The UFC Lightweight Championship is up for grabs this weekend at UFC 280 when Charles Oliveira meets Islam Makhachev in the five-round main event.
Oliveira won’t step into the cage on Saturday as the official champion of the lightweight division, but many fans and fighters still recognize Oliveira as the champ following his impressive first-round win against Justin Gaethje at UFC 274. Although victorious, Oliveira had been stripped of the title following a botched weigh-in in which he came in over the championship limit.
At UFC 280, Oliveira will have another shot at winning the now-vacant title, but he’ll have to defeat Makhachev to do so. Makhachev enters following a ten-fight win streak that dates back to 2016 and is experiencing a similar streak of success to Oliveira, who has now won 11 consecutive fights.
The Oliveira vs. Makhachev main event will take place at a special time on Saturday afternoon only on ESPN+ PPV. Fight fans can order the event to watch this fight, Alajamain Sterling vs. TJ Dillashaw, Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley, and more.
Continue reading our staff predictions and analysis of the Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev fight before UFC 280.
Charles Oliveira will enter this fight as an underdog despite incredible support from fellow UFC fighters. Betting lines also suggest that this fight will be a relatively quick one, with the under 2.5 rounds option available at -166 odds. For those thinking that this one can go the distance, +130 odds are available for the over 2.5 rounds selection at MyBookie.
This fight is not only such a huge deal because it’s for the vacant lightweight strap but because there is so much technical and tactical nuance to this matchup that it would take a far longer article than this to get into every nook and cranny of the fight. That being said, it’s fascinating how each of these two men offer threats that should disrupt the regular pattern of the other. Islam Makhachev is by far the more predictable of the two, he has a relatively set style against all his opponents, with variation in out but typically he stands southpaw with a conservative striking approach. He sits back on his weight so that he can withdraw easily and constantly feints, which coupled with the immense takedown threat keeps his opponents from getting too eager with their entries. He then uses this space to land a very solid left round kick, to the head or body which he follows up with punches or his teep. All of this tends to be to the end goal of finding his takedown, even his knockouts tend to come almost unintentionally as he pursues his regular gameplan. On the ground, he is going to bind the legs, handcuff the arms and isolate and immobilize his opponent so that he can hunt a submission or ground and pound him without resistance.
Oliveira throws a wrench into this plan for a few reasons. Kicking range is the first area of contention against Makhachev, Oliveira is orthodox to Makhachev’s southpaw and utilizes his own very educated teep. He will also enjoy four inches of reach on the Dagestani, and has a more technical boxing and kickboxing game. The big issue, however, is that Charles Oliveira has a wide arsenal of neck attacks, and he is constantly showing slight variations in his guillotines, anacondas, and D’arce chokes. This may limit Makhachev’s usual readiness to level change and we may see him look to clinch more often than normal, so that he may find trips and throws that land him in at least partial guard passes. Oliveira’s guard is one of the most dangerous in the sport.
For Charles Oliveira, I believe he is going to want to start fast. He has the better volume striking and probably more power. “Do Bronx” Oliveira also uses a relatively traditional Muay Thai approach with flashy moves thrown in between such as his spinning sidekick and crane kicks. The latter part may be hindered because of the threat of Makhachev’s takedowns so we may see a more conventional but equally aggressive attack from Oliveira.
He also has a history of being proactive with his takedowns, even if he doesn’t finish them, because he is happy to scramble from an awkward position and find sweeps and submissions. This changes against the level of Makhachev, but coming out strong and being the pursuer forces Makhachev to shoot moving backward which in turn may open up more mistakes and provide Oliveira with those opportunities to scramble, sweep or threaten the neck. What is most dangerous about Charles Oliveira is his constant flow of attacks in any position, against Kevin Lee, Lee held top position for almost a whole round but was almost unable to land any strikes, simply because he was reacting to Oliveira’s transitions the entire time. “Do Bronx” went from a takedown, defended, to an inverted heel hook, defended, outside heel hook, triangle to a back take, back to the leg ultimately only to get the sweep and end up on top. He sets in motion sequences on the mat that keep him a position ahead of his opponents at all times, so a big fight within the fight is Oliveira getting Makhachev into a scramble where he can set traps, or for Makhachev, establishing a strong position of control immediately so Oliveira has to counter him.
Overall this is a game of inches. Makhachev’s insane top control and strength is a very good matchup for a jiu-jitsu game like Oliveira’s on paper. Prior to the UFC, Makhachev was put in adversity that fans aren’t familiar with in the UFC, but his single-minded approach to mauling didn’t change. Oliveira, earlier in his career, had trouble with those who didn’t falter in his submission attempts and ended up gassing out his arms. On the flip side, it’s Makhachev who is making the bigger jump in competition, he has a single route to victory in all his fights, and no one is better equipped to put him in unknown territory than Oliveira. If we see both men thrown off of their game by the other I have more faith in Oliveira’s ability to adapt, to stay unbothered by losing rounds and to consistently work back in a back-and-forth fight. I don’t see Makhachev’s submission defense or awareness faltering so don’t expect an easy submission for Oliveira, but I do think he can provide enough threat that Makhachev is coaxed into positions he doesn’t want to be in.
