UFC 280 is here and it’s a big one! We’ll finally find out who the best lightweight (155 lbs) fighter is. UFC 280 returns to Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, also known as “fight island” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The main card starts at 2 PM ET, which means Aussies will have to wake up at around 5 AM to watch the action, but, it’ll be worth it.
The main event is for the vacant lightweight title and is a 5 round blockbuster between Charles Oliveria & Islam Makhachev. The co-main is for the Bantamweight belt, where Aljamain Sterling will look to defend his belt against the veteran and ex-champ, TJ Dillashaw. Sean O'Malley looks to make his most significant 135-pound jump against the hard-hitting Petr Yan, and top lightweight contenders Beneil Dariush and Mateusz Gamrot will slug it out to secure their spot in the division. Katlyn Chookagian and Manon Fiorot will open up the card at UFC 280 in the woman’s Flyweight division.
155 lbs: Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira (33-8, 1 NC) vs. Islam Makhachev (22-1) for the vacant lightweight title
There’s no doubt that the lightweight main event for the vacant title is going to be an absolute cracker. Charles has been steaming through the bulldozers of the lightweight division in spectacular fashion, while Islam has been on a 10-fight win streak under the watchful guidance of Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Charles Oliveira belongs at the top. He’s the uncrowned champ after finishing Justin Gaethje by rear naked choke in round one at UFC 278. However, weigh-in issues are a concern for the Brazilian. Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will step in as the backup fighter if he misses weight and has been training hard in case he gets the gig.
Charles Oliveira is certainly in his prime at the moment. When looking at his current streak, it’s nothing short of astonishing. The 33-year-old is on an 11-fight win streak, with 10 of those being finishes and 4 in the first round. It has been said that he’s the most well-rounded fighter in the division, being not only dangerous on the ground but also lethal on the feet. His resume is one of the best in the sport, with finishes over high-ranked lightweight opponents such as Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier & Michael Chandler. There have been questions about his durability at times, however, he’s silenced the doubters with his ability to recover and then finish the fight on his terms.
His toughest test yet comes in the form of a Dagestani wrestler, who like Charles, has been steaming through the 155-pound division. Islam Makhachev has been on a hot streak, with 10 wins in a row and 6 finishes. Like “The Eagle”, he is known for taking his opponents into deep water, smothering them and forcing the submission. His 65% takedown accuracy ranks him among the 10 best UFC fighters in history, and you can’t neglect his improvement on the feet either. His resume, on the other hand, isn’t as impressive as the Brazilians. He hasn’t beaten anyone in the top 10, and although he made quick work of Dan Hooker, he’s been struggling to stay in the top 15.
Regardless, I’m very excited for UFC 280, It’s such an interesting matchup and a truly stylistic fight for the fans. It’s BJJ vs Wrestling and I’m all for it.
Prediction: Charles by round 2 TKO
135 lbs: UFC Bantamweight Champion Aljamain “Funk Master” Sterling (21-3) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (17-4)
This is a breath of fresh air for Aljo, his first new opponent in more than 2 years. Although the Yan rivalry still lingers, it is refreshing to see Sterling take on a new contender. He only has 2 KOs from his 21 wins, but you can’t deny his brilliance. Like him or not, he pushes the pace and has wins over some tough 135-pound rivals. Since his loss to Moraes in 2017, he’s been on a 7 fight-win streak (if you count his DQ win over Yan). His most notable wins include a first-round submission of Cory Sandhagen at UFC 250 and his split decision win over Yan at UFC 273 to rightfully hold his belt. His wrestling is strong, and his striking is improving, however, he has been known to jump out of the gates hot and then lose steam as the rounds go by. His wrestling trumps TJ’s, however, it’s hard to give him the upper hand on the feet, ground control will be key here.
Everyone knows the TJ Dillashaw drug story. Yes, his reputation is forever tarnished in the eyes of fight fans all around the world, but he’s looking to prove that the belt belongs with him - drug-free. TJ won by split decision in his return against Cory Sandhagen in 2021. His return was impressive, it’s uncommon for a fighter to come off a 2-year layoff and win against a top-ranked bantamweight contender. Before that, he made quick work of Cody Garbrandt, winning by TKO in round 1 at UFC 227 and TKO in round 2 at UFC 217.
