UFC 280 predictions


When we say MMA is supposed to be fun, we’re talking about cards like UFC 280.

What’s not love about Saturday’s packed lineup? It features two of the most popular lightweights in the UFC, Aljamain sterling going for his second defense against the bantamweight champion, Petr Yan trying to stop Sean O’Malley jumpingfrog him for a title fight and big-time contender bouts for lightweight and flyweight.

And that’s only the main card.

We’ve been spoiled with great title fights this year, starting with Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane for the heavyweight title and Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno giving us another classic in January, and followed by Jiri Prochazka vs. Glover Teixeira (one of the most fun, chaotic championship fights of all-time), Leon Edwards shocking the world against Kamaru Usman, Alexander Volkanovski putting the Max Holloway rivalry to rest for good, and Valentina Shevchenko nearly being upset by Taila Santos.

They could be the best of them all.

Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev. Each are on double-digit winning streaks and are well known for their amazing grappling. Both sides stand to either win or lose a lot, depending on how the fight ends. It is clear that the outcome of this fight will surprise everyone, even if each mother has a different take.

Can’t wait.

What: UFC 280

Where: Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi

When: Saturday, Oct. 22. The seven-fight prelims begin on ESPNEWS and ESPN+ at 10:00 a.m. ET, followed by the five-fight main card at 2 p.m. ET available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.

(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)

Charles Oliveira (1) vs. Islam Makhachev (3)

If you think I’m jumping off the Charles Oliveira bandwagon now, you’ve got another thing coming. Since the Michael Chandler fight, I have been anticipating Oliveira victories and I won’t stop now that we are so close to my fantasy booking for Oliveira against a returning Khabib Numagomedov.

But pipe dreams aside, let’s focus on this main event, which just so happens to be the best possible fight any promotion could make at 155 pounds. Oliveira is truly the champ, forget about that half-pound! And Islam Makhachev, despite not having many ranked victories, is the real champ.

I don’t see how Makhachev could be watching a fight, and then not wanting to watch him for the title. You could have booked him in a title fight after he beat Thiago Moises and I wouldn’t have complained, that’s how impressive he’d been up to that point. Makhachev’s shot is a great sign if you are passionate about fighting the best.

When you’ve been nothing but dominant though, it raises the question of how you’ll deal with adversity, especially the kind of adversity that “Do Bronx” presents. Uncrowned champions are not going away. Oliveira has shown a level of resilience that should leave his doubters wondering if there’s anything that can keep him down. Oliveira is my pick in a dogfight.

You don’t have to be an MMA specialist to see that powerful wrestlers have been neutralizing jiu jitsu experts for the greater part of the past decade. Makhachev is no exception. There’s another question: What will the champion do if all of his ground wizardry has no effect? He will instead try to return to his feet. Will Makhachev even let him?

As far as I am concerned,

Oliveira has already left a lasting legacy. At worst, he is one of five greatest lightweights and he has just begun to build his resume. A win over Makhachev would look real nice on the mantle. Makhachev would be able to add Oliveira as a target on the other side. This would give him an advantage over any opponent that he has ever beaten.

Long Story Short, I am sticking to my guns and choosing Oliveira in Round to make Makhachev unconscious. Makhachev gets off to a great start, maybe even 10-8’ing Oliveira in Round 1, but Oliveira comes roaring back in the second and take Makhachev out.

There will be only one question after it is all over: Khabib, where are you?

Pick: Oliveira

Aljamain Sterling (1) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (3)

T.J. Dillashaw is equipped with all the tools necessary to defeat Aljamain Sterling, and regain his UFC bantamweight title. Is Father Time getting to him?

As pointed out by the esteemed Shaheen Al-Shatti on this week’s episode of No Bets Barred, should Dillashaw beat Sterling he will become the oldest fighter ever to hold an undisputed UFC title in a weight class lighter than 170 pounds. Dillashaw turns 37 in February and the bantamweight division is filled with younger, up-and-coming killers known for their relentless pace, non-stop movement, and championship cardio. Those are the traits that made Dillashaw a two-time champion, but he has to prove that age is nothing but a number when he faces off with Sterling.

On paper, Dillashaw is the perfect foil for “Funk Master.” Sterling’s striking has improved greatly since he made his UFC debut in 2014, so he can be competitive there, but his bread-and-butter is that thrilling grappling game. Dillashaw is not able to dominate grapplers in this matchup. He rarely gives up takedowns and even more rarely gets controlled when he’s on the mat, so I’m not sure what Sterling can do with him there. He’ll have to take his standup game to another level if he hopes to send Dillashaw to the back of the line.

