There’s no doubt UFC 280 was the most stacked card of the year heading into the event. Two title fights as well as several other contests that featured major consequences for their divisions is a hell of a haul. Hell, UFC 278 really only had one title fight and one meaningful fight in another division. Regardless, while there were a few duds on the card, most of them came in the prelims, and the main card largely delivered.
The main event saw Islam Makhachev thwart Charles Oliveira’s attempt to reclaim his lightweight title, taking the big gold belt with his eleventh consecutive win and proclaiming himself the P4P king. Alexander Volkanovski might have something to say about that as they agreed to meet in Australia at some point. Aljamain Sterling turned in one of the most underwhelming title defenses through no fault of his own as TJ Dillashaw entered the fight as severely damaged goods. And Sean O’Malley secured the most controversial win of the year, taking a decision over former champion Petr Yan. While I can see where he won if I stand on my head wearing 3-D glasses, I will call it a bad decision. Just how bad? Out of 26 media scores, exactly zero gave the fight to O’Malley. Let’s dig into that, as well as some of the other less talked about result of the fight.
Biggest Jump in Stock: Normally when I’m having a hard time figuring out whose stock rose the most, it’s due to a lack of options. Not so much this time. I could go with Makhachev as he was crowned the lightweight champion, running through former champion Charles Oliveira in a manner that has been tried, but never replicated. However, given he was the favorite, I believe it is more appropriate to put O’Malley in this spot, despite the controversial nature of his fight. I’m of the opinion more fans would have shown O’Malley love had Yan taken the decision as no one can doubt O’Malley’s talent and will to win after that fight. Whether he deserved the win or not, O’Malley did prove he can hang with the best in the division... and even score a win over them.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This is a complicated spot. No one really embarrassed themselves with their performance. However, I have to go with Dillashaw. Sure, he entered the fight with shoulder issues, which excuses his poor performance. But it also raises so many questions. When did the UFC know about his shoulder problems? Did the UFC tell him he wouldn’t be fighting for the title next if he pulled out? Given he also blew out his knee in his previous fight, was he previously on PED’s to help him avoid injury? People tend to think PED’s are used only to enhance performance, but they also help athletes push through injuries. Dillashaw did come across as a sympathetic figure after the fight as he showed a lot of heart trying to fight through the injury, but he realistically had no shot. He would have been better off pulling out, getting healthy, and fighting in a title eliminator again than going into the cage as compromised as he was. Regardless, it adds another layer of questions to Dillashaw’s already flawed legacy.
Saved Their Job(s): Had Magomed Mustafaev been able to show up, my money would have been on him to have saved his job. As it was, his fight against Yamato Nishikawa was cancelled when Shooto wouldn’t let him out. The others on the card who may have been in trouble of losing their employment weren’t able to come through. Read on....
Start Typing a Resume: Hard to say he’s been anything other than a disappointment given Gadzhi Omargadzhiev opened his career as a favorite in a co-main event. A slight favorite, but a favorite nonetheless. Now, two fights into his UFC career and he hasn’t really been close to winning either of those fights. I wouldn’t be against seeing Omargadzhiev get a return fight as he has been facing a high level of competition for his first two fights, but a lack of entertainment value in those fights might
I understand what the UFC is doing with the DWCS. It’s a way to build up some hype around prospects looking to enter the organization and allows them to fill out the roster on the cheap. However, they also frequently end up signing guys before they’re ready for the big show. AJ Dobson is a perfect example. Signed only six fights into his MMA career, he would have benefitted from a few more fights on the regional scene before being signed. Instead, while he has flashed promise in his two UFC contests, he has also lost both of those fights in large part due to mistakes that tend to come with inexperience.
I’m not certain we’ve seen the end of the line for Lina Lansberg. She’s tough as nails and could have walked out with a victory if she had played up the illegal knee Karol Rosa landed on her. However, she’s also 40-years-old and has been completely dominated on the mat in each of her last three contests, all losses. The lack of depth in the division could save her, but that didn’t stop the UFC from bringing back Sara McMann... and McMann’s last fight was a win over Rosa.
Biggest WOW Moment: Did you really think it was going to come from a fight other than O’Malley and Yan? I’ll admit Beneil Dariush had a nice moment when he floored Mateusz Gamrot and Nikita Krylov and Volkan Oezdemir had a nice back-and-forth in the first round, but they couldn’t compete with the drama of O’Malley and Yan. The most insane moment had to be in the second round when O’Malley knocked Yan silly, only for Yan to turn around and return the favor seconds later. Their contest featured such intense swings of momentum that it was easily one of the better fights on the year. Unfortunately, much of that is likely to end up being overshadowed by the controversial decision, but that snippet of action will forever be something to mark what we can only hope is the first of their fights.
