UFC 280 Main Card Predictions: Oliveira vs. Makhachev

At long last, we have the long-hyped return to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, with a truly spectacular card in store.

The main event features the Lightweight title on the line between Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev, while Aljamain Sterling looks to defend his Bantamweight crown opposite TJ Dillashaw in the co-main. Petr Yan and Sean O’Malley face off in a number one contender spot at Bantamweight in the featured bout, while Beneil Dariush and Mateusz Gamrot also look to make their claim for a shot at the title. All three undercard bouts are likely to be title eliminators, so this is sure to be a fireworks event!

Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev (LW)

Charles Oliveira
Image via UFC

After a knockout loss to Paul Felder, Charles Oliveira (33-8, 21-8 UFC) went on a tear in the Lightweight division, scoring eleven straight wins with all but one coming by finish. All of his title fights have seen Oliveira sustain serious damage and often get dropped, only to return with his own offense and find his own finish. “Do Bronx” began his MMA career as an elite BJJ practitioner, now holding a shocking twenty-one submission victories on his resume. When in back control, Oliveira is a nightmare to get off and has a variety of submissions he can transfer to. His striking has more than come along, now holding nine wins by knockout, offering powerful combos and heavy pressure. He uses excellent teep kicks and knees to manage range while also offering serious offense from the Thai clinch. Oliveira’s main concerns are still his striking and takedown defense, as he absorbs his fair share of punishment on the way to landing his own offense.

Islam Makhachev
Image via Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Islam Makhachev (22-1, 11-1 UFC) has amassed a ten-fight win streak since the lone loss of his career, a KO from Adriano Martins. Protege to former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev possesses the elite Dagestani wrestling that has come to dominate the current UFC meta. He has a variety of takedown attacks but loves trips from the body lock, all but eliminating the possibility for guillotines on takedown entries. On the mat, he has fantastic control, constantly lacing his opponents’ wrists and legs to stop them from escaping. Islam is rarely in the bottom position but has displayed top-notch scrambling in fights against Arman Tsarukyan and Thiago Moises. His striking is composed and built around forward pressure, always trying to force his opponent’s back to the cage. He has shown his power, though his head movement could still use improvement. Islam has fourteen stoppage wins on his record, ten of which have come by submission.

UFC matchmaking doesn’t get much better than this. We have a perfect stylistic clash with gold on the line, and many fans echo that is the 2022 version of Tony vs. Khabib. Makhachev’s path to victory is clear: take Oliveira down, pass his guard, and smash from top position while avoiding wayward submissions. His style of wrestling is fantastic for defending submission attacks, constantly lacing the legs or wrapping up a wrist and he has shown impressive scrambling to rival Oliveira’s transitional BJJ skills. However, Oliveira is not an easy opponent to control, holding truly elite jiu jitsu with the versatility to secure a tap from anywhere, though it has been some time since he has scored a submission off his back. Oliveira has a clear edge in the striking realm in both power and volume, though I do not see it playing out there. Oliveira is too content playing BJJ from his guard, while Makhachev wastes no time in getting the fight to the mat. Islam’s cardio advantage and patience seem to be key weapons, as he looks to tire his opponent out before securing the finish, while Oliviera is red-hot aggression from the beginning bell. I expect Islam to secure a late stoppage on the mat, whether by ground and pound or submission, after Oliveira has somewhat gassed, though Oliviera is sure to make it interesting in the early rounds, if Islam offers space for a finish. Enjoy the action here, as both fighters are stylistic nightmares for the other.

My Pick: Islam Makhachev via Submission

Aljamain Sterling vs. TJ Dillashaw (BW)

Aljamain Sterling
Image via AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter

Aljamain Sterling (21-3, 13-3 UFC) captured the UFC title after being hit with an illegal knee by Petr Yan in the first meeting but secured undisputed status with a decision win in their rematch. “Funkmaster” is now riding a seven-fight win streak, including highlight-reel submissions over Cody Stamann and Cory Sandhagen. Aljo has long been seen as one of the best BJJ players in the Bantamweight division, along with holding high-level wrestling to get the fight to the mat. He has excellent back control which he used to defeat Yan, along with quick scrambling and a litany of submissions in his arsenal. His striking is rangy and composed heavily of kicks, firing off long teeps and single straights to keep his opponent at distance. He mixes his striking in well with his wrestling, often feinting shots to get a reaction. He has ten finishes on his resume, including eight by submission.

TJ Dillashaw
Image via Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

After losing by knockout to Henry Cejudo in an attempt to secure double champion status, TJ Dillashaw popped for EPO, a banned substance, suffering a two-year suspension as a result. In his return, he battled to a Fight of the Night decision opposite COry Sandhagen, narrowly claiming victory. Former champ Dillashaw is undoubtedly one of the best 135ers of all time and has the well-rounded style to reclaim that belt, even at thirty-six years old. His unorthodox striking has been self-billed as “monkey style”, with TJ using constant footwork and feints to set up his offensive entries. He has a stout wrestling background, boasting an 86 percent takedown defense rate while having the skills to dominate on the mat himself, firing off serious ground and pound when secured in dominant positions. Dillashaw’s speed and power are always a highlight in combination with his mesmerizing footwork, holding nine victories by knockout.

