TNT Sports Reload - Episode 11Sep 26
Iiiiiiiiit's TIME! UFC 280 is just around the corner, bringing you the best night of fights you'll see this year in the UFC - and we've got all the action exclusively live on BT Sport Box Office from 5pm.
If you've not yet ordered this unmissable event, click here to read our comprehensive viewing guide to find out all the ways you can watch UFC 280 - including information about the prelims, which will be streaming live and for free across BT Sport's digital channels.
There's two world championship fights coming your way tonight as Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev top the bill in a cracking lightweight championship clash and bantamweight king Aljamain Sterling defends his title against TJ Dillashaw.
With all that coming your way, here are the five reasons you don't want to miss UFC 280: Oliveira vs Makhachev on BT Sport Box Office tonight.
King Charles’ (re)coronation
Charles Oliveira will be out to make a statement on Saturday night as he looks to reclaim the lightweight crown that was stripped from him in controversial fashion last time out.
The Brazilian twice failed to make the 155lb limit ahead of his UFC 274 showdown against Justin Gaethje in May, disqualifying him from championship eligibility ahead of his second title defence – but the 32-year-old joined a chorus of fighters suggesting the scales at the pre-fight weigh-in were inaccurate.
Aggrieved but helpless, Oliveira unleashed his frustrations on the former interim champion Gaethje to claim a blistering first round submission victory, keeping his incredible 11-fight win streak intact and retaining his crown as the people’s 155lb champion.
At UFC 280, Oliveira will be out to return UFC gold to its rightful owner and he promised a quick nights work when the Octagon door closes on Saturday night.
“He’ll try to take me down not through my legs, but through my hips,” Oliveira told Ag.Fight after the bout was announced.
“He’ll try to take me down and nullify my legs. He won’t come dying to submit me, but rather to wear me out. But man, like I said, I’m not worried about what Makhachev can bring. I’m worried about what Charles can take there. You can be sure it won’t go past the first round.”
Over the past four years, Oliveira has transformed himself from a talented journeyman into the most prolific fight finisher the UFC has ever seen.
The Sao Paulo man now stands alone with the most stoppage wins (19), the most submission wins (16) and the fifth-most wins overall in UFC history.
And Oliveira is confident he can end Makhachev’s night early once again when the pair trade leather in the main event this weekend.
“The team is setting up my strategy, I’ll be moving forward all the time as I said,” he continued.
“I have firepower in my hands. If you look at my latest opponents, that’s what they’re talking about. The firepower in my hands. And my jiu-jitsu you know very well.”
If Oliveira does manage to defeat Makhachev, he will become the first two-time lightweight champion in UFC history and just one of a handful that includes the likes of Jon Jones, Cain Velasquez, Stipe Miocic and Georges St-Pierre to have achieved the feat under the UFC banner.
In doing so, he will also take one step closer to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s 13-fight winning streak in the 155lb division, moving to 12 at the expense of Khabib’s protégé, who himself comes into the bout having won 11 straight.
Something has to give in a fascinating clash of styles in the main event at the Etihad Arena; you certainly do not want to miss this one!
Will Sterling finally get his flowers at UFC 280?
“Sometimes I feel like the red-headed stepchild.”
Those were the words of UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling in August when asked by Ariel Helwani to reflect on his standing in the promotion as an undisputed title holder.
The 33-year-old certainly did not enjoy the coronation that greeted many of his peers when they summited the UFC rankings to secure gold – but perhaps that was inevitable given the controversial manner in which Sterling won the belt back at UFC 259.
Widely considered to be down on the scorecards in the fourth round of his maiden title attempt against Petr Yan at UFC 259, Sterling was struck by an illegal knee from the Russian that rendered him unable to continue in the contest.
Victory by disqualification was hardly the satisfactory conclusion that either fighter desired – but it was Sterling’s name etched into the record books as just the seventh UFC bantamweight champion in history.
As a result, many questioned the validity of Sterling’s reign as champion, calling for an immediate rematch between the newly-crowned king and Yan which was forthcoming until neck surgery ruled Sterling out for almost a year.
His withdrawal from action frustrated both Yan and some fans who believed he was dragging his heels for fear of losing the belt; on his part, Sterling explained he wanted to be at 100% to prove beyond question he was a worthy title holder.
When the rematch happened, Sterling did exactly as he promised, deservedly beating an impressive Yan with a performance he might have hoped would end any lingering doubts over his championship credentials.
But for all he has achieved in the 135lb division, the naysayers still feel emboldened to question how the ‘Funk Master’ came to rule over the rankings.
Those doubters could be silenced emphatically with a victory at UFC 280 that would unquestionably elevate Sterling’s resume with the scalp of the two-time champion TJ Dillashaw.
Dillashaw’s stock has taken a hit among fans in recent times after the 36-year-old was banned for two years for using performance enhancing drugs but there’s no question the 17-4 fighter remains one of the most talented men in the division.
As an accomplished wrestler with dynamite in his hands, Dillashaw may enter the Octagon as the underdog on Saturday night but he will be certain to provide a thorough examination of Sterling’s mettle at the Etihad Arena.
Dillashaw’s past transgressions may also help Sterling finally achieve the recognition and adulation he has been craving, delivering a punishing defeat upon a former drug cheat that could prove to be Sterling’s long-overdue coming out party.
The stage is set. Can Sterling deliver?
Suga’s sweet dreams of the belt
Arguably the most intriguing contest on Fight Island sees Sean O’Malley leap up the