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UFC 280 Main Event Preview- Back Islam Makhachev in Abu Dhabi

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On this Saturday afternoon in Abu Dhabi, UFC Lightweight Charles Oliveira looks to win back his 155-pound title after missing weight and having his belt stripped prior to his submission victory over Justin Gaethje at UFC 274. In the other corner, Dagestan’s-own Islam Makhachev will put his 10-fight win streak on the line to challenge the Brazilian for the vacant Lightweight title. 

The two fighters will headline an unbelievably stacked main card that also features Aljamain Sterling set to defend his Bantamweight title versus the infamous veteran and former 135- pound champion of the world, TJ Dillashaw. Prior to UFC 280’s two title bouts, Russian muay-thai striker Petr Yan looks to bounce back from an extremely close split-decision loss to Sterling in April and is squaring up with one of the UFC’s biggest prospects, a superstar in the making- “Sugar” Sean O’Malley.   

155-lb Main Event - Lightweight Title Bout at a Glance


Islam Makhachev (22-1) (11-1 in UFC)

The Main Event of this Saturday’s UFC 280 PPV features a matchup for the ages as Islam Makhachev, a disciple of the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, looks to remind the world that Sambo reigns supreme over American wrestling, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and every other martial arts form. The Dagestani is set to follow in the footsteps of his “blood brother”, the recently retired unanimous Lightweight champion of the world- Khabib Nurmagomedov. 

The two fighters have a very similar backstory in the UFC, effortlessly running through every fighter put in front of them on their path to the 155-pound title bout. Islam has been consistently dodged by some of the top contenders in the Lightweight division, and likewise to Khabib- both Dagestani fighters have been criticized for not facing strong enough competition prior to receiving a title bout. Makhachev has finished six of his last eight fights inside the distance, with four of those victories coming in the First Round. 

While Islam has been extremely impressive on his way to winning 10 fights in a row, Oliveira will be his greatest challenger and toughest competition by far. The 31-year-old Russian has been a -400 or higher favorite in all 10 of his bouts leading up to his Lightweight Title shot, yet currently sits at just -175 to win the vacant title at 155-pounds.

The MMA Analysis is back with Shaun, Lance, Brad, and Wes as they take us through the biggest card of the year UFC 280: Oliveira vs Makhachev.

Charles Oliveira (33-8) (21-8 in UFC) 

Although Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira enters this bout without a belt around his waist, the MMA community knows that the vacant 155-pound title is a mere technicality, and that the Lightweight division belongs to the Brazilian. After extremely impressive finishes over some of the top guys in the division, including Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier & Michael Chandler, it’s evident that Oliveira is the undisputed Lightweight champion of the world. For Charles, a guy who joined the UFC in 2010 and has fought 30 times over the course of his 12-year career with the company, this is just another fight to him. Despite the underlying implications surrounding Saturday’s main event in Abu Dhabi, the 33-year-old Brazilian has been fighting for his entire life, and very easily is able to block out the noise that comes with headlining a martial arts event of this magnitude. 

After winning just 10 of his first 18 bouts in the UFC, Oliveira has been on an absolute tear, defeating all 11 opponents put in front of him since 2018. Not only has ‘do Bronx’ won his last 11 fights, but he also finished 10 of them inside the distance with seven of those victories coming via submission and the other three via KO or TKO. Upon finishing 10 of his last 11 opponents, the Brazilian extended the record for most finishes in UFC history to 19, whilst also setting the UFC record for most submission victories inside the octagon at 16.


How Do They Match Up?

UFC 280’s Main Event really is a clash for the ages, and beyond just the hype that comes with any title fight of this magnitude, I would go as far as to say that this bout is stylistically one of the most incredible matchups in MMA history. Islam is by far the more predictable of the two fighters and is very likely to stick to the same gameplan that has worked extremely well for him thus far whilst running through the competition at 155-pounds on his way to winning 10 consecutive bouts.


Sambo Wrestling- The Dagestani Way

Islam’s sambo-style of wrestling has been a staple of Dagestani martial arts for years, and we were first introduced to this unique form of grappling from his coach and “brother”, Khabib Nurmagomedov. Khabib, who many consider as the most dominant mixed martial artists of all time, had a very similar path to the Lightweight title to that of Islam’s. Moreover, both fighters would inevitably land a takedown at the start of each round, and then would just demolish each opponent with brutal shots from top position. 