This high-level clash proves to be well-contested wherever the fight goes, and I expect we are in for some pretty intense scrambles. TJ Dillashaw has a clear advantage in striking here, boasting an apparent speed advantage Aljo. His combination work and feints will also go a long way, particularly in looking to defend the takedown. Aljo will need to rack up significant amounts of ground control to win this fight, as TJ has him outgunned in both volume and power on the feet. WHile ALjo certainly has the skills to take the back and ride out long periods of the round as he did against Yan, Dillashaw’s superior takedown defense and cage control will help him maneuver out of bad positions even if secured. Finally, Aljo often slows down in the later rounds, while TJ picks up the pace, making me confident he will bring the pressure on in the championship rounds. I like TJ to win a decision on the feet, though I would not be surprised by a late finish from the former champion to reclaim his title.

My Pick: TJ Dillashaw via Decision

Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley (BW)

After losing his title via controversial DQ to Sterling, Petr Yan (16-3, 8-2 UFC) rebounded with a unanimous decision over Cory Sandhagen to capture interim gold at Bantamweight. He lost a decision in his unification bout to Sterling, who utilized back control to dominate Yan through rounds. Yan is a Russian Master of Sport in boxing, bringing in incredible footwork and hand speed. His defensive shell is always raised and his high fight IQ makes Yan more dangerous as the fight goes on. Sean O’Malley (15-1, 7-1 UFC) returned from a knockout loss to Chito Vera to claim three straight victories, all by knockout. After a close first round opposite Pedro Munhoz, the fight was called off due to an eye poke. “Sugar” is a sniper on the feet with powerful one-shot knockout power. He works around the outside, using his range to select pinpoint bombs. O’Malley sports solid takedown defense, but his durability and susceptibility to leg kicks have been a consistent concern.

This fight has been confirmed by Dana White as a title eliminator, meaning both fighters are going to be hunting for the finish. Beyond capturing many fans’ attention, O’Malley holds genuine knockout power and phenomenal shot selection, having now proven he has the cardio to deal damage and secure a finish in every round. However, Yan’s boxing technique is on another level, particularly defensively. I especially love how he uses his pressure to draw out a reaction from his opponents, which he will certainly be looking to do here against the longer O’Malley. Yan has clear advantages in durability and grappling, as well, as he wears damage expertly to return his own firepower. I expect the slow starts of Yan to make this closer than it should be over three rounds, but I see him stalking O’Malley down with crisp 1-2s and mixing in the occasional takedown attempt for a clear decision.

My Pick: Petr Yan via Decision

Beneil Dariush vs. Mateusz Gamrot (LW)

After knockout losses to Edson Barboza and Alexander Hernandez, Beneil Dariush (21-4-1, 15-4-1 UFC) went on a tear, scoring seven victories with four stoppages among them. His last outing saw him dominate Tony Ferguson on the mat over three rounds, displaying his control and high-level jiu-jitsu. Dariush is a dangerous opponent with thirteen stoppages including eight by submission, with excellent transitional grappling and slick chokes. His striking is aggressive and powerful, but he can overextend himself in combinations. Mateusz Gamrot (21-1, 4-1 UFC) came into the UFC as a highly venerated prospect, holding double champ status in Polish organization KSW. After a controversial split decision loss in his debut, he has strung together four straight wins with three finishes, though none of those were as impressive as a highly entertaining decision win over Arman Tsarukyan. “Gamer” is a high-level grappler who has won ADCC titles and boasts impressive scrambling ability along with effective chain wrestling. His striking is technical and he holds serious power in his hands, especially since investing in his frame at 155 pounds.

We are in for a barn burner here as both fighters look to make a statement to put them in line for championship gold. Dariush has proven himself an all-action commodity, dishing out heavy damage on the feet with the grapple to find a submission or dominate from position. Gamrot mirrors many of Dariush’s skills, and I believe he has him beat in more than a few areas. Gamrot’s scrambling and wrestling advantage look to keep him rooted in a dominant position on the mat and he also boasts a stellar submission defense. On the feet, his technique and defense loom large over Dariush, whose chin is often touched even in victory. The key advantage for Gamrot should be his speed, as he has competed at 145 and utilizes beautiful footwork. I expect Gamrot to stay clear of danger on the mat and use lateral movement with tight combos for a late knockout.

My Pick: Mateusz Gamrot via Knockout

Katlyn Chookagian vs. Manon Fiorot (FLW)

Katlyn Chookagian (18-4, 11-4 UFC) scored a win over Antonina Shevchenko after losing a title shot to get back on the winning track but suffered a body-shot knockout loss to Jessica Andrade. She has since put together four straight victories, most recently in a highly engaging affair opposite Amanda Ribas. “Blonde Fighter” uses her range quite well with a massive frame for the division. She keeps a good volume with her strikes and possesses more power than the fifteen decisions on her record would suggest but can struggle when trapped in a grappling match. Manon Fiorot (9-1, 4-0 UFC) quickly began raising eyebrows with two straight knockouts under the UFC banner. She followed that up with two unanimous decision wins, piecing up Jennifer Maia over three rounds in her last contest. “The Beast” has high-level kickboxing but has expanded her overall MMA game over recent years. She maintains distance quite well and has an astounding strike differential with excellent striking defense.

We have a fun clash between technical strikers here, likely to determine the next challenger for Valentina Shevchenko’s Flyweight crown. Fiorot is certainly the more dangerous fighter with power and a heavy pressure-based attack. She manages distance quite well and frames well in the clinch, always wary of a ground attack from her opponent. While CHookagian still has her typical range advantage on her side, I think the pressure and footwork of Fiorot will bully her way into Chookagian’s range enough to deal the superior damage. Expect Fiorot to win a high-paced striking clash on the judges’ scorecards.

My Pick: Manon Fiorot via Decision

The card starts early due to the Abu Dhabi location, with the card going down at 10 AM EST on PPV!

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