The UFC returns with arguably the most stacked card of the year at UFC 280 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
The lightweight title will be on the line in the main event as Charles Oliveira puts his 11-fight win streak on the line against the man on a ten-fight win streak, Islam Makhachev.
In the co-main event we’ll see the bantamweight title on the line when Aljamain Sterling defends for the second time, taking on former two-time champion TJ Dillashaw in a five-round bout.
We’ll also see Petr Yan take on Sean O’Malley, Beneil Dariush fight Mateusz Gamrot, Belal Muhammad scrap with Sean Brady and many, many more top bouts.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 62 we went 8/11 with three perfect picks to move to 741/1154 (64.56%) with 313 perfect picks (42.01%). You can see our full pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here and after starting with the early prelims, we moved on to the rest of the prelims of the card and now make our picks for the main card.
Katlyn Chookagian (18-4) vs Manon Fiorot (9-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
*Chookagian missed weight by 1.5lbs, fight will proceed as a catchweight bout*
A potential title eliminator in the flyweight division opens the main card here. Chookagian has won five of six since losing her title show to Valentina Shevchenko, winning four decisions in a row to see off Cynthia Calvillo (UFC 255), Viviane Araujo (UFC 262), Jennifer Maia and Amanda Ribas. Fiorot on the other hand in undefeated since losing her pro debut, going 4-0 in the UFC with an impressive win over Maia most recently.
Chookagian’s style is the same no matter the opponent and very few people have been able to do anything about it. She has a great karate style which sees her kick from a distance and use great footwork to get in, land shots, and get back out. Her takedown defence isn’t the best though and good wrestlers have had their way with her in the past. Fiorot is a world class kickboxer with incredible kicking abilities, but her wrestling has also been a big surprise as she’s been able to dominate everyone she’s come up against in the UFC so far.
This seems like a really tough fight for Chookagian to keep her momentum going. Fiorot is more than skilled enough to go toe-to-toe in a kickboxing fight with her at range, an her takedown offence should see her able to get in close too if necessary. Her greater power makes her a finishing threat too, so I think “The Beast” can secure a career-highlight win here.
PICK – Manon Fiorot via Decision
Beneil Dariush (21-4-1) vs Mateusz Gamrot (21-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Absolute banger in the lightweight division up next. Dariush was all set for a title eliminator before picking up an injury a year ago, but he’s still sitting on a seven-fight win streak that saw him dominate Tony Ferguson most recently at UFC 262. Gamrot on the other hand is on a four-fight win streak, KO’ing Scott Holtzman at UFC Vegas 23 before submitting Jeremy Stephens, KO’ing Diego Ferreira and then earning a super-close call against Arman Tsarukyan last time out.
Dariush is one of the best wrestlers and jiu-jitsu fighters in the lightweight division, probably only behind the two men in the main event in both areas. But his striking has significantly improved in recent years and he’s now a real threat on the feet too. Gamrot alternatively is a supreme striker on the feet with really good wrestling too, and has taken the division by storm recently. This is a huge step up in competition for him though, that is levelled out by how long Dariush has been out for.
“Gamer” will likely look to use his cardio as a weapon and step forward to force Dariush to engage with him, which could open up takedowns. But Dariush is experienced and I think he has the edge as the better wrestler so could welcome that. I expect a real chess match between these two, but Dariush should just edge it with more power on the feet and a better grappling game.
PICK – Beneil Dariush via Decision
Petr Yan (16-3) vs Sean O’Malley (15-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A fight that is absolutely baffling, but must-watch television at the same time. Number one ranked Yan has lost two of his last three after losing his title to Aljamain Sterling via DQ at UFC 259, before winning the interim title against Cory Sandhagen via decision at UFC 267. He then lost the rematch via split decision to Sterling at UFC 273. O’Malley was on a three-fight win streak after KO’ing Thomas Almeida (UFC 260), Kris Moutinho (UFC 264) and Raulian Paiva (UFC 269) before a no contest against Pedro Munhoz at UFC 276 due to an accidental eye poke.
