MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC 280.
UFC 280 takes place Saturday at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPNews and ESPN+.
Charles Oliveira (33-8 MMA, 21-8 UFC)
- Height: 5’10” Age: 33 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 74″
- Last fight: Submission win over Justin Gaethje (Mary 7, 2022)
- Camp: Chute Boxe Diego Lima (Brazil)
- Stance/striking style: Orthodox/muay Thai
- Risk management: Fair
+ *Former UFC lightweight champion
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ 9 KO victories
+ 21 submission wins
+ 15 first-round finishes
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
+ Improved boxing ability
^ Accurate hooks and uppercuts
+ Solid muay Thai arsenal
^ Dangerous knees and elbows
+ Hard leg kicks
+ Underrated wrestling ability
^ Strong takedowns from the clinch
+ Superb transitional grappler
^ Diverse submission acumen
+/- 4-1 against UFC-level southpaws
Islam Makhachev (22-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC)
- Height: 5’10” Age: 31 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 70.5″
- Last fight: TKO win over Bobby Green(Feb. 26, 2022)
- Camp: American Top Team (California)
- Stance/striking style: Southpaw/kickboxing
- Risk management: Good
+ Combat sambo world champion
+ 4x Russian sambo champion
+ Master of sports in combat sambo
+ 4 KO victories
+ 10 submission wins
+ 9 first-round finishes
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Improved overall striking
^ Solid variance in shot selection
+ Hard kicks from the left side
+ Good takedown ability
^ Favors chaining off singles
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Excellent trips, knees and tosses
+ Superb transitional grappler
^ Wrist control, rides, passes
Point of interest: Process and pressure
The main event for UFC 280 features a fantastic lightweight title fight between two men who have a process that involves pressure.
An offensive marauder who can Thai march forward behind a high guard, Charles Oliveira offers a plethora of problems on the feet. Aside from an excellent utilization of front teeps, the Brazilian standout also has a long, prodding jab that he likes to use to set up right hands and leg kicks off of.
When feeling in stride, it’s not uncommon to see Oliveira implement some sort of “touch-n-go” theme, as he seems to have a bit of a hardwiring for catching and pitching punches. The uncrowned lightweight king also keeps a solid left hook on a hair-trigger, either deploying it as a countering check or attaching it to the end of combinations.
Once establishing his range, Oliveira is quick to find creative elbows and destructive uppercuts that often change the complexion of a fight at the drop of a dime. However, Oliveira, too, is not beyond getting knocked off course, as his shelling style has traditionally opened him up to body damage and power shots that can pierce around the guard.
Enter Islam Makhachev.
Fighting out of a southpaw stance, Makhachev has shown to be much more than a sambo practitioner since stepping onto the UFC scene.
Fellow southpaw Adriano Martins may have been able to audit Makhachev’s early aggression with a perfectly placed check hook at UFC 192, but the Dagestani fighter has been steadily making improvements to his striking since his lone setback.
Now, it is not uncommon to see Makhachev play at a much safer range when looking to set up his shots and strikes. Whether Makhachev is sniping crosses down the centerline or mixing the targets of his kicking attacks, the 31-year-old does a solid job of constantly changing his level and variating his shot selection.
Makhachev’s patented check right hook is still a key player in regards to countering presence that’s worth watching out for in this fight, but I suspect we see him press more of his clinch striking in this matchup. Favoring single and double collar-tie variations in the clinch, Makhachev does a good job of utilizing well-placed knees to manipulate defenses and create openings.
That said, when it comes to clinch striking and counters, Makhachev may be in for a surprise or two when he ties up with Oliveira.
Not only can Oliveira turn your grips against you by turning an elbow over the top, but it also gives him a solid sense of operating space to either strike or sneak in quick shots or entries off of level changes given his noted vision issues. This is probably the reason why Oliveira does some of his best striking when either flowing to or from his favored single-collar-tie positions.
Point of interest: Protect ya’ neck
Considering each fighter’s submission sensibilities, I’ll be curious to see how they implement their strengths.
Akin to his now-coach, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev also scores a majority of his takedowns off of chaining attacks in clinch space. Whether Makhachev is working from his favored single-leg position or hitting slick trips and tosses from tie-ups, the product from Dagestan displays solid adaptability in wrestling scenarios.
I suspect we’ll see Makhachev lean much more on his trips from the clinch given his opponent’s propensity to snatch necks in this space, but no one should be underestimating Oliveira here.
Shortly after getting outwrestled by Frankie Edgar back at UFC 162, Oliveira worked diligently to improve that portion of his grappling game, as it’s now common to see the Brazilian outwrestling stronger fighters early and often (especially if he can get to any variation of a bodylock).
But if Makhachev is trying to get offensive with his takedowns like most of us suspect, then do not be surprised to see Oliveira revert to his home of front-choke counters.
Oliveira is masterful from most front-headlock variations, displaying the acumen to shift the dynamic of a position as he unleashes interweaving submission attempts as if he’s firing them off from an M-60 machine gun.
Nevertheless, whether we’re talking about mat wrestling or transitional grappling in general, it can be hard to get a beat on Makhachev.
Aside from having tremendous hip and grip awareness, Makhachev is one of my favorite fighters to point to in regard to demonstrating the importance of wrist control. An unsung hero in regard to effective martial arts techniques, Makhachev’s quiet control of hands and wrists helps stymie his opposition’s advances while he furthers his own.
Makhachev also employs stellar legwork that goes beyond his standing clinch work, as it’s not uncommon to see the 12-year pro incorporate crab rides in conjunction with back attacks (as seen in his finish of Thiago Moises).
That said, Moises was able to briefly befuddle Makhachev with leg lock attacks off of his back – which is something worth noting when you consider the leg entanglements that Oliveria successfully utilized to thwart the ground striking of Kevin Lee.
Point of interest: Odds and opinions
The oddsmakers and the public are favoring the Dagestani fighter, listing Makhachev -190 and Oliveira +160 via Tipico Sportsbook.
Although I’m glad to see this betting line come back down to earth, part of me is still shocked to see so many people doubt Oliveira at this point in his career.
Don’t get me wrong: Makhachev is a real talent who many, including myself, have been high on for over half a decade now. Should Makhachev successfully navigate past Oliveira’s multi-layered striking and submission acumen, then no one should be shocked to see the 31-year-old grind down and ground out his Brazillian foe down the stretch.
Nevertheless, it’s ultimately hard for me to ignore the fact that Makhachev’s biggest habit happens to put him right into Oliveira’s favorite kill zone.
— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) May 12, 2021
As seen in the clip above, Oliveira – no matter the scenario or submission variation – ALWAYS feeds the head to his left side/arm.
Can you guess which side Makhachev’s head sags off to during shot and clinch entries?
That’s right, Makhachev – nine times out of 10 – will either shoot takedowns with his head on his right side (Oliveira’s left) or sag his head off to that same side due to his propensity to establish underhooks or leg reaps off of his left side.
Now, does this guarantee Oliveira a win by submission? Of course not.
However, muscle memory is a major factor that’s hard to control in the chaos of a fight. And when someone is under severe duress, they tend to revert back to their base of comfort.
For that reason, I’ll side with the fighter who thrives in chaos and has proven that he can walk through the fire. Makhachev has never faced a fighter this potent in the particular areas stated above, as I see “Slim Charles” wrapping up a submission by the second round – leaving no doubt who the real king is at 155 pounds.
Prediction: Oliveira inside the distance