Best Cure for Insomnia: The first half of the card featured plenty of fights battling for this spot. For whatever reason, the it seemed everyone who fought early in the card couldn’t get on track. I’m inclined to believe it was the muggy air produced by Abu Dhabi, but that’s just speculation on my part. Ultimately, it has to go to Caio Borralho and Makhmud Muradov as large portions of their contest consisted of them trading the top position with one another with nothing else really happening. Don’t think I’m insulting them. They are willing to step in the cage and are disciplined enough to find enormous success in doing so. However, sports are marketed as entertainment and their contest was anything but that.
Least Wanted Title: It seems like no one wants to challenge Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s flyweight title. Alexa Grasso had a nice victory last week that might have been enough to push her into the spotlight, but admitted she would rather get another fight in before getting that opportunity. Manon Fiorot turned in a similar performance to Grasso, though it could be argued Fiorot fought the higher level of competition in Katlyn Chookagian. When asked what she wanted next, she didn’t ask for Shevchenko. The broadcast floated out the idea that Taila Santos could get an immediate rematch given no one appears to want to step up and claim that opportunity. While I think that’s possible – Santos did give Shevchenko the biggest scare of her title reign – I’ll float out another possibility: Shevchenko moving up to challenge Amanda Nunes for the bantamweight title. Given we’re not hearing much on the fronts of either title, I think that could be a distinct possibility. Not that I have any sources on the inside, but women’s bantamweight is fairly barren when it comes to potential title challengers as well.
Best Learning Experience: Muhammad Mokaev admitted he underestimated Malcolm Gordon. It sure as hell showed in his performance. The odds on Mokaev winning were ridiculous, and while he succeeded in doing that, the manner in which he did certainly didn’t reflect what the odds were indicating. Mokaev, like many others on the card, seemed to be falling prey to the environment Abu Dhabi provides, slowing significantly after the opening round. Gordon preyed on his fading opponent to score a slick reversal, nail a takedown, and mildly threaten with a submission attempt. Mokaev might have had the lesson of underestimating opponents nailed into his head even more if Gordon had succeeded in securing the upset, but sometimes a scare or underperformance will suffice. Hopefully, that’s all that will be needed for Mokaev.
Worst Luck: In the lightweight division, if you aren’t a fan favorite or a management favorite, it requires a win streak in the double digits before you can get a title shot. Perhaps that’s an over exaggeration, but not by much. Oliveira needed eight wins in a row before he fought for the title. Tony Ferguson won 12 in a row and never got an official title fight, though it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Makhachev needed 10 fights before he received his opportunity. Dariush is now sitting at eight consecutive wins and it appears he’ll need another win before he finally gets that opportunity due to Alexander Volkanovski looking to be next. Fortunately, Dariush is level-headed enough that it doesn’t look like it’ll mess with him too much – if at all – and he’s willing to just keep plugging along. Hopefully, he won’t be plugging away too much longer.
Most Forgotten Win: Given there was such a plethora of high-level fights, it’s easy to forget Nikita Krylov put together the most impressive performance of his career. The Ukranian fighter overcame some early adversity from Volkan Oezdemir to show off both his striking and his wrestling skills. Perhaps the best part of it for Krylov is he proved he can endure punishment without wilting physically or mentally, the latter a frequent issue that cropped up several times throughout his career. However, given his win isn’t going to have any potential consequences on the immediate title picture, most people are just going to brush over this win.
Most Questionable Ethics: I’ve already touched on this idea with Dillashaw, but it really is the organization that is most to blame. We don’t know how long they were aware of Dillashaw’s injury. We don’t know to what extent they were aware of it. What we do know is the fighters are required to go through some sort of physical before they are allowed to compete, typically by an independent body that is a state’s athletic commission. Given this fight took place in Abu Dhabi, the UFC were their own athletic commission, giving Dillashaw the green light to go. Did they find out so late that they were reluctant to cancel the contest? While I would understand the sentiment, it wouldn’t make it right. If Dillashaw had been having issues since April – as he stated in his post-fight interview — he should have voiced his status at the time, allowing the UFC to go to a Plan B. The speculation here is he didn’t which is likely why the UFC kept the contest as they didn’t want to cancel. If they were that worried about it, they could have blamed Dillashaw for not revealing the injury. Instead, we got a mess in which multiple parties are to blame for what turned out to be a disastrous affair.
Bonus Numbers: The newly crowned lightweight champion just the second Performance Bonus of his 13-fight UFC career, Makhachev’s first since securing a FOTN with Armen Tsarukyan in April 2019. Belal Muhammad has a similar track record, picking up just his third bonus in the promotion after 17 fights, his first since September 2019, seven fights ago. On the other side of the coin, O’Malley secured his seventh bonus in just 10 UFC fights. Some will say he was set up to showcase on some of his past opponents, but that can’t be said here. Robbery or not, Yan was on the other side of that FOTN bonus, his fourth in his 11 UFC fights. As for the droughts, Lansberg extends her streak of 10 fights without a bonus, dating back to her UFC debut in September 2016. Her opponent, Rosa, has the second longest streak now that Muhammad snapped his, Rosa now sitting at six appearances without a bonus.