UFC 280 takes place this coming Saturday, October 22nd in Abu Dhabi and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights for you below.
UFC 280: Oliveira vs. Makhachev Main Card
Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev
What a special main event we have to look forward to here with the lightweight belt up for grabs as former champion Oliveira looks to extend his 11-fight unbeaten run and reclaim the belt that was stripped from him after failing to make weight last time out when he goes up against Makhachev, who has compiled a formidable 10-fight winning streak of his on.
This is a truly fascinating stylistic match-up. Generally ultra-dominant wrestlers like Makhachev are favored over BJJ players due to their ability to stifle them on the mat, but over the years elite jiu-jitsu specialist Oliveira has proven time and time again that he’s an absolute killer on the mat whether on top or off his back, with no less than 16 submissions in the promotion to date – one of several all-time UFC records he holds.
On top of that, Oliveira’s finely honed finishing instincts are also present in his dynamic striking game these days, as he’s sharpened his technique and managed to demonstrate impressive stopping power in recent years. Admittedly he has also been rocked by some of the division’s heaviest hitters like Justin Gaethje, Michael Chandler and Dustin Poirier, but he’s shown the heart of a champion to rebound on each occasion and went on to finish all of them.
Makhachev has diligently worked on his own striking ability too though, as acknowledged by his coach Javier Mendez, who has repeatedly stated that Islam is a better stand-up fighter than his other legendary lightweight student, Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is a mentor to the challenger and also a big believer in his all-round ability.
He’s not as potent or flashy as Oliveira on the feet, but he will be able to work behind solid fundamentals if and when required, though he’ll give up 3.5″ in reach.
Meanwhile, in addition to being a nightmare to deal with in the wrestling department with his relentless takedowns and top control, Makhachev has also demonstrated good submission ability (not to be dismissed given that Oliveira has been finished in that fashion three times in the UFC), and has mauling ground-and-pound too.
Overall, Oliveira certainly feels like the more lethal weapon, and is capable of producing moments of magic out of thin air, whether on the feet or the mat. However, I still feel it’s hard to look past Makhachev’s dominant wrestling ability here.
He’ll find little difficulty in getting Oliveira down, which will limit the threat he faces on the feet, and though any kind of lapse in concentration on the mat could find him trapped in a fight-ending submission I think his skills are well suited to not giving him much space to work with.
So I’m taking Makhachev to play it relatively safe on the mat here to grind out a decision victory and win the title.
Aljamain Sterling vs. T.J. Dillashaw
Sterling will come into this fight with plenty of confidence after back-to-back wins over Petr Yan solidified his bantamweight champion status, while former champ Dillashaw is eager to win back the belt that was once his before he was stripped of it in 2019 due to a failed drug test, which led to a two-year suspension.
Dillashaw returned to action last year after that ban, earning a very close split decision win over Cory Sandhagen, but suffered an ACL tear along the way which has kept him out of action until now.
That’s not an easy injury to bounce straight back into a title fight from, especially at 36-years-old and with only one fight to his name in the past few years. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that Dillashaw remains a high-level fighter who has a real chance to the win back the belt. On the feet he has very crisp, technical and high volume striking aided by good footwork and movement.
He didn’t look as sharp as normal last time out, but then again he was dealing with that ACL injury from early in the fight so it’s difficult to get a clear read of how he’ll be at full fitness now. Meanwhile he’s also a strong wrestler and has a solid grappling game to go along with it.
Sterling is also a well-rounded fighter too though and he’s far more comfortable with his nicely developed striking game now, while his wrestling is tricky to deal with too. In terms of overcoming Dillashaw though, the area where he typically excels is with his crafty grappling, and he’s particularly difficult to deal with when he takes the back, which he’s adept at doing.
It’s another intriguing fight then, and one where I’ve gone back-and-forth with my pick a few times. In the end though there’s just too much of an air of mystery about Dillashaw these days, from the PED suspension to the long layoffs and injury issues to back him here with full confidence.
On the other hand, while there has been question marks about Sterling at times too, his last fight against a very good fighter in Yan was impressive and I think he’ll carry that momentum into this fight, put a firm focus on his grappling advantage to emerge with a decision victory.
Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley
For a time Yan seemed like an unstoppable force in the bantamweight division, winning the title with a TKO finish against Jose Aldo in 2020 in the midst of a seven-fight winning streak, but then he was DQ’d in a fight he seemed to be winning against Aljamain Sterling last year. He bounced back by winning the interim title by beating Cory Sandhagen, but lost it in his title rematch with Sterling back in April of this year by split decision.
Yan remains the No.1 ranked contender in the division, yet for his next fight he’s going up O’Malley, who has star power and is unbeaten in his last four fights, but his last outing against Pedro Munhoz ended in a no-contest due to an eyepoke and as such he’s still only ranked No.11.
With a 7-1 (+1nc) record overall in the UFC, including five finishes via strikes, it was certainly time for the 27-year-old O’Malley to get some bigger fights, though even he may have been surprised by how big a leap up the ladder he’s taking here as he prepares to face as tough a fighter as the division has to offer.
