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UFC 280: Oliveira vs. Makhachev - Fights to make

All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest event in Abu Dhabi.

UFC 280, Charles Oliveira, Islam Makhachev, Fights to Make,
UFC 280: Oliveira vs Makhachev

UFC 280 was a fascinating card. In the main event, Islam Makhachev made a difinitive statement, that he’s the best lightweight in the world today, with a second round submission of Charles Oliveira. The co-main event was nothing short of a sham, with TJ Dillashaw showing up in no condition at all to fight Aljamain Sterling. And questions about with Sean O’Malley’s split decision win over Petr Yan in an absolute thriller of a contest.

So, does Alexander Volkanovski have a chance in hell against the new king at 155 lbs? Did O’Malley do enough to get the title shot Dana White promised? And is there any way that the UFC rewards Belal Muhammad for his continued string of top-flight victories?

To answer those questions—and a whole lot more—I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!

ISLAM MAKHACHEV

Those who doubted Islam Makhachev’s resume and skills heading into Saturday night looked pretty foolish pretty fast. The longtime heir apparent to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s throne finally ascended on Saturday night, with a dominating second round submission win over Charles Oliveira. And not only did he have no trouble hanging with the Brazilian submission ace on the mats, he was laser focused with his heavy-handed counter-punching game as well—catching ‘Do Bronx’ time and time again as he stepped into the pocket to initiate offense. A masterful victory for the Dagestani, and one that has all the appearances of a long reign atop the lightweight division.

Teased ahead of the fight—with Alexander Volkanovski flying out to the event to serve as ‘backup’, in case of last minute weight or injury shenanigans—the UFC already has their next title challenger ready. Volkanovski was escorted into the cage after Makhachev’s win, where both fighters agreed to meet with the lightweight title on the line at UFC 284 in Perth, Australia. 23-1 squares off against 25-1 in a battle for top pound-for-pound supremacy. Volkanovski vs. Makhachev should be awesome.

CHARLES OLIVEIRA

Barely recovered from his loss, Charles Oliveira was quick to reassure fans that he would hold lightweight gold once again. Based on what we just saw, beating Makhachev will be no easy task. But with wins already over Poirier, Gaethje, and Chandler, if anyone has the inside track on a quick return to contendership, it’s the 33-year-old Chute Boxe talent. I’ve made a case further down for Dariush vs. Gaethje (and I’m averse to matching guys from the same card), but a fight between Dariush and ‘Do Bronx’ would also be an excellent next bout since Dariush himself seems out of the immediate title conversation.

Even though Dana White finally let slip that Conor McGregor needs six months of USADA testing before he can take his next fight, that’s a bout that Oliveira seems likely to find himself eyeing as well. And there’s always Rafael Fiziev out there as a dark horse. Given all the options, I’ll say the UFC should go with Oliveira vs. the Poirier/Chandler winner. Both those men want to compete for gold again, both have a loss to avenge, both would make for thrilling fights. Feels like a rematch here, whoever the winner might be, would be a great way for someone to make the best argument for another chance at a UFC belt.

ALJAMAIN STERLING

After an absolutely crushing (and injury tainted) victory over TJ Dillashaw, Aljamain Sterling had a whole bunch of callouts ready; “Henry Ce-doo-doo,” “Sugar Tits,” “Chito Dorito”—all of them can get it, apparently. Considering that Cejudo still hasn’t actually returned from retirement (and more recently sounded less intrested in a comeback than he has in quite a while), then we’re really just looking at Vera and O’Malley. There’s Dvalishvili too, but Sterling has said in the past that he’d move to featherweight before fighting his teammate (an offer notably not made after this latest title defense). My guess is that the UFC plows ahead with the O’Malley vs. Sterling fight that they had all ready to go. At this moment that seems like the biggest bout to make in the bantamweight division.

TJ DILLASHAW

An absolute, unmitigated disaster for TJ Dillashaw, who revealed shortly after the brutal loss that his shoulder has been badly injured for the last six months and that he was just hoping to push through the injury all the way through the title bout. From the very first takedown entry though, his left shoulder dislocated. He made it to the bell and got it back in place, but it dislocated again immediately in round 2. Shortly afterward, Sterling picked up the GnP TKO.

A fight that honestly shouldn’t have happened and should have been cancelled the moment officials were informed of the injury before the bout. There’s a reason that the UFC puts two title fights on a card, it’s so they can afford to lose one and still have a strong PPV. This was that time. Whenever he returns, assuming he does, then a Dominick Cruz rematch seems like a fight that should have happened five years ago. Cruz vs. Dillashaw 2 is still a lot of fun, if Dillashaw is ever ready to go again.

SEAN O’MALLEY

Whether or not fans feel Sean O’Malley won this fight, this was an a fantastic performance for him and speaks volumes for his potential as a title challenger. He took all the best that Yan had to offer and answered with powerful offense of his own every time. He hurt Yan at multiple points during the fight, did well to fight off takedowns and fight his way up when he did hit the ground. It was a consummate showing and one that should allay any criticism of O’Malley as a frontrunner. Yan had him in serious trouble and he rallied hard to convince judges that he won.

After the bout, ‘Sugar’ was anything other than his usual brash self, however. He sounded like he had been through hell and was as surprised as anyone to get the win for it. Will he be the next title challenger, as advertised? Probably. If not, however, then a fight with Cory Sandhagen or a Marlon Vera rematch would both be must see. O’Malley’s likely headed for the belt, but there are plenty of great fights for him to take if not.

