Preview: UFC 280 ‘Oliveira vs. Makhachev’

Oliveira vs. Makhachev

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UFC 280 on Saturday has loomed for weeks as one of the best cards of 2022, and it has remained intact entering the stretch run. The main event, with the vacant lightweight title at stake, represents one of the more interesting pairings the Ultimate Fighting Championship can put together. Charles Oliveira has turned the corner from submission ace to championship-level bringer of violence, and those skills make for a tantalizing matchup against the steady wrestling of Islam Makhachev. Beyond that, the top of the bantamweight division should sort itself out with champion Aljamain Sterling and top contender Petr Yan in action in separate fights. Two more perfectly matched bouts round out the lineup: Beneil Dariush-Mateusz Gamrot should be a grappler’s delight, and Katlyn Chookagian is the stoutest possible test for surging flyweight Manon Fiorot, with the winner of each fight potentially earning a title shot.

Now to the UFC 280 “Oliveira vs. Makhachev” preview:

UFC Lightweight Championship

#1 LW | Charles Oliveira (33-8, 21-8 UFC) vs. #4 LW | Islam Makhachev (22-1, 11-1 UFC)

ODDS: Makhachev (-190), Oliveira (+160)

It is still a bit of a shock that things actually came together for Oliveira. “Do Bronx” burst onto the UFC scene at 20 years old in 2010, scoring what would become the first of many highlight-reel submissions against Darren Elkins and Efrain Escudero to mark himself as a top prospect. From there, Oliveira became what was essentially the poster boy for the UFC’s willingness to destroy a prospect’s confidence with tough matchmaking. Matchups against Jim Miller, Donald Cerrone and Cub Swanson were all obvious cases of too much too soon that seemed to break Oliveira—to the point that hanging for three rounds against Frankie Edgar was considered a huge moral victory. Oliveira’s career went through ups and downs from there, as any sustained success was also marred by the sense that the Brazilian was completely unreliable. Issues making weight became the norm for Oliveira, and there were multiple moments where he absolutely crumbled against his toughest tests. Things chugged along mostly the same way up until a win over David Teymur in February 2019. Teymur himself was not a particularly huge win for Oliveira in what was his fourth straight victory, but it was a gigantic sign of progress that he got poked in the eye multiple times and, rather than get thrown out of his game, steeled himself and scored the submission. Oliveira kept winning to the point that he got the nod to take on Michael Chandler for the vacant lightweight belt in May 2021, which kicked off an absolutely wild title run. In wins over Chandler, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje, Oliveira has somehow overcome his fear and accepted that he will get hit by some of the division’s hardest hitters and not care much at all. Yes, Oliveira has gotten blasted every time out, but he has remained conscious and used the threat of his grappling to make opponents think twice about their unchecked aggression—just enough for him to recover, restart the process and somehow make them break first. Having missed weight by half a pound against Gaethje, Oliveira is now the champion in every way but name only and faces a completely different challenge to regain his strap against Makhachev.

Makhachev’s first shot at lightweight gold has been bubbling for years, and he makes for an absolutely fascinating pairing with Oliveira. A longtime friend and training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev was rightfully highly touted upon making it to the UFC in 2015. Makhachev is not the elite athlete that made the former lightweight champ the terror that he was in his prime, but he is even more of a patient and process-oriented fighter that rides his gameplan to success. For all the hype and connections, it took a while for Makhachev’s UFC career to truly get going, particularly thanks to his second UFC bout being the only loss of his career—a stunning knockout suffered in under two minutes at the hands of Adriano Martins. From there, Makhachev chugged along on undercards and did not keep a particularly active schedule until 2019, at which point the UFC’s renewed focus on Russia and the Middle East made Makhachev a prominent part of the goings-on, as he beat Arman Tsarukyan and Davi Ramos. With 2020 being a lost year due to injury, Makhachev has been in a strange spot since. He is clearly a top contender and someone the UFC is obviously behind as a potential “next Khabib,” but forces have conspired to deny Makhachev the clear signature win that would prove his credentials as an elite lightweight. Plans to match Makhachev with Rafael dos Anjos and Beneil Dariush fell through and often on late notice, leaving the Russian with a recent run that peaks with wins over Dan Hooker and Bobby Green—solid opponents but not the murderers’ row that he could potentially face at 155 pounds. On the flipside, Makhachev has handled those fights like an elite fighter should, quickly finding his way to a takedown and showing a finishing ability that has been much more of a factor since his return from injury.

The combination of Oliveira’s submission wizardry and Makhachev’s reliance on taking his opponents to the mat makes this an absolutely tantalizing matchup, particularly since the issue figures to get forced early. One part of Makhachev’s recent dominance has been that he has been given the opportunity to feel things out and find an opportunity for a takedown, at which point the round—or in most recent cases, the fight entirely—is lost for his opponent. However, that opportunity has been all thanks to the threat of his wrestling, which leads to the question, as many have discussed, of how exactly Makhachev will handle an opponent who is more than willing to fight from his back and has no fear of that takedown. Oliveira figures to blitz Makhachev immediately as he has many opponents before, but that leads to the same question cutting the other way. How well does Oliveira’s approach sustain itself against an opponent who, most likely, is not afraid of the Brazilian's submission skill and is more than willing to engage him on the mat? Oliveira has been a much better and more confident fighter in recent years, but there is some evidence that may not go well. Kevin Lee banked a ton of control time before fading late in a March 2020 fight against Oliveira, and while losses to Paul Felder, Ricardo Lamas and Anthony Pettis seem like a lifetime ago, they are examples of how opponents can take over and finish him if they are willing to dive into the teeth of his submission offense. On the other side of things, there is really no clear comparison on Makhachev’s resume for this type of submission threat, which raises many questions about how he reacts if he finds himself in trouble. There is also the worry of cardio. Makhachev has not had much issue with it so far, but if Oliveira turns this into multiple rounds of hard work on the ground, who knows what the Russian has left in the tank by the championship frames; of course, that also assumes that Oliveira, who has made his recent living coming out on top in violent sprints, also has a five-round gas tank. Oliveira is facing quite possibly the toughest form of some old challenges he has not had to face in years, while Makhachev gets both his toughest stylistic test and best opponent yet wrapped up in one package. When a fight figures to answer this many questions at the highest level of the sport, the possible outcome could go any number of ways. This could quickly go south for Makhachev, but the bet is that he can survive in a fight that takes place on both men’s terms and, if nothing else, tire Oliveira out first. It is a coinflip, but the pick is Makhachev via decision.

Jump To »
Sterling vs. Dillashaw
Yan vs. O’Malley
Gamrot vs. Dariush
Fiorot vs. Chookagian
The Prelims


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