So it’s a huge test for him, but though his personality has helped gain him attention, there’s no doubt that he also has talent too. He’s a tall, lanky fighter for the weight class, and indeed will have a sizeable 4″ height and 5″ reach advantage over Yan here. It’s something he uses to great effect too as he has very crisp, clean boxing from range and uses his accuracy and timing very effectively to land with proven KO power. He has shown some issues defending leg kicks though and that’s something his opponent’s are increasingly looking to exploit.
In the 29-year-old Yan he’s facing another gifted striker who pushes a fast, aggressive pace from start to finish, even in a five-round atmosphere, thanks to his excellent cardio and will constantly throw out hard-hitting combinations with excellent boxing in particular and good kicks, while also having an iron chin.
Yan’s takedown defense is also at a very high level, which would seem to shut down any chance of O’Malley looking for grappling opportunities on the mat.I think O’Malley has a chance here in more of a sniper role, looking to land that big counter strike to punish Yan for his aggressive approach.
However, I just feel that Yan has the more robust all-round game here and will be able to push a harder, more aggressive pace for longer than O’Malley, leading him to a fourth round TKO finish.
Beneil Dariush vs. Mateusz Gamrot
Two in-form lightweights will look to strengthen their title push hopes here, with the No.6 ranked Dariush riding in on a seven-fight winning streak, while the 9th placed Gamrot has won four in a row.
Early in his UFC career Dariush was known as an excellent ground fighter with very good grappling ability, but as time went on there became major concerns about his chin in the striking exchanges after suffering two tough KO losses in the space of a year.
At that stage his early promise seemed to be taking a major nosedive, so it’s impressive to see how he’s managed to turn things around since then, not only going on a lengthy winning streak, but not shying away from the striking game in the process. Instead, Dariush has demonstrated that he’s actually an offensive force to be reckoned with there, delivering a couple of big KO victories.
That being said he doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of volume.
Gamrot hasn’t been in the UFC for as long as Dariush, but the former long-time KSW lightweight champion has quickly made a strong impression with his all-round ability. Gamrot isn’t as concussive a one-punch striker as Dariush, but he keeps a good pace and has a higher output. And unlike his opponent here, the 31-year-old has never been stopped in his 23 career fights so far, though he’s certainly been rocked at times.
Meanwhile, Gamrot has very good wrestling and cardio to go with it, so he will actively seek out takedown opportunities and like Dariush is a very good grappler, which could lead to a very intriguing battle for supremacy on the mat. At the same time, both men have strong takedown defense too, so it’s not a certainty that the fight will end up there.
This is another great fight and another tough one to call. I’ve always been impressed with Dariush’s assured work on the mat and his punching power has become an impressive addition to his arsenal.
However, in a three-round fight I think Gamrot’s pace, whether it’s with higher volume offense on the feet or going for takedowns (even if he’s not able to make much headway on the mat), will help swing the fight in his favor when it goes to the judges for a decision.
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Manon Fiorot
Former flyweight title challenger Chookagian has chalked up four decision wins in a row to maintain the No.1 contender spot, and now she’ll face a worthy challenger in Fiorot, who has won all four of her fights in the UFC so far.
Chookagian is a long, rangey striker who will have a 2″ height and 3″ reach advantage over her opponent here. Chookagian likes to stay very active on the outside, throwing out a solid volume of strikes that generally don’t have much in the way of power behind them and at times are simply hitting thin air in front of her, but do act as a deterrent to keep opponents at bay.
Meanwhile she can also mix in wrestling too, to help bolster an overall style that lacks a cutting edge, but it’s proven to be effective at frustrating most of the rest of the division other than the champion up to this point.
Meanwhile, Fiorot has shown real promise in her Octagon outings and she’s a more potent striker than Chookagian on the feet, having notched up two TKO wins in her four UFC victories to date, taking her total tally to six finishes via strikes from nine career victories. That’s a stark contrast from Chookagian, who has just three finishes from 18 career wins.
So Fiorot’s finishing ability is refreshing to see in this division, and there’s skill to go along with the aggression and high-output of kicks and punches, while in her last fight against Jennifer Maia she also showed she can hold her own on the mat too.
Beating Chookagian is no easy task, but I think Fiorot may just have enough here to do just that by landing the more damaging blows and generally being the more aggressive, effective striker to win by decision.
UFC 280: Oliveira vs. Makhachev Prelims
(Predicted winners in bold)
Belal Muhammad vs. Sean Brady
Makhmud Muradov vs. Caio Borralho
Volkan Oezdemir vs. Nikita Krylov
Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Lucas Almeida
Magomed Mustafaev vs. Yamato Nishikawa
Abubakar Nurmagomedov vs. Gadzhi Omargadzhiev
Armen Petrosyan vs. AJ Dobson
Malcolm Gordon vs. Muhammad Mokaev
Karol Rosa vs. Lina Lansberg