PETR YAN

Yan had the gameplan set to win rounds. Heavy strikes, mixed right into takedowns and ground and pound. There’s a reasonable argument (at least to me) that he could have taken all three frames against O’Malley. But, he got hurt, bad, a couple of times along the way. Anytime that happens, there’s no guarantee at all that judges are going to credit your own violence and offensive success more than the shots you’ve taken. O’Malley was out there landing heavy leather. Even if Yan was putting it back on him, he was taking a lot of big shots to do it. With that out of the way, there’s only one clear fight for Petr Yan right now, and that’s against Marlon Vera. Vera vs. Yan would be a legendary battle. Just make sure it’s five rounds in a fight night headliner. We deserve it.

BENEIL DARIUSH

An absolutely perfect fight from Beneil Dariush. Gamrot came out looking to put the pace on the 33-year-old with his takedowns and scrambles, but Dariush stayed with him every step of the way landing the heavier shots and jumping on sub opportunities whenever he could. The result—surprisingly, given the ‘Gamer’’s cardio credentials—was that Gamrot’s wrestling game only got less effective as the fight went on. Dariush shut him down over and over in prolonged takedown attempts and made him pay standing with heavy leather. All of which led to a commanding win for the longtime Kings MMA product.

At some point he really should be in title contention, but without a lot of fan hype or interest, it feels like the UFC will always have one more option to go to first. To his credit, Dariush seems to know it, and said he’d win another 10 straight if that’s what it took to get UFC gold. With Volkanovski next in line and a willingness to fight all comers, fights with Rafael Fiziev and Justin Gaethje both seem like must make contests. Just the idea of Gaethje vs. Dariush seems like too much fun to refuse.

MANON FIOROT

Even Manon Fiorot seemed to know that she didn’t look like a title contender against Katlyn Chookagian. She did enough to get by the ‘Blonde Fighter’, which is a task more than a few potential prospects have failed to complete. But it was the kind of narrow, sticky, back-and-forth striking battle that saw neither woman clearly separate themselves as a cut above. After the bout, Fiorot suggested she’d probably need to take at least one more fight before getting to Shevchenko. That could mean the winner of Andrade vs. Murphy or a winner/loser fight with Taila Santos. But, by far the most obvious option would be a battle with Alexa Grasso. Similar to Fiorot, Grasso squeaked by Viviane Araujo in her last bout. Both women have the potential to contend for gold, but both still need to prove they can be more than simply the next notch in Shevchenko’s belt. Fiorot vs. Grasso is a great top contender fight.

BELAL MUHAMMAD

Another fight, another great Belal Muhammad game-plan. Sean Brady’s rise in the welterweight division has been marked by lots of power wrestling and grappling, and a noted late decline in competitive striking. Muhammad negated the takedowns with continuous front foot pressure, making sure that Brady never got anywhere near putting his back against the cage. Even if he had to walk through some serious counters to do it, Muhammad kept that pressure high enough that when Brady’s striking defense did start to unravel, it did so in a hell of a hurry. What had been a competitive 1.5 rounds turned into a sudden landslide for ‘Remember the Name’.

After the bout, Muhammad called out Leon Edwards, but it’s a near certainty that Kamaru Usman gets a rematch instead. And if the UFC can put together Covington vs. Chimaev, then there’s not even a guarantee that Muhammad is next in line after that. Realistically, Muhammad deserves his chance at gold, but it just might be that he’ll find himself fighting Gilbert Burns or Jorge Masvidal just to tread water. Muhammad vs. Burns seems like a consolation prize, but the title shot seems unlikely right now.

MUHAMMAD MOKAEV

An interesting performance from Muhammad Mokaev that doesn’t necessarily diminish his status as one of flyweight’s top prospects, but certainly wasn’t the dominance most were expecting him to display as a massive favorite. On the feet, Mokaev looked shaky at best, landing a few big strikes but eating just as many hard shots in return whenever Malcolm Gordon pressed forward. On the mats, as expected, Mokaev was mostly dominant—mostly. Gordon was able to hit some sweeps, get to back control a couple times, and even got a takedown all his own.

Ultimately, Mokaev sealed the deal with a third round submission, making it clear that he’s no less dangerous than advertised as a grappler. But potential opponents got to see a few gaps along the way. To that end, I’d say a smaller step up than Brandon Royval wouldn’t be a bad idea, if that’s still the fight Mokaev wants. We’ve got a bout between Jimmy Flick and Jeff Molina upcoming. Both men are aggressive, tough, and dangerous for 3 rounds and can scramble like hell. Mokaev vs. the Flick/Molina winner would be surefire fun.

OTHER BOUTS: Mateusz Gamrot vs. the Hooker/Puelles loser, Katlyn Chookagian vs. Taila Santos, Sean Brady vs. the Rakhmonov/Neal loser, Caio Borralho vs. the Petroski/Turman winner, Makhmud Muradov vs. Nick Maximov, Nikita Krylov vs. the Reyes Spann winner, Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jim Crute, Abubakar Nurmagomedov vs. Sergey Khandozhko, Gadzhi Omargadzhiev vs. AJ Fletcher, Armen Petrosyan vs. Jacob Malkoun, AJ Dobson vs. the Fremd/Gore loser, Malcolm Gordon vs. CJ Vergara, Karol Rosa vs. Pannie Kianzad, Lina Lansberg vs. Jessy-Rose Clark