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UFC 280: Early prelims preview - Is Muhammad Mokaev a future champion?

Get the lowdown on the early action for UFC 280 out of Abu Dhabi as Muhammad Mokaev looks to prove why so many believe he is a future champion against savvy veteran Malcolm Gordon.

Muhammad Mokaev kicking Charles Johnson at UFC London
Muhammad Mokaev kicking Charles Johnson at UFC London
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Typically, the UFC tends to stack their annual MSG show to the point that it’s the deepest card of the year. While I believe UFC 281 next month in MSG is an impressive card, UFC 280 out of Abu Dhabi is the superior card for my tastes. It’s got more depth to it, offering several preliminary fights that could serve as a reasonable Fight Night main event. For all that depth, it doesn’t quite seep into the early prelims. That isn’t to say the early prelims have nothing to offer – Muhammad Mokaev appears to be the brightest flyweight prospect in quite some time and the women’s bantamweight contest features a pair of ranked fighters – but there is a notable difference in the quality of the fights they offer compared to the later prelims.

  • Mystery is the name of the game for the contest between Magomed Mustafaev and Yamato Nishikawa. Mustafaev last fought in February of 2020 – and just twice in the last six years – while Nishikawa is a 19-year-old Japanese prospect who has already racked up 30 professional contests. While Nishikawa has racked up 14 wins in a row, they’ve come against questionable competition while flitting back and forth between welterweight and lightweight. In other words, it’s hard to know if he’s a legit prospect or if he’s going to be on the roster for just a cup of coffee. Mustafaev is a huge question mark given he’s been so inactive for so long. He looked good the last time he stepped in the cage, giving Brad Riddell all he could handle. However, Mustafaev is now 34, an age when many fighters begin to fall off. In the little bit of his prime we were able to witness, Mustafaev proved to be a fine athletic specimen with a relentless wrestling game. What I’ve seen out of Nishikawa isn’t enough to convince me he’ll be able to keep Mustafaev off him, even if the Russian has lost a step. Mustafaev via TKO of RD2
  • It appears to be too early to declare Abubakar Nurmagomedov a bust, but he’ll have to fight more than just once every year-and-a-half if he wants to avoid that label. Winning his fights would help too as he’s only halfway good on that endeavor in the UFC thus far. To be fair, the expectations on him were probably set too high for him given his last name. Nurmagomedov isn’t the dominant and brutalizing physical force his cousin was, but he’s sound enough in the wrestling department to get the job done against a good chunk of potential opponents. Plus, he appears to be technically superior on the feet to Khabib. However, he’s going to have a hell of a chore avoiding the takedowns from Gadzhi Omargadzhiev. A fellow Dagestani, Omargadzhiev suffered the first loss of his professional career in his UFC debut to Caio Borralho, prompting him to drop to 170. It could be a boon for him as Omargadzhiev is at his best when he’s able to muscle around his opponents; he would have had a difficult time doing that with his wiry frame at middleweight. Throw in that Omargadzhiev’s striking tends to be overshadowed by his exploits on the mat and Nurmagomedov is in danger of falling under .500 in the UFC. Omargadzhiev via decision
  • It was impossible not to get excited about Armen Petrosyan following his debut win over Gregory Rodrigues. Despite being massive for the middleweight division, the Armenian striker proved capable of pushing a heavy pace, working over the Brazilian at all levels with power and technique. Unfortunately for Petrosyan, Caio Borralho watched enough film on him to realize Petrosyan isn’t going to be able to do much if his opponent can put him flat on his back... and that hasn’t proven too difficult of a chore. That said, I’m not so sure AJ Dobson can successfully exploit that, at least not over the course of 15 minutes. Dobson is a fine athlete and can do a little bit of everything, but he hasn’t shown the ability to hang in there when things get difficult. For example, Dobson styled on the gritty Jacob Malkoun for a round, but wilted when the Aussie didn’t go away. Perhaps that can be attributed to UFC jitters, but fighting in Abu Dhabi is likely be just as much cause for jitters. Flying halfway around the world, fighting in front of a foreign crowd for the first time... that doesn’t sound like a recipe for Dobson to get back on track. Petrosyan has his holes, but displayed plenty of power before getting to the UFC and proved he could dig deep against Rodrigues. Petrosyan via KO of RD2
  • Given the explosive nature of his UFC debut and the dominance of his sophomore effort, I was worried the UFC would put Muhammad Mokaev on the fast track to the title. Perhaps they could still do that, but it doesn’t appear to be the case in matching him up with Malcolm Gordon. Not that the crafty Canadian is a pushover, but Mokaev looks like he is vastly superior where Gordon is typically thought to be strongest: on the mat. For instance, Mokaev secured 12 takedowns in his contest with Charles Johnson, sticking to him like glue and taking him down time and time again, utilizing his sheer physicality on several occasions. Gordon is far more reliant on tricks and trips to get the fight where he wants to go. It’s hard to see that working on Mokaev. Gordon has already been manhandled by Amir Albazi, someone who has a similar skillset to Mokaev. What’s scary is Mokaev, while not as polished as Albazi was at the time, may be the better physical specimen. There’s a part of me that believes Mokaev might be able to end the fight when he desires, but will look to gain some experience. Thus, if he gets a stoppage, I expect it to come later, though I’m not so confident that I’d put money on it. Mokaev via submission of RD3
  • If her last fight was any indication, Lina Lansberg is on her last fighting legs. Given she’s 40 years old, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. However, it could also be argued it was her first fight back after a two-year maternity leave, meaning she could have simply been shaking off the cage rust that accumulated over that time. Regardless, even as Lansberg looked slower and physically diminished, she never quit and even stole a round from Pannie Kianzad when she scored a knockdown. It was just the rest of the contest that was so damned concerning.... She’s not getting any favors as Karol Rosa may push the most ridiculous pace in the division, at least on a consistent basis. The Brazilian is always moving forward, throwing a variety of strikes, often in combination. Perhaps most encouraging, she’s proven she can go to her wrestling if the matchup calls for it. Lansberg has improved her takedown defense, but it’s still a notable hole in her game. Rosa may not be a great athlete, but she is superior to Lansberg in that department. Outside of the classic puncher’s chance, it’s hard to see Lansberg pulling this one out. Rosa via decision