The year's best fight card? Ranking the UFC 280 fights
UFC 280 may be the deepest card the promotion has put on this year, with fights in two of the best divisions: lightweight and bantamweight.
The vacant UFC lightweight title will be decided in the main event by a fight between former champion Charles Oliveira and dominant contender Islam Makhachev, who, like his coach and former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, is attempting to bring the title back to Dagestan.
Oliveira (33-8, 1 NC) defeated Justin Gaethje at UFC 274 last May, but he failed to make weight and was stripped of the title. Makhachev (22-1) will have Nurmagomedov in his corner; Nurmagomedov's late father and trainer, Abdulmanap, always intended for Makhachev to take the UFC lightweight title from Nurmagomedov.
There's also a strong undercard, highlighted by Aljamain Sterling defending his 135-pound title against former champ TJ Dillashaw and Petr Yan, another former bantamweight champ, taking on the wildly popular Sean O'Malley.
So, what am I most looking forward to? Here is my list of the top five attractions for the evening.
1. Islam Makhachev vs. Charles Oliveira
If you want to talk about the best fighting the best, which has been the UFC's calling card since the early 2000s, this is the place to be. Without a doubt, Oliveira and Makhachev are the world's top two lightweight fighters. Some may find flaws in their resumes, but both are incredible talents in their primes. Oliveira has won 11 consecutive fights and would be the lightweight champion right now if it weren't for his weight loss prior to a first-round TKO victory over Gaethje at UFC 274 in May. Makhachev has won ten consecutive fights and hopes to succeed his longtime teammate and current coach, Khabib Nurmagomedov, the former dominant UFC lightweight champion.
What's more, the best part? The stylistic juxtaposition here is fascinating. Oliveira possesses some of the most impressive Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills ever seen in MMA. He has the most submission victories (16) in UFC history and can finish the fight from the top, his back, or by snatching a limb or someone's neck in a scramble. Meanwhile, Makhachev has proven to be a dominant wrestler and grappler, skills he has honed since he was a child in Dagestan. Something has to give in this situation. Will Makhachev take down Oliveira and put his elite ground skills to the test? Will Makhachev go toe-to-toe with Oliveira, who has developed into a dangerous Muay Thai striker out of Chute Box?
Oliveira has defeated 10 of his last 11 opponents, while Makhachev has defeated four in a row. This fight will determine who the best 155-pound fighter in the world is.
2. Sean O'Malley vs. Petr Yan
This was a difficult decision to make over Sterling vs. Dillashaw, a title fight between two elite fighters, but this matchup is so intriguing for both men. O'Malley, who could become one of the UFC's biggest stars if he wins, has never faced a challenge like this before. Yan, a former UFC bantamweight champion, possesses significant power on the feet as well as a strong ground game. He was on his way to defeating Sterling in their first fight last year when he was disqualified for an ill-advised illegal knee.
Yan vs. O'Malley is also polarizing in some ways. UFC president Dana White has stated publicly that he does not believe O'Malley, 27, is prepared for the caliber opponent that Yan represents. However, matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard talked White into it, and O'Malley appears to be at ease with the step up in competition.
It's simple to make this storyline about O'Malley because he already has a large fan base and can take things to the next level this weekend. But don't forget about Yan, who is still one of the world's top two or three bantamweight fighters. If Yan defeats O'Malley, a Sterling trilogy fight is not out of the question – and he may be favored over the Sterling vs. Dillashaw winner. Yan is still only 29 years old. This one has a great backstory and should deliver as well. They are both action fighters.
TJ Dillashaw vs. Aljamain Sterling
Sterling has long been one of the UFC's most reviled champions. He won the belt by disqualification from Yan, and some believe Yan won the rematch in April at UFC 273. It was a close fight, but Sterling deserves to be recognized. He dominated Yan on the ground for long stretches of the fight. A victory over Dillashaw, a two-time former UFC bantamweight champion, would boost Sterling's title reign's credibility. Sterling remains underappreciated and will almost certainly arrive with a chip on his shoulder.
Meanwhile, Dillashaw has a chance to become the first three-time UFC champion since Randy Couture successfully defended his heavyweight title for the third time in 2007. Couture is the only man in UFC history to hold a title for three consecutive reigns, and Dillashaw will become the second if he defeats Sterling. Ring rust could be an issue for Dillashaw, who has only fought once in three years due to a positive drug test and knee surgery following a July 2021 victory over Cory Sandhagen. If Dillashaw wins in Abu Dhabi, there will be talk about him being the best 135-pound fighter ever, which isn't a bad argument by any means. Can Dillashaw regain his elite form at the age of 36? It'll be interesting to find out.
4. Mateusz Gamrot vs. Beneil Dariush
Outside of Makhachev, Dariush may have a stronger case for a lightweight title shot. He has won seven straight fights in the brutally tough 155-pound division, four of which included a $50,000 fight of the night bonus. Just one conversation with Kings MMA coach Rafael Cordeiro will reveal how unique Dariush is as a fighter and as a person. His calling card has been Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but the Iranian-born scrapper has also developed power in his hands. He's dangerous everywhere these days, and if he wins on Saturday, it'll be difficult to deny him a title shot.
Dariush deserves a lot of credit for agreeing to fight an up-and-coming talent like Gamrot. Many fighters may have waited for a shot at the title. Dariush demonstrates his willingness to take on dangerous, rising stars like Gamrot in order to establish himself as a top contender.
Gamrot is the former KSW lightweight and featherweight champion and is coming off a fantastic win over top prospect Arman Tsarukyan in June. Gamrot's Polish countryman, former UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, predicted last year to All Sports that Gamrot would one day be a UFC champion. With a win here, "Gamer," who trains out of American Top Team, could enter the conversation for No. 1 contender.
5. Sean Brady vs. Belal Muhammad
Muhammad, like Dariush, is a contender facing a younger, less experienced opponent. Muhammad is on a roll and has been calling out Khamzat Chimaev and others for big contender matchups. The Chicago native has won eight straight games and has only lost once since 2016. Muhammad has greatly improved his wrestling, has opportunistic striking, and has a high fight IQ. In three straight fights, he has defeated Demian Maia, Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, and Vicente Luque, all of whom have very different fighting styles.
Brady, at the age of 29, may no longer be considered a prospect. But, at 15-0, he's undefeated and appears to be one of the best up-and-coming fighters in any UFC division. The Philadelphia native is a true beast on the ground, possessing incredible strength both there and in the clinch. Ask his last opponent, Michael Chiesa, who has one of the best grappling games in the division. Brady also wields considerable power. He's a former Cage Fury FC welterweight champion and a newly minted welterweight contender whose child could be born Saturday night if Brady defeats Muhammad.