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UFC 280 preview: Belal Muhammad continues quest for respect

Get the dirt on the later half of the preliminary action of UFC 280, featuring Belal Muhammad looking to secure another upset, this time over the unbeaten Sean Brady.

Belal Muhammad punching Vicente Luque at UFC Vegas 51
Belal Muhammad punching Vicente Luque at UFC Vegas 51
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

There’s no doubt UFC 280 is one of the deepest cards of the year, perhaps the deepest card of the year. That said, times are tough and not everyone who wants to can afford to indulge in the UFC’s latest PPV offering. Even if you choose not to purchase UFC 280 – or are unable to do so – it’s not like the preliminary contests aren’t going to deliver high level MMA. I’m not talking about MMA in general; I’m talking high level for the UFC. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the winner of Belal Muhammad and Sean Brady ends up fighting for the welterweight title in their next fight. A little further down the card, it wouldn’t be crazy to see Volkan Oezdemir and Nikita Krylov fighting in the main event of a Fight Night card. In other words, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.

For the early prelims preview, click here.

Belal Muhammad vs. Sean Brady, Welterweight

I’ll be the first to admit that I never saw Muhammad being anything more than someone on the fringe of the official UFC rankings. A limited athlete with average power, it seemed like his ceiling wouldn’t allow him to go any further than that. Not that I didn’t recognize the intelligence and technique of Muhammad, but they’ve far exceeded my expectations.

It goes beyond just saying Muhammad identifies holes in his opponent’s game and attacks. After all, everyone knows trading with former kickboxing champion Stephen Thompson is an unwise move. The smart thing to do is to put Thompson on his back. However, Thompson also knows that what everyone has been trying to do and as effectively game planned against that for years. Muhammad found a way to do that, finding a tell that only Gilbert Burns had successfully been able to exploit. And while Muhammad used wrestling to upend Vicente Luque as well, he never uses the same strategy to win. He was selective in his attack against Demian Maia, cautiously choosing when to engage with Demian Maia to ensure the BJJ ace didn’t get him to the mat. Against Dhiego Lima, Muhammad blitzed him for the entirety of the fight, giving him nary an inch of breathing room as he continuously pelted him with punches and kicks. It’s all the little things Muhammad does – stance switching, feints, footwork, distance management, etc. — that allow him to continuously exceed expectations.

It isn’t hard to figure out he’ll want to stand with Brady. A bowling ball of a human being, Brady has proven to be one of the top wrestlers in a division with a lot of notable ground fighters with a reputed guillotine. Many were thinking he’d meet his match on the ground with back take specialist Michael Chiesa, but there was nary a moment when Brady wasn’t in control on the mat. Incredibly strong with exceptional technique, there aren’t going to be too many who can outwork him on the mat. Brady is a bit stiff in his movements, but Muhammad doesn’t seem like the type of fighter who can exploit that on the mat. Then again, Muhammad has proven me wrong several times in the past....

Even though Muhammad will want to keep the fight standing, that’s no guarantee he’s going to be able to win the fight from there. Brady offers a simplistic boxing approach on the feet with plenty of low kicks to supplement his offense, but he knows his limitations and operates extremely well within them. Plus, he’s proven he can push a hard pace. As stated already, Muhammad can adjust his attack, but it comes down to his top-notch technique and ability to negotiate distance expertly. That isn’t to say Muhammad doesn’t get hit in his striking exchanges, but he tends to avoid the big shots at this stage, knowing when to take one to give two. Given his more diverse approach and intelligence, it’s hard to believe he won’t find a way to win the standup.

This is one of the hardest fights on the card to predict. For many, Brady seems like the obvious pick. He’s exceptionally strong for the division and an underrated athlete. Not an elite athlete, but he knows what he’s good and how to do what he needs to do to pick up the win. He is undefeated after all. Typically, that’s good enough to beat someone who would be considered a subpar athlete in the elite circles. However, Muhammad has proven himself to be one of the most intelligent fighters in the game today. Few have proven to be as much of a chameleon as he has. I’ve picked against Muhammad so many times and I’m tired of being scorched by him. Throw in Muhammad’s experience fighting in Abu Dhabi and I believe he’s going to be that much more prepared. Muhammad via decision

Volkan Oezdemir vs. Nikita Krylov, Light Heavyweight

I don’t think Oezdemir is ever going to get the respect he deserves from fans. Perhaps that has something to do with him getting a premature title shot, but it wasn’t his fault there was a severe lack of depth in the division. Regardless, Oezdemir has proven to be a heavy-handed striker whom only the best in the division are capable of getting past.

