UFC 280 takes place in Arab Emirates this Saturday, and there is a lot of conversation about the UFC 280 fight card, top to bottom. What was originally an unheralded event has become a series of hot-button topics and intriguing fights that are largely “pick ‘em” affairs.
Headlined by Charles Oliviera versus Islam Makhachev, these two men will fight for the vacant lightweight belt. TJ Dillashaw challenges Aljamain Sterling for Sterling’s bantamweight belt, and Petyr Yan will try to fend off Sean O’Malley to earn another title shot in the bantamweight division. Beneil Dariush and Mateusz Gamrot will also battle for a spot in the top five of the lightweight rankings on this card.
Oliviera vs. Makhachev is the most intriguing of the fights on this card, but not the only interesting fight this weekend. It’s a stacked card, and you will absolutely want to stream UFC 280 this weekend.
The betting line for this was heavily one-sided toward Makhachev when the fight was announced. It has since cooled. Though Makhachev is still favored over Oliviera, we think this fight is a bit more nuanced than oddsmakers might appreciate.
Wherever you can argue one fighter has an advantage, the opposite fighter has a formidable retort. Oliviera has world-class Jiu-Jitsu, but Makhachev’s wrestling/Sambo is just as good. Oliviera attacks with abandon, and Makhachev is a patient assassin. Makhachev likes to take fights to the ground quickly, but Oliviera is the most dangerous ground fighter in the UFC.
And on and on we could go.
Oliviera’s position is that Makhachev’s shot at the title is happening because Khabib Nurmagomev has coerced the UFC into giving his protégé the opportunity to fight for the title. Oliviera is essentially asserting that Makhachev hasn’t earned his shot. It’s not debatable whether Oliviera’s resume is better than Makhachev’s. Oliviera has beaten all-time greats, and quickly. Makhachev hasn’t fought a truly notable opponent in the UFC or elsewhere.
What we’re mindful of is which Oliviera shows up to fight on Saturday. Typically lively and exuberant, Oliviera has been subdued this time, almost annoyed. In an interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, he gave dismissive answers, a departure from the engaged Oliviera we’ve grown used to seeing. The concern is whether this Charles Oliviera we’re seeing leading into this fight is the Charles Oliviera of old, the one who readily gave up in fights. If so — if Oliviera is not in the right frame of mind to recapture the title he lost on the scale in his previous fight — expect Makhachev to force Oliviera to submit in the middle rounds of the fight. If this is a new Oliviera, one that is more dialed-in and ready to fight, Makhachev might be in serious trouble.
For a time, Oliviera had no tolerance for ground-and-pound fighting. It’s why Paul Felder was able to beat Charles Oliviera. It’s also Makhachev’s style. This is the true intrigue, here: can Makhachev surface the “old” Oliviera and force him to submit?
(Editor’s note: Oliviera recently had Lasik surgery to correct his notoriously poor vision. It’s unknown if clear vision will affect Charles positively or negatively. His berserker style of fighting, which has proven successful, may have been because his vision was so poor. Will clear eyes cause him to fight cautiously?)
Should the real Charles Oliviera show up, Makhachev is in real trouble. We’ve seen it play out before. In his eighth pro fight, Makhachev fought Mansour Barnaoui and faced significant trouble in the fight. Though Makhachev won, many think the decision was – let’s say “generous” – and the fight shows Makhachev may have real trouble with a skilled Jiu-Jitsu practitioner like Oliviera.
If Oliviera shows up ready to fight, we think Charles Oliviera will submit or possibly TKO the slow-starting Islam Makhachev in the first round. Oliviera is better than Makhachev on the feet, is the most dangerous ground fighter we’ve ever seen (even from his back), and has embarrassed and finished future hall-of-fame fighters. Oliviera has the pedigree, the experience, and the skill to beat anyone. Oliviera can – and should – beat Makhachev.
Make no mistake, though: this is Makhachev’s fight to lose. He’s in Abu Dhabi, friendly confines for his mentor Khabib. This also means Makhachev is on home turf. Oliviera is getting his title shot prematurely by most accounts, with some suggesting the UFC is giving him a shot because Khabib bent Dana White’s ear. Makhachev is rugged and skilled, though, and his ground-and-pound Sambo game is better than Khabib’s by some accounts. Premature or not, Makhachev deserves to fight for the title sooner rather than later. He’s that good.