Pick: Charles Oliveira to win
It’s here, it’s finally here! One of the most anticipated title matchups in recent history is finally happening Saturday night (knock on wood)!
Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira is a silent assassin with an apparent heart of gold and a story that will likely be made into a documentary after his retirement. Early in his career, Oliveira struggled to find his home in the right weight class, was seen as a one-trick pony, and was branded, by some, as a quitter. All that has changed significantly. Outside of a controversial scale issue, Oliveira is currently the people’s lightweight champion, on an 11-fight win streak with all but one of those fights ending by finish, and holds the record for most finishes in entire UFC. During his storybook rise to the top, Oliveira has shown heart, perseverance, and an ability to not just fight through adversity but find a way to win impressively even in fights where he’s been hurt himself. Oliveira is an elite jiu-jitsu artist, the best in the entire UFC, and his striking has grown to be a real threat as well. Oliveira is also tall and long for the division which gives him an advantage on the feet while striking and forces opponents into an impossible situation, given his lethal grappling. Opponents have to decide if it’s better to stand at range with the taller, longer, and often equally or more powerful striker or if it’s better to negate the range and crash distance where Oliveira is in a prime spot to get his hands on his foe and take them down to his world. So far, in either case, the result has been the same: Oliveira finding a finish.
Typically, Oliveira will stand and trade with opponents long enough to hurt them or close distance so he can clinch or take them down. His striking is basic but his natural athleticism and power elevate his striking into a real weapon. Oliveira’s clinch game, often underrated and overlooked because of his truly special BJJ and newfound power, is the glue that holds his game together. Charles is so strong and so dangerous that once he gets his hands on his opponent, even in a standing clinch in the middle of the cage, he’ll often soon find the submission or the takedown. If the fight does hit the mat, no fighter, outside of Ferguson’s inhuman like survival ability, has been able to withstand Oliveira’s jiu-jitsu. His submission game is stronger, smoother, and more creative than anyone else in the UFC. Said simply, thus far, if the fight hits the mat, the finish soon follows. It’s hard to critique a champion on an 11-fight win streak with ten finishes, but if a criticism does exist, it’s that Oliveira has been hurt in recent fights. He’s been rocked a few times and able to recover. The fact that he was rocked, though, is an indication that he is human and can be beaten.
Islam Makhachev, protégé to the Hall of Famer and former UFC lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, is indescribably dominant himself. Makhachev is on his own win-steak, 10, and has finishes in six of those ten fights. Islam embodies what a Dagestani wrestler truly is: highly skilled, relentlessly aggressive, and viciously dangerous. Just like Oliveira, Makhachev’s striking has some pop and he can hurt opponents on the feet. But, make no mistake, each time Makhachev enters the octagon, he is looking to do one and one thing only: wrestle. Islam’s wrestling is often described through comparisons to Khabib because unless you’ve felt it yourself, words do not accurately encapsulate the strength he has and the pressure he can create. So, the comparisons to Khabib act as signposts for fans and handicappers to better, still incompletely, understand what Islam can do once he locks his hands behind an opponent’s hips. Makhachev uses unique and creative striking, sometimes even spinning attacks, to hurt or distract an opponent. His goal is to close distance safely and force an opponent backward. While his striking defense appears average, his wrestling is so dominant that fighters rarely try to hit him, instead they attempt to prepare for the inevitable takedown. This situation has kept the amount of strikes absorbed per minute for Makhachev under 1. He only absorbs .84 significant strikes per minute. That is how dominant his wrestling truly is. Once he strikes his way into range, or sometimes he just shoots a takedown immediately, Makhachev does what many Dagestani wrestlers do well: control the hands. After securing the takedown, Islam instantly will secure the wrist of his opponent to better control his opponent’s position and more safely transition his own. This tactic will be immensely important to execute if Islam can take Charles down so he can avoid the dangerous submissions. Once on the mat, Makhachev has a full arsenal of devastating ground-and-pound weapons, but, unlike his mentor Khabib, Makhachev typically favors submissions over strikes. This provides a safer route to victory because he can maintain his chest-to-chest suffocating top position while still hunting the finish without having to posture up for strikes. Like Oliveira, finding a weakness in such an elite fighter is almost insulting; but, if I had to offer one question, it’s how will Makhachev fair on the feet? His striking is basic and defense porous, as shown the rare times opponents have tried to strike; and, Oliveira has legitimate power.
Most people, myself included, are hoping that above question is not answered; and, instead, we get to see two of the top grapplers in the world impose their will on the mat. Given I expect this fight to take place on the ground, picking against Oliveira seems like a poor decision. But, many of Oliveira’s recent opponents have been too afraid to follow him to the mat and none of them are in the stratosphere of Makhachev’s wrestling ability. Another Oliveira submission finish is a viable outcome, but I anticipate Makhachev finding success with his elite wrestling and draining Oliveira’s gas tank on his way to a mid-round finish.
