UFC 302 predictions: Khabib return questions to re-emerge as Poirier bows out

Sean McCormick
Khabib Nurmagomedov (L) and Dustin Poirier (R)

The UFC is back on Saturday, June 1, as Newark, New Jersey, plays center stage to a stacked UFC 302 card.

Islam Makhachev makes the third defense of his UFC lightweight world title against seasoned veteran Dustin Poirier, who hopes to capture the title at the third opportunity.

Former undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will be in Makhachev’s corner, adding further intrigue to a bout that has MMA fans hugely excited already.

On the undercard, former UFC middleweight champion Sean Strickland returns to action for the first time since losing his title at UFC 298 to Dricus Du Plessis.

He takes on Brazil’s Paulo Costa, who is also coming into the bout on the back of a loss, with both men keen to find the victory that puts them high in line for the next shot at the middleweight title.

With a card full of great fights, here are Dexerto Sport’s predictions for UFC 302.

Khabib return questions to re-emerge

UFC Hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov will return as Islam Makhachev’s cornerman for the first time since Makhachev won the lightweight title against Charles Oliveira at UFC 280 in October, 2022.

Confirming the news, Makhachev told UFC officials while signing fight posters: “Eagle has landed in Jersey City. He’s going to be in my corner. Honestly, I’m very happy because he’s one of the best corner coaches, brother, friend. That’s it.”

Khabib’s return will garner much excitement and trigger questions over whether he, too, would be tempted to make a comeback to the UFC.

The 35-year-old retired with a perfect 29-0 MMA record when he beat Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in October 2020 but there is still a great desire from UFC fans to see him in the octagon again.

The Russian fighter stepped back from the sport following the death of his father and coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov and his former teammate Daniel Cormier claimed in January 2024 that he had turned down a $40 million offer to return to the sport.

He has, though, carried his father’s legacy on through coaching and, given he has shared the octagon with Makhachev’s opponent, Dustin Poirier, he is confident he can guide his man to victory.

“Many people underestimate Dustin Poirier,” Khabib said via his official YouTube channel.

“I personally fought him, spent three rounds and over 10 minutes with him, and I have a good sense of his strengths and weaknesses. We are working hard on these aspects.

“Dustin Poirier is very experienced; he’s been in many battles already. Yes, he has lost, but he also has many victories in the UFC, more than 22 or 23 wins… Using our slang, he is a seasoned warrior. You can’t take him lightly.”

“We have great respect for Dustin, but on June 1, he is our opponent. We have a clearly developed plan for the fight, and I believe Islam will follow it.

“I really hope that Islam will finish him off in the second or third rounds.”

Regardless if Makhachev wins, loses or draws this weekend, expect plenty of questions to be directed to Khabib over whether he could be tempted to have one final fight in the UFC.

Dustin Poirier retirement as Makhachev defends title

There is a lot on the line in the main event, as Poirier looks to become a UFC world champion at the third attempt.

‘The Diamond’ has twice challenged for UFC gold, losing to Khabib at UFC 242 in 2019 and to Oliveira at UFC 269 in 2021.

He now has a third chance against Makhachev but goes into the fight as a heavy underdog against the Russian fighter who has had a formidable run as a world champion.

The 32-year-old submitted Oliveira at UFC 280 to win the world title and has twice beaten former featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski since, brutally knocking him out at UFC 294 in his last title defense.

Makhachev, who boasts a 25-1 record, has been stopped before by Adriano Martins way back in 2015 and that probably represents Poirier’s best chance of getting him out of there, given he is a proficient striker.

Like Khabib, Makhachev is a dominant grappler and if he can turn the fight into a wrestling match then Poirier will likely have his work cut out.

Poirier has hinted he will retire if he loses the main event on Saturday and the smart money would point to this possibly being the last fight in a glittering career for the 35-year-old.

Successful Sean Strickland return

Sean Strickland stunned the world when he beat Israel Adesanya at UFC 293 to become middleweight champion.

But he dropped the belt in his first defense, losing via split decision to Dricus Du Plessis at UFC 297. Strickland is still the number one middleweight contender, though.

A victory over Paulo Costa will surely set up a shot at the winner of the likely fight between Du Plessis and Adesanya at UFC 305 in August.

Costa, too, will be keen to avenge defeat last time out to Robert Whittaker at UFC 298 but with three losses in his last four fights, he is going to have to reverse form if he is to upset the odds at UFC 302.

Jailton Almeida stakes heavyweight claim with Aspinall on the mind

Brazilian heavyweight Jailton Almeida will be keen to show he belongs at the top of the heavyweight division after his KO defeat to Curtis Blaydes at UFC 299.

Blaydes will now take on UFC interim heavyweight champion Tom Aspinall at UFC 304 in July and Almeida has one eye on the winner of that bout, labeling a fight with Aspinall a “dream.”

“It is all about training and strategy. If the opportunity ever comes I will be prepared for it,” Almeida told Stake.

“Fights are always 50/50, but it is my dream to be the best in the world and I will have to fight Tom Aspinall at some point. I will be prepared for that moment and I will have the best strategy to win.”

But first, he must win past Moldova’s Alexander Romanov, who has lost two of his last three fights. Defeat for either fighter would prove perilous in their pursuit of the big fights at the heavyweight division, but Almeida should come good as he plots his journey to the top.