What separates these Dagestani-bred fighters from the rest is their uncanny ability to hold opponents on the mat for the entirety of each round. I expect Islam to stand in a southpaw stance feinting in and out with a conservative, methodical striking approach as he keeps the majority of his weight on the backfoot as he patiently waits for a window to shoot for a takedown. As soon as he has his opponent on the ground, Makhachev often binds the legs of his opponents making it extremely difficult for them to be able to use their legs in an attempt to build momentum and spring themselves off the mat. In this sambo-style form of wrestling, the next move is often to grab his opponent’s wrists, and to handcuff their arms, completely immobilizing them, making it nearly impossible to defend any ground strikes or submission attempts. This Russian approach to grappling is extremely different from American wrestling, and many who have fallen victim to Khabib or Islam utilizing this sambo style attribute the utter dominance to the strength of the practitioner, but even more so to the Dagestani’s tremendous ability to control and displace their body weight based on where it is needed most to keep their opponents subdued on the mat. While the Russian’s sambo style has looked near unbeatable thus far in the UFC, there are a number of ways that Charles Oliveira can use his strengths to counter the effectiveness of that game plan. 


The Versatility of Charles ‘do Bronx’ Oliveira

Time and time again these Russian sambo grapplers have absolutely dominated their opponents to the extent where they seem nearly unbeatable, but the Brazilian has a skillset that could potentially counter Islam Makhachev’s gameplan this Saturday in Abu Dhabi. Oliveira grew up in the favelas of Brazil in areas ridden by poverty and violence, and for Charles, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was escape from reality.  

At an early age it was clear that Oliveira had a knack for grappling, easily being able to use his long limbs and lean body structure to his advantage when transitioning from submission to submission. As a teenager, ‘do Bronx’ was already winning national jiu jitsu competitions versus some of the top grapplers in all of Brazil. It was not long until he was steered into the direction of mixed martial arts, as Oliveira’s coach Jorge Patino saw incredible potential in the young grappler. Patino taught the third-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu jitsu to broaden his horizons, adding more versatility to his game. Charles quickly picked up a very impressive technical boxing and kickboxing game and was able to use his long reach to his advantage over shorter opponents. 

Oliveira enters Saturday’s bout versus Islam Makhachev with a long 4-inch reach advantage which he could certainly use to his advantage to keep the Dagestani at distance in an attempt to more effectively defend his takedown attempts. There's no doubt that the Brazilian has the striking advantage, so it is likely that Charles’ game plan will be to keep the fight on the feet where he is the better of the two. However, even if Islam is able to take him to the mat, which is extremely likely, Oliveira’s third-degree black belt should be of huge concern to Makhachev, as his gameplan will be to remain in a dominant top position. The Brazilian has a wide array of chokes in his arsenal, including a D’arce, guillotine, and anaconda choke- all of which could potentially leave Islam vulnerable when on top. In addition to his incredible arm choking ability, he is also very easily able to use long legs to submit his opponents via triangle choke, or to open up opportunities for arm bars, and a number of other submissions. There’s no doubt that the Brazilian has an extremely versatile game that could certainly pose a threat to Islam Makhachev on Saturday at UFC 280. 


Betting Prediction

Despite the tremendous number of weapons in Oliveira’s arsenal, whether it be his elite kickboxing or his third-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I don't think it will be enough to defeat Islam’s dominant sambo-style of grappling which has been proven unstoppable time and time, most evident in Khabib’s path to becoming UFC Lightweight champion of the world. Although it is pre-mature to compare Islam to his “brother” and coach Khabib Nurmagamedov, he also possesses the skills necessary to become the best fighter in the world at 155-pounds. There is a good chance that Charles wins some early striking exchanges and Makhachev cautiously circles looking for the best window to shoot a takedown, but ultimately I feel very confident backing Islam Makhachev to use his sambo wrestling to win this bout pretty easily. Charles Oliveira is undoubtedly one of the best fighters in all of mixed martial arts, but Islam’s increible ability to take fighters down and hold them there should be successful once again this Saturday in Abu Dhabi, and I fully expect Makhachev to dominate at UFC 280 on his way to winning the UFC Lightweight championship of the world. 

At Bet MGM, you can bet on Islam Makhachev to win the Lightweight belt at -180, which I have played for 3 units, and also win inside the distance at even money (+100). 

Wagers   Islam Makhachev -180 (3u) 

                   Islam Makhachev ‘Inside the Distance’ (+100)