TNT Sports Reload - Episode 11Sep 26
Charles Oliveira vs Islam Makhachev
This one truly is a cracker worthy of its lightweight championship status.
The fight marks the first time in UFC history two fighters on double-figure win streaks have faced one another – but whose streak will continue on Saturday night?
Dagestani native Makhachev is currently priced as the favourite, coming into the bout at 5/8 over the 13/10 Oliveira but there remain some question marks about the 31-year-old’s calibre at this level of competition.
Makhachev has never fought anyone inside the top five and his best win might arguably be Arman Tsarukyan back in 2019.
Regardless, under the watchful eye of UFC Hall of Famer and former undefeated, undisputed lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who coaches his countryman and close friend, Makhachev has demonstrated an unnerving ability to suffocate and submit his opponents in the same manner as the man in his corner once did.
His ability to control the contest on the ground will be tested to its limits against Oliveira however, with the 33-year-old Brazilian the most prolific submission artist in UFC history with 16 finishes to his name.
But ‘Do Bronx’ can do it on the feet too, possessing true knockout power in both hands, as his stunning finish of Michael Chandler during a thrilling comeback victory at UFC 262 showed.
To state the obvious, this fight will be won and lost in the battle for supremacy on the ground; if Makhachev is as good as those in his corner have relentlessly claimed, he should be able to control Oliveira from top position and inflict some serious damage on a man who cuts notoriously easily.
However, I believe experience could be the key to success at UFC 280 with Oliveira by far the more battle-tested of the two men having fought against the best of the best for a number of years now.
I think Oliveira has the physicality and the fight IQ to negate Makhachev’s takedown attempts early and could even catch the Russian with a kick or a knee during a level change.
Verdict: Oliveira R2 via TKO
Aljamain Sterling vs TJ Dillashaw
This will be the first time Aljamain Sterling has fought over five rounds against a man not named Petr Yan – and so the first time we get to see how good the 33-year-old New Yorker truly is.
As far as yardsticks go, TJ Dillashaw is the perfect opponent to test him given the credentials of his challenger on Saturday night.
A former NCAA Division I wrestling standout and two-time UFC champion, Dillashaw is just about as accomplished as they come in the world of combat sports but the California man remains an understandably-polarising figure in the UFC.
That is after Dillashaw recently served a two-year suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs – but on his return, the 17-4 (8 KOs) star showed he’d not lost a step despite his advancing years when he edged out top contender Cory Sandhagen with an impressive performance.
Creative and powerful in his striking as well as dominant in the wrestling exchanges, Dillashaw’s game is almost tailor-made for the modern UFC.
However, the 33-year-old Sterling will feel he should be able to match Dillashaw’s explosiveness and agility.
Also a talented grappler – albeit Division III, not the same calibre as Dillashaw – Sterling has found his success in the UFC thanks to an uncanny ability to find a way to his opponent’s back.
A black belt under the tutelage of his coach and former UFC champion Matt Serra, Sterling is an opportunist who uses his athleticism to take advantage of chaotic scrambles for position.
He’s also an underrated and unorthodox striker who looks much freer in his movements following neck surgery to correct a long-standing problem last year.
The styles mesh perfectly to make this one a real contest – but I believe Sterling gets the job done in a close points decision.
Verdict: Sterling via UD
Petr Yan vs Sean O’Malley
On paper, this looks like it could be one of the biggest mismatches on the card given the relative achievements of the two fighters heading into this bantamweight cracker.
But fights aren’t fought on paper and this could be much more of a contest than many might expect given Yan’s clear superiority in terms of achievements at this point in his career.
The 29-year-old Russian has held both the interim and undisputed 135lb UFC titles and came into the promotion as a two-time ACB bantamweight champion.
O’Malley, meanwhile, has been considered one of the top prospects in the UFC ever since graduating from the Contender Series with a hellacious walk-off KO of Alfred Khashakyan.
Standing just a shade under 6ft tall, O’Malley is a giant in the 135lb division and often makes good use of his long levers to pick apart his opponent from distance.