Pick: Islam Makhachev to win inside the distance
While fight fans may assume Derrick Lews, Jon Jones, or some other elite danger holds the record for most finishes inside the UFC, the answer is Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveria with 19 finishes. Suppose this record is not convincing enough of his danger inside the octagon. In that case, his impressive 30 of 33 professional wins by finish should be more than enough to showcase how elite Oliveria is as a fighter.
Knowing Oliveria has a knack for the finish, it comes to little surprise that he has an elite trait while also having well-rounded ability. The elite trait he has is submissions, as Mackenzie Dern herself, the clear-cut best BJJ practitioner in women’s MMA, is on record with saying Oliveria is the best BJJ artist in the UFC, herself included. This elite trait cannot go understated, as Oliveria is so dangerous on the mat that the likes of other elite contenders refused to enter the world of potential grappling once knocking down Oliveria in the fight. This fear of entering guard with the prospect of finishing the fight, has greatly aided Oliveria of recent note, as he can fight without much fear if any, fully knowing if he gets caught and gets knocked down, he will have the necessary time to recover and re-enter the fight. This style of fight is how many of his recent wins over elite contenders have gone, as he routinely displays grit, toughness, the ability to inflict fear upon his opponent, and an ability to quickly battle back to win.
While Oliveria has employed this tactic to routinely prove his doubters wrong, many foresee the fear of entering the mat as nonexistent for his current challenger, Islam Makhachev. Because of this anticipatory change in opponent confidence/skill, Do Brox Oliveria will need to be more cautious on the feet so as to not run into a shot, knowing this time around, he will likely not have the time to recover on the mat. With caution there, Oliveria is more than capable to win the fight solely on the feet, as the man improves fight over fight, and is now, one of the more feared strikers, yes strikers, in the division. His elite evolution stems from an ability to remain athletic in moving, have dangerous leg kick strikes, and have a razor-sharp right hand. This right hand is by far the most dangerous weapon he has in the striking department, as Justin Gaethje, an elite striker, has stated the most felt power he has faced has come at the hands of Oliveria. So, if Gaethje, who is elite and as tough as they come, says Oliveria can crack as hard as he can, then that net the conclusion is that Oliveria is as dangerous standing as he is on the mat.
Being an under-the-radar striker is definitely associated with Islam Makachev. Often, Islam is touted as a direct disciple of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and rightly so. Because of this, people often assume Islam will simply maul his way to a decisive victory the same way Khabib did. But, Islam, similarly to Umar Nurmagomedov, has his own arsenal of attacks that deviate slightly away from the arguable GOAT, Khabib. One such example of this deviance is having a solid kicking attack out of the southpaw stance. This kicking ability is seen by attacking the head, body, and leg of his opponent equally, and then, landing a solid straight left hand. While the power threat may not loom as large as other elite lightweights, the technique, speed, and precision Islam throws with makes him a very dangerous opponent to stand against.
Even though Islam can strike, it comes to little surprise to hear that he is a predominant wrestler inside the octagon. Moreover, there is little surprise when I say Islam is one of the most talented wrestlers currently on the roster. What may be surprising though is that Daniel Cormier, a close training partner and friend to Islam and Khabib, has stated that in a strict wrestling match, he would likely favor Islam to beat Khabib. If you do not believe him, go on social media and search Islam vs Olympic Silver Medalist Kadimogedov, and you will see that Islam take down an opponent who holds an 11-0 victory over 4-time NCAA champion, Kyle Dake, on the world stage. While all this is impressive, the key takeaway is that Islam knows what he is doing in the wrestling department.
As stated prior, the evolutionary deviance away from Khabib is seen by Islam, one by way of striking, and the other by grappling intent. For Khabib, once a takedown was secured, he would ground and pound his way to victory; but for Islam, once he secures a takedown, he tends to favor finding a submission over ground and pound finish. While he favors submissions, he is more than capable of inflicting damage from the top position the same way Khabib did, thus making him an elite ground opponent next to no fighter wants on top of them.
If I had my way, this fight would start with Islam in the top position and Charles Oliveria in full guard. While I believe both men would agree to this, sadly this will not take place. The reason I want this is not only because I want to see elite Sambo-wrestling vs elite BJJ, but because I am fearful we may not fully see a grappling exchange given both men are dangerous on the feet, with Oliveria having one-punch ending ability. Even though I have this justifiable fear, I do believe the probability is on the side of it hitting the mat, so that is where the bulk of reasoning for who I pick to win stems.
While Oliveria is perhaps the Michael Jordan of submission in the UFC, I find myself favoring Islam in the grappling exchanges. This is because Islam has the greater pure wrestling and because Oliveria has not submitted someone off of his back in quite some time. So, while Oliveria is incredibly dangerous, Islam should be able to win scrambles, maintain control in top position, and methodologically work his way to a finish through punches and elbows on the mat. After all, “If Sambo was easy it would be called Jiu Jitsu” (Khabib).
Bet: Islam Makhachev to win inside the distance