Yan is arguably the most well-rounded MMA fighter in the organisation pound-for-pound, with world class boxing and a sensational ground game with his wrestling too. O’Malley alternatively is one of the most entertaining fighters in the world with incredible striking and knockout power, as well as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt that he doesn’t need to use much because he puts people out on the feet. I love O’Malley and do think he could be a future champion, but there are levels to this right now.
On the feet Yan is better, and while O’Malley absolutely has the speed and power to hurt him, he has to hit him to do that. Mix in the fact that Yan has got excellent wrestling and a stifling gas tank to march forward constantly, and enough power to hurt O’Malley himself, I think the ‘Suga Show’ takes a hit to his reputation in this one.
PICK – Petr Yan via Decision
Aljamain Sterling (21-3) vs TJ Dillashaw (18-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Big time bantamweight title fight up next. Sterling is on a seven-fight win streak with an 88-second submission win over Cory Sandhagen at UFC 250 setting him up for his title fight wins over Yan. Dillashaw was stopped by Henry Cejudo before popping for injectable EPO and serving a two-year ban. He returned to beat Sandhagen controversially, but tore his ACL and fights for the first time in a 15 months.
Sterling is a lengthy grappler, with an excellent gas tank that he uses as a weapon but it’s his jiu-jitsu and control on the mat that set him apart from his foes. Dillashaw on the other hand is arguably the best 135-pounder of all-time with a perfectly rounded MMA game. His wrestling is excellent, he can grapple in submission situations but also has genuine KO power in his hands. This is a super fight.
Dillashaw has been out for a while, but he looked great against Sandhagen after two years out so I don’t see rust being an issue. I did think he lost that bout, but his ability to mix everything together is a problem for Sterling. On the feet he has a clear advantage and he’s arguably a better wrestler too. I think Sterling will want to grapple and control, but it’s nigh on impossible to do that to Dillashaw and I expect a new champion to be crowned in Abu Dhabi.
PICK – TJ Dillashaw via Knockout, Round 3
Charles Oliveira (33-8) vs Islam Makhachev (22-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Potentially the fight of the year in one of the most exciting divisions in the MMA world. Oliveira is on an 11-fight win streak including ten stoppages. People started taking notice when he submitted Kevin Lee, before he dominated Tony Ferguson at UFC 256. Since then he’s been on a killing streak, KO’ing Michael Chandler (UFC 262) and then submitting Dustin Poirier (UFC 269) and Justin Gaethje (UFC 274), although he missed weight in the latter bout and was stripped of the belt. Makhachev is on a ten-fight win streak, finishing Drew Dober (UFC 259), Thiago Moises, Dan Hooker (UFC 267) and Bobby Green in each of his last four fights.
Oliveira is the greatest submission artist in UFC history but has developed into one of the very best strikers in the company too, with his Muay-Thai style and power doing a lot of damage. Makhachev is the best wrestler in the division and potentially the company, with a suffocating style and solid submission game that comes from being in the Nurmagomedov camp for his entire career. This fight is absolutely wild and could go in any direction, it’s so hard to call.
With that said though, I see two potential outcomes. One is that Makhachev is able to use his wrestling early, control Oliveira on the ground and wear on him until getting a finish in the latter rounds with a dominant performance. The other is a wild start in which Oliveira marches forward just like he did against Chandler, Poirier and Gaethje and lands a huge shot to drop Makhachev and gets an early finish by taking his back or pounding him out. Both are as likely as the other, but after under-estimating Oliveira for so long I can’t do it anymore. “Do Bronx” is the best fighter Makhachev has ever fought by a distance and we don’t know if he can do it at this level. With the advantage on the feet and his amazing guard, I’ve got the Brazilian to get it done again.
PICK – Charles Oliveira via Knockout, Round 2