It’s impossible for me to ignore that age stat, but it’s also impossible for me to envision a scenario where Sterling submits Dillashaw or outwrestles him for 25 minutes (seriously, if he grapples his way to a decision, it will be ridiculously impressive). Dillashaw will beat him on the feet, wearing Sterling down before finding a finish in the championship rounds.

It’s #AndAgain!

Pick: Dillashaw

Petr Yan (2) vs. Sean O’Malley

It might surprise some to learn that Sean O’Malley is not only outside of the top 15 of the illustrious MMA Fighting Global Rankings, he’s not even a FARV (fighter also receiving votes)! This speaks more to the depth and quality of the bantamweight category than O’Malley’s shortcomings, but also shows you some of the challenges O’Malley will face in Petr Yan.

For me, this is a no-lose situation for O’Malley. Few would have predicted he’d earn an opportunity like this coming off of a forgettable no contest against Pedro Munhoz. Yan will be even less likely to beat him. O’Malley will almost certainly win the title, although it’s not impossible to lose what you didn’t technically have.

So O’Malley should feel little pressure as he heads into the biggest fight of his career and while that may mean we see the best version of him yet, I don’t think it’s good enough to beat Yan. “No Mercy”, a terminator and one of the most skilled at adapting to fights mid-fight, is undoubtedly the greatest boxer in UFC. Those picking an upset will point to his tendency to start slow, but I’m convinced that’s a luxury he’s allowed himself due to his past four fights all being five-rounders. Yan knows O’Malley has less time and Yan is going to work harder to stop him from taking any rounds.

Yan also hasn’t had to show much of his wrestling recently, but he has excellent takedowns and ground-and-pound. You can also see why Yan is my favorite fighter in this regard.

Yan by decision.

Pick: Yan

Beneil Dariush (5) vs. Mateusz Gamrot (8)

Pardon the technical language, but Beneil dariush vs. Mateusz Gambrot is what the industry calls “high-level ***.”


I don’t particularly care that neither man gets much closer to a title fight with a win (Dariush is forever cursed to be a non-factor in the UFC’s championship matchmaking plans, Gamrot feels like he needs one or two more big names on his resume), I only care that this fight is happening and its awesome. Dariush doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the most compelling fighters in the lightweight division, a well-rounded veteran equipped with slick submission skills who also enjoys mixing it up on the feet. And Gamrot has been as good as advertised coming off of a two-division title run in KSW.

This is more of a toss up for me. But if it’s necessary to jump off the fence I will be going with Gamrot. There will be some amazing grappling and close encounters on the feet as each fighter can land bombs. Gamrot has historically been more durable, which is one of the deciding factors for me here. Gamrot will eventually prevail over an exchange, and Dariush will be floored by Gamrot. From there, Dariush won’t recover.

Let’s have this one, folks, while we can. These two won’t last long.

Pick: Gamrot

Katlyn Chookagian (4) vs. Manon Fiorot (T7)

With Katlyn Chookagian missing weight on Friday, the flyweight division is much more interesting place should Manon Fiorot pick up this victory.

Chookagian enters UFC 280 on a four-fight win streak, but her title hopes are hindered by the fact that she’s already suffered a one-sided loss to Valentina Shevchenko and that her status as a decision machine means most fans don’t consider her to be appointment viewing. Still, winning is winning, and Chookagian does that as well as anyone.

Fiorot must keep the fight moving and Chookagian from turning it into a Chookagian bout. This means that Fiorot must match Chookagian’s volume while staying precise and finding a home to the power-punching, which has made her an interesting contender. Fiorot’s plus-athletic status is impressive, however it remains to be seen how she will fare against Chookagian, who is an experienced standup wrestler.

If Fiorot can mix in some takedowns, that would be big, as it would not only take Chookagian’s tricky movement out of the equation, it would leave “Blonde Fighter” having to play catchup on the feet. Chookagian excels when leading dances, but not when she is forced to take chances.

That’s the position I expect Fiorot to put her in and while I don’t see her putting Chookagian away, she’ll take advantage of this opportunity and win on points to set up a 2023 encounter with Shevchenko.

Pick: Fiorot


Sean Brady (10) def. Belal Muhammad (6)

Caio Borralho def. Makhmud Muradov

Volkan Oezdemir (12) def. Nikita Krylov

Abubakar Nurmagomedov def. Gadzhi Omargadzhiev

AJ Dobson def. Armen Petrosyan

Muhammad Mokaev (12) def. Malcolm Gordon

Karol Rosa (9) def. Lina Lansberg