To me, ring rust sticks around for a while. Despite the win over Cory in 2021, the 36-year-old will have his hands full against the “Funk Master”. His long-range and offensive wrestling may be too much for TJ.
Prediction: Aljamain Sterling by round 1 submission
135 lbs: Petr “No Mercy” Yan (16-3) vs. “Sugar” Sean O’Malley (15-1, 1 NC)
This one is really exciting for me. I’ve been on board the “Sugar” hype train since day one, even dialling into his Contender Series & Ultimate Fighter days. The crazy thing is, a win over Yan can push him into the number one spot on the Bantamweight list.
Sean has been impressive during his time in the big league. He has beautiful faints, crisp boxing, sublime timing, ballet-like footwork & genuine knockout power. Although he lost to Marlon Vera due to injury at UFC 252, he has bounced back spectacularly. You could argue that he hasn’t fought anybody, but he’s not picking fights & he’s still winning them. His 8 wins in the UFC (including Contender Series and Ultimate Fighter) have come flawlessly. He made a bloody mess of Kris Moutinho at UFC 264 & stopped Raulian Paiva in round 1 at UFC 269 with punches. Although the Pedro Munhoz fight ended in a NC, he was overwhelmed by O’Malley’s speed and timing. When he’s on, he’s on and there’s no denying that.
Petr Yan is as good as they come. He’s proved to be a problem to some of the best Bantamweight contenders, including Aldo, Sandhagen & Faber. The Russian striker was unlucky at UFC 259, losing to Sterling by an illegal knee DQ when he was clearly winning the fight. The rematch at UFC 273 was razor close, although the decision didn’t split his way. My concern for Yan is his fight pace. He pushes the pressure once the fight gets going and holds a lovely high-defensive guard. However, he tends to start slow, which we saw against Cory Sandhagen at UFC 267. If he takes a while to get going, Sean could capitalise, especially with just 3 rounds to convince the judges. He will need to utilise his wrestling and not get left out of range.
Prediction: Sean O’Malley by decision
155 lbs: Beneil Dariush (21-4-1) vs. Mateusz “Gamer” Gamrot (21-1, 1 NC)
Beneil Dariush probably deserved to get the call-up against Oliveira, but beating Gamrot will put him right into the equation. He even wanted to silence Islam Makhachev’s worthiness, by beating him. 2017 and early 2018 weren’t great for Dariush, however, since then, he’s been on a 7 fight win streak. It took a KO loss to both Edson Barboza and Alexander Hernandez to kick him into gear. Although he hasn’t been that active, his wins have been convincing & his 17 takedowns from his streak is solid. He shut down Tony Fergusson both on the feet and on the ground for 3 rounds at UFC 262 and who could forget his spinning back fist finish over Scott Holtzman.
Gamrot had a rough introduction to the UFC, with a split decision loss to Kutateladze in 2020. However, that didn’t stop him from bouncing back with a 4 fight-win streak since then. Gamrot has only had 5 fights in the promotion, with 3 of those ending in finishes. I think this will be a wrestling battle, with both fighters being equally qualified. Experience is a big factor to me in a close matchup and you can’t argue with Beneil’s time in the ring.
Prediction: Beneil Dariush by decision
125 lbs: Katlyn “Blonde Fighter” Chookagian (18-4) vs. Manon Fiorot (9-1)
Kicking off the Main Card is Katlyn Chookagian vs. Manon Fiorot, an important fight for the division. Fiorot is ranked 7 and aims to take the number 1 spot from Chookagain. Chookagain has been on a 4 fight-win streak since her loss to Andrade in 2020. Although she’s never finished a fight in the UFC, her fight IQ is strong and her striking is polished.
Manon Fiorot has been surging through the division since her debut in 2021. She has stamped her presence in the UFC with two KOs in her first two fights. Her most recent victory came over former title challenger Jennifer Maia, so a win here would put her in the pecking order against Shevchenko for the title. With an 80% TD defence and 50% TD accuracy, you can’t argue that she’s a well-rounded beast. I think she will be too much for the “Blonde Fighter”, perhaps not enough to get a finish, but I think she can control the octagon for 3 rounds.
Prediction: Manon Fiorot by decision