Given few would consider him to be one of the best in the division, it’s obvious there are some weaknesses. While Oezdemir is a solid boxer with underrated low kicks – what he did to Aleksander Rakic’s leg isn’t remembered enough for what it was – he’s also limited as an athlete, contributing to his porous defense. When facing an opponent with inferior power, that’s not as much of a worry. However, given he’s been fighting some of the best in the division, that typically hasn’t been the case.

In terms of pure power, Oezdemir has the edge over Krylov. In terms of striking diversity and athleticism, Krylov is the man. However, for all Oezdemir’s defensive holes, Krylov is even worse. The Russian has often attempted to overwhelm his opponents with volume and explosiveness, struggling to properly set up his offense. It has resulted in some crazy head kick KO’s out of nowhere, but it has also left him wide open to his opponent’s counters. To be fair to Krylov, he has been improving in his ability to set things up, but he’s also proven to still be vulnerable to defensive lapses.

Where Krylov will have a definitive advantage is on the mat. Oezdemir has greatly improved his ability to stuff takedowns, but there are still holes in his overall grappling. If he knows what’s coming – like when Paul Craig was spamming for submissions – he can defend well enough. Given Krylov offers a dynamic ground attack and is one of the better wrestlers Oezdemir has faced in recent years, it’s no guarantee Oezdemir can fend off Krylov in the same manner he did Craig.

Given the heat and humidity of Abu Dhabi, there’s a good chance it’ll play a part. I get that this event is taking place in an indoor arena – some of the previous events in Abu Dhabi have taken place outdoors – but I should still be a factor. Neither have a great history in terms of their stamina holding up, so I can’t pinpoint who is to outlast the other. However, given Krylov has more weapons to end the fight – more specifically, submissions – I’ll favor the Russian to get the job done. Krylov via submission of RD3

Makhmud Muradov has become a forgotten man in the middleweight division. He looked like a someone who could make some serious noise through his first few UFC fights, only for a savvy Gerald Meerschaert to upend the wagon in combination with Muradov having more fights fall through than he has been able to appear in. Billed as an all-around talent when he was signed, Muradov has become almost exclusively a striker, content to sit on the outside and pick his opponent apart until he has picked up a good read on his opposition. Meerschaert exposed Muradov’s weakness on the mat, which is music to the ears of Caio Borralho. The Brazilian has proven himself to be incredibly analytical, identifying his opponent’s weakness and exploiting it. Thus far in his UFC run, that has been dragging his opponent to that mat and controlling them for long stretches. It isn’t very exciting, but it has resulted in W’s. If the fight stays standing enough, I can see Muradov knocking Borralho silly. However, that will be dependent on him remaining standing. Muradov has shown excellent spacing and footwork, but Borralho has shown in impressive fight IQ thus far. With his karateka stylings, I expect Borralho will be able to close the distance in short order. Whether that’s for knocking Muradov’s block off or grabbing a hold of the Uzbekistani native for the takedown, he should prove effective enough to do so... provided the atmosphere doesn’t get to Borralho. Borralho via decision

When thinking about Jekyll and Hyde fighters, Zubaira Tukhugov doesn’t tend to be one of the first names that comes to people’s minds. It probably should be. From his struggles to consistently step into the cage – he has averaged one appearance a year since debuting in 2014 — to his varying performances when he gets there, Tukhugov has been his own worst enemy. Some fights he shows dominant wrestling, other times he displays serious power in his hands. Then there’s those occasions when he can’t seem to put in a full 15 minutes or seems clueless on how to close the distance on his opponent. At least he’s proven to be consistently durable. Regardless, he’ll need to know how to deal with the height and length of Lucas Almeida as the lanky Brazilian striker has the power to test the durability of Tukhugov. Almeida isn’t an expert on keeping his opponent on the outside – he prefers moving forward — but he’ll be sure to make Tukhugov absorb all sorts of kicks and punches if he tries to cross no-man’s land. However, Almeida has traditionally struggled with wrestlers and was fortunate enough Mike Trizano didn’t test that out in Almeida’s UFC debut. Tukhugov can be too happy to oblige in a slugfest too, but he’s been more consistent in playing to his strength in wrestling as of late. Plus, while both have had their conditioning issues before, Almeida hasn’t fought in Abu Dhabi before. Tukhugov has. I think that experience benefits him. Tukhugov via TKO of RD3