He’ll have a four-inch height advantage over Yan – but more significantly, a five-inch reach advantage too as he looks to be mobile and pick off the former champion from the outside.
But Yan should be more than ready for that gameplan; the onus will be on the Russian to see how quickly he can decode O’Malley and figure out how to get inside the distance without tasting the 27-year-old’s knockout power.
Yan’s boxing might well be the most polished attribute of his skillset but he remains one of the most well-rounded fighters in the promotion and could look to utilise takedowns in order to negate O’Malley’s physical advantage.
He’ll need to be careful on the mat though with O’Malley an accomplished jiu-jitsu brown belt despite rarely relying on his grappling over the course of his UFC career to date.
The leg kicks could be another potential path to victory for Yan too, with O’Malley having shown his vulnerability to lower body strikes before – most notably in defeat to Chito Vera at UFC 252.
In the end, I think this might be a case of too much too soon for O’Malley, who has only fought against ranked opposition once in the UFC so far; Yan, meanwhile, has consistently proven himself a worthy presence among the bantamweight elite.
Having lost for the belt on his last assignment, I expect a hungry, motivated Yan to navigate a potentially dangerous opening round before taking over and cruising to a convincing victory by stoppage.
Verdict: Yan R3 via TKO
Beneil Dariush vs Mateusz Gamrot
Just as Petr Yan vs Sean O’Malley might see the next bantamweight title contender confirmed, so too could Beneil Dariush vs Mateusz Gamrot see one man cement their status as the lightweight challenger-in-waiting.
This is arguably the trickiest fight to call on the whole main card, pitting two men who are so evenly matched in so many areas of their game.
Both standing 5’10” tall with a similar reach, Dariush and Gamrot both land with significant strikes per minute at an almost identical clip, 3.8 to 3.54, with an accuracy of 49% and 51% respectively.
Their takedown defences are also fairly similar with Dariush stuffing the level change at an 81% success rate while Gamrot edges it at 90%.
That is probably the clear difference between the two fighters with former two-weight KSW world champion Gamrot probably the more accomplished wrestler, landing a hair under five takedowns-per-15 compared to Dariush’s 2.11.
But if the fight does go to the mat, 33-year-old Dariush is renowned as one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the division and would relish the chance to test himself against Gamrot’s offensive grappling.
On a seven-fight win streak including a career-best performance against Tony Ferguson last time out, Dariush will need to elevate his game once again to cope with Gamrot’s ferocious intensity.
Currently ranked ninth in the division, Gamrot is on a blistering four-fight win streak with three finishes and three performance bonuses to boot.
I believe he’s destined for the top and will grind his way to the biggest victory of his UFC career on Saturday night.
Verdict: Gamrot via UD
Katlyn Chookagian vs Manon Fiorot
Another hugely consequential bout opens up the main card at UFC 280 as flyweight title hopefuls Katlyn Chookagian and Manon Fiorot face off over three rounds.
Chookagian missed weight for the first time in her flyweight career on Friday morning as she tipped the scales a pound-and-a-half over the non-championship bout limit of 126lb, which may impact her performance on Saturday night.
The 33-year-old is a veteran of the 125lb landscape heading into the 16th fight of her lengthy UFC career – but Chookagian has only challenged for UFC gold on one occasion previously.
Now riding a four-fight win streak, she has the chance to double that tally with a win over the surging Fiorot.
Creatively nicknamed “Blonde Fighter”, Chookagian has a significant two-inch height advantage over her French rival – but Fiorot has made a blazing start to her UFC career and will be undeterred by the step up in competition awaiting her on Saturday.
She’s outlanded her opponents 311-119 in terms of significant strikes over the course of her perfect four-fight start to life under the UFC banner, defeating another former title challenger, Jennifer Maia, handily on her last outing.
She’s odds on to do the same against the veteran Chookagian – and I think the bookies have it just about right heading into Saturday night with Fiorot likely to take this one on points.
Verdict: Fiorot via UD