Makhachev is also Khabib’s proxy in this fight. Khabib and Oliviera never had the opportunity to fight, and we think Khabib is trying to shore up his legacy with a Makhachev win. Fans like to point to Oliviera having quicker wins than Khabib over common opponents like Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier, and it’s reasonable to think the retired Khabib has sent his pupil to erase all doubt about Khabib’s legacy as an all-time great.
Oliviera loves to play the spoiler, though. Both Gaethje and Poirier were fan favorites to beat Oliviera for the title, and he submitted both. We think he’ll spoil Makhachev’s coming-out party, too. Early lines had this somewhere near 12:1 in favor of Makhachev, and we think you’ll wish you had put money on Oliviera when that line existed.
Sterling captured his belt via disqualification when Petr Yan kneed him in the head while he was grounded. A long injury-caused layoff for Sterling cumulated on a title defense against Yan. Sterling won that fight decisively, eliminating doubt as to whether he’s a deserving champion.
Dillashaw lost the same belt years ago when he was banned for two years from competition for using performance-enhancing drugs. Dillashaw has been open and contrite about his use of PEDs, but it has stained his career. He’s trying to recapture the belt, in a hopefully clean and responsible manner.
This fight has almost the same line as Oliviera vs. Makhachev, with Sterling favored. Both fighters are creative and have well-rounded skill sets. Both men fight hard, fast, and are creating strikers. Sterling has the advantage on the ground, but all fights start on the feet. Look for Sterling to grind out a decision win and retain his belt. This fight will be all-action, but we think Sterling has the chops to fend off Dillashaw, here.
Sean O’Malley has a four-inch reach advantage on Petr Yan. In most fights where two stand-up fighters do battle, that’s all you’d need to read to think O’Malley is favorited. He isn’t.
Yan is the favorite in this fight, and by a wider margin than the two fights already discussed. Yan is favored because he’s Petr Yan: tough, durable, professional, proficient, purposeful, and dangerous.
This, like Oliviera vs. Makhachev, is a battle of freestyle creativity versus fundamental skill. O’Malley will feint and lob shots from the outside while continuously moving as Yan attempts to get inside to do damage with inside-fighting. Yan has been working on his ground game, but both are stand-up fighters.
O’Malley’s coach says his pupil has the skills to make Yan “look stupid” in the fight, and we agree. Yan’s best opportunity for a win is to get inside and fight or take O’Malley down, two very difficult tasks. We just don’t see O’Malley allowing either to happen in such a way it will allow Yan to win the fight. Yan will undoubtedly have his moments, but it’s hard to see a path to victory as Yan’s wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu are below average. Moreover, Yan’s ego may get in the way as it did in the Sterling fight. If this happens, Yan will fight O’Malley’s fight, which is a poor choice.
Yan can hurt O’Malley on the feet to earn a stoppage, but that’s the only path to victory we can see – and it’s a difficult task. Yan is favored because he’s a former world champion and O’Malley is fighting way up in the rankings, but we think Sean’s “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” tattoo rings true in this fight. It’s a three-round fight, too, which only favors O’Malley versus the slow-starting Yan.
Dariush is solid and game, but Gamrot is a monster. That’s why Gamrot is favored in this fight. But, like the two main fights on this card, the odds are pretty close on this one.
We think Dariush is a bit more skilled, and he’ll have to show more finesse than he has in the past to get past Gamrot. If the fight becomes a gnarled mess, Gamrot will likely win. Dariush needs to exert his superior skill and fight at distance, where Gamrot is weakest and exerts most of his energy in a fight. If the fight hits the ground, Dariush must control his position and not let Gamrot smother him. Dariush’s best chance is to be patient, let Gamrot circle and tire himself out, stuff Gamrot’s takedowns, and pressure Gamrot as the fight goes on, possibly earning a stoppage. Expect Dariush to use this fight to make a case for a title shot should he win decisively.
Oliviera (+155) vs Makhachev (-180)
- Bets to consider:
- Oliviera by KO/TKO/DQ (+500)
- Oliviera by KO/TKO/DQ in round 1 (+1200)
- Makhachev by submission in round 3 (+1600)
Sterling (-175) vs Dillashaw (+150)
- Bets to consider:
- Sterling wins by submission (+400)
- Dillashaw by decision (+300)
Yan (-275) vs. O’Malley (+230)
- Over 2.5 rounds (-250)
- Under 2.5 rounds (+170)
Dariush (+165) vs. Gamrot (-195)
- Over 2.5 rounds (-185)
- Under 2.5 rounds (+150)
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