in the octagon and has a better skillset to gain the win. If he is smart, then he uses those chopping leg kicks to keep Felder at range to either take a lopsided decision or force a doctor’s stoppage.

Recommendation: Edson Barboza – 2 units at -150 (4/6) @ 5Dimes

Recommendation: Barboza wins by Decision – 1 unit at +300 (3/1) @ 5Dimes

Nurmagomedov v Poirier

Reigning champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov makes the second defence of a title he won 16 months ago against Al Iaquinta. The first defence, as if you’ve forgotten, was the much-hyped Conor McGregor fight, a fight that will be remembered more for the pre-fight trash talk and the post-fight brawling than the fight itself. As a spectacle it was a whitewash as McGregor was mauled by the Eagle. The post-fight saw Khabib and his teammates suspended by the NSAC for 9 months and fined a chunk of the fight purse. It made the headlines around the world, but it was an ugly spectacle for the sport of MMA.

As a fighter, Khabib is almost unparalleled in his division, His record now stands at 27-0, and he has barely lost a round, although he does have a contentious win in his second UFC fight against Gleison Tibau. It was a fight that was scored by the watching media, courtesy of to Tibau at a rate of 5-1. Since then though, he has been peerless as he uses his broad fighting skills, Nurmagomedov is a master of Judo, Sambo, ARB and Pankration, to suffocate his opponents.

Dustin Poirier is a fighter on an absolute tear. Since losing to Conor McGregor he has barely missed a step. In fact, the McGregor loss was his last fight at 145lbs, and since making the leap to 155lbs he has unleashed a beast with power and precision that was lacking at the lighter weight.

The 155 version of Poirier has been devastating. Barring a single loss, he has finished virtually all his opponents, including the likes of Yancy Medeiros, Anthony Pettis, Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje. At the top of the pile of those he didn’t finish was the reigning 145lb champion Max Holloway. Holloway was looking for double champ status but was beaten comprehensively in a relatively one-sided decision as Poirier took the interim 155lb belt.

A few questions remain in this bout. Firstly, how does almost a year on the sidelines affect Khabib? It will be almost 11 months to the day, and this is a sport where inactivity is the silent killer. Similarly, how will Dustin manage to keep the fight on the feet and avoid the takedowns of Nurmagomedov? All of this will occur in the sweltering heat of Abu Dhabi, where the UFC has been to previously, and where the entire card failed to live up to the hype. I’m going to be picking Dustin for this fight, I like an underdog, but I also feel that his style matches well with Khabib. If he can keep some distance and work the strikes, like he did with Holloway then he could hand the Dagestani his first career loss and turn that interim belt into the real thing. However, there is also the possibility that Khabib hits and early takedown in each round and if that happens then its going to be a long 25 minutes for Dustin, but I am optimistic.

Recommendation: Dustin Poirier – 2 units at +360 (18/5) @ 5Dimes

Recommendation: Poirier Inside the Distance – 1 unit at +450 (9/2) @ 5Dimes