UFC 280’s best fights: Oliveira-Makhachev provide clash of styles in main event
Oct 17, 2022
Marc RaimondiESPN Staff Writer
UFC 280 might be the deepest card the promotion has put on so far this year — as it features essential fights in two of the best divisions: lightweight and bantamweight.
In the main event, the vacant UFC lightweight title will be decided in a bout between former champion Charles Oliveira and dominant contender Islam Makhachev, who is trying to bring the title back to Dagestan like his coach and former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Oliveira (33-8, 1 NC) beat Justin Gaethje in his last fight, at UFC 274 last May, but he missed weight before the bout and was stripped of the belt. Makhachev (22-1) will have Nurmagomedov in his corner — it was always the plan of Nurmagomedov’s late father and trainer, Abdulmanap, to have Makhachev take the UFC lightweight torch from Nurmagomedov.
There is a deep undercard here, too, highlighted by two fantastic bantamweight matchups: Aljamain Sterling defending his 135-pound belt against former champ TJ Dillashaw and Petr Yan, another former bantamweight champ, trying to hold off the wildly popular Sean O’Malley.
What are you most looking forward to? Here’s my ranking for the top five attractions of the evening.
How to watch and purchase UFC 280 on ESPN PPV
1. Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev
If you want to talk about the best fighting the best, which has been the calling card for the UFC since the early 2000s, that is precisely what you’re getting here. Oliveira & Makhachev are without doubt the best lightweight fighters in the entire world. While there are some holes in their resumes that can be criticized, both are still outstanding talents in their prime. Oliveira has won 11 fights in a row and would be the lightweight champion right now if not for his missing weight before a first-round TKO victory over Gaethje at UFC 274 in May. Makhachev has won 10 straight and hopes to take the torch from his longtime teammate and current coach, Khabib Nurmagomedov, the former dominant UFC lightweight champion. And the best part? This matchup is amazing in terms of its stylistic aspects. Oliveira is a master of Brazilian jiu jitsu. He has the most submission wins in UFC history (16) and is a threat to finish the fight from the top, his back or by snatching a limb or someone’s neck in a scramble. Makhachev has proven himself to be a dominant wrestler, grappler, and other skills he has used since he was a youngster in Dagestan. There has to be something. Will Makhachev go after Oliveira and test his ground skills? Or will Makhachev take Oliveira down and test his ground skills?
Oliveira has finished 10 of his last 11 opponents while Makhachev has finished four straight. This fight should be terrific and decide who is the best 155-pound fighter in the world.
2. Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley
This was a hard choice over Sterling vs. Dillashaw, a title fight between two elite fighters, but this matchup is so incredibly intriguing for both men. O’Malley has the chance to become one the biggest stars in UFC with a win. Yan, a former UFC bantamweight champion has significant power on his feet and a great ground game. He was well on his way to beating Sterling last year, when an ill-advised and illegal knee resulted in his disqualification.
Yan’s fight against O’Malley is also polarizing. UFC president Dana White has said publicly that he didn’t think 27-year-old O’Malley was ready for the caliber opponent that Yan represents. O’Malley seemed to be comfortable with the change in competition, as Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby, matchmakers, convinced White.
It’s easy to make this story about O’Malley, as he has a large fan base and can take things up a notch this weekend. Yan, who is still one of the top bantamweight fighters in the world, should not be forgotten. Yan could be eligible for a Sterling tri-fight if he beats O’Malley — he might even be favored over Sterling vs. Dillashaw. Yan himself is only 29 years old. This one has a great story and should deliver. Both are action fighters.
3. Aljamain Sterling vs. TJ Dillashaw
TJ Dillashaw discusses his mentality for his upcoming fight with Aljamain Sterling at UFC 280.
Sterling has been one of the more maligned champions in the UFC for some time. He won the belt from Yan via disqualification and some felt Yan even won the rematch back in April at UFC 273. Although it was a close fight Sterling deserves credit. Over long periods of the bout, he dominated Yan on ground. Sterling’s reign of title would be boosted by a win over Dillashaw (a former UFC bantamweight champion). Sterling is still underrated and will likely be a chip on his shoulders.
Meanwhile, Dillashaw has a chance to become the first three-time UFC champion since Randy Couture won the heavyweight title for the third time in 2007. Couture is the only person to have a UFC title for more than three reigns. Dillashaw, if he beats Sterling, will be the second. Ring rust could be an issue for Dillashaw, who has fought just once in three years due to a positive drug test and knee surgery following a win over Cory Sandhagen in July 2021. If Dillashaw prevails in Abu Dhabi, there will be talk of him being the best 135-pound fighter ever and it wouldn’t be a bad argument by any stretch. At 36 years old, can Dillashaw return to his elite form? It’ll be fascinating to find out.
4. Beneil Dariush vs. Mateusz Gamrot
Dariush could make a better case for a lightweight title shot than anyone outside of Makhachev. He has won seven straight in the brutally tough 155-pound division and in four of those, he won a $50,000 fight of the night bonus. Talk to coach Rafael Cordeiro from Kings MMA, and you’ll hear a lot about Dariush as a fighter or person. Brazilian jiu jitsu is his mainstay, but the Iranian-born scrapper has also gained power. He’s dangerous all around now, and if he wins Saturday it will be difficult to deny him a title shot.
Honestly, Dariush deserves a ton of credit for even accepting a fight with an up-and-coming talent like Gamrot. Many fighters may have waited to get a chance at the belt. Dariush has shown that he is willing to face dangerous, rising stars like Gamrot in order to establish himself as a top contender.
Gamrot has won four straight, is the former KSW lightweight and featherweight champion and is coming off a terrific win over top prospect Arman Tsarukyan in June. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, Gamrot’s Polish countryman, predicted last year to ESPN that Gamrot would be a UFC champion someday. It’s possible that “Gamer”, who trains out American Top Team, will win this fight. 1 contender conversation.
5. Belal Muhammad vs. Sean Brady
Like Dariush, Muhammad is a contender facing off against a surging, less experienced fighter. Muhammad is on the run of his career and has been calling out the likes of Khamzat Chimaev for big contender matchups. The Chicago native is unbeaten in eight straight and has just one loss since 2016. Muhammad has shown remarkable improvement in his wrestling, is opportunistic and has a tremendous fight intelligence. He has beaten Demian Maia, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Vicente Luque — three fighters with vastly different styles — in three straight fights.
Brady maybe cannot be considered a prospect anymore at age 29. But he’s undefeated at 15-0 and appears to be one of the best up-and-coming fighters in any UFC division. The Philadelphia native is a true beast on the ground with incredible strength in the clinch. Just ask the man he beat last, Michael Chiesa, who has one of the best grappling games in the division. Brady is a powerhouse. Brady is a former Cage Fury FC Welterweight Champion and a newly minted contender for welterweight. If Brady beats Muhammad, he could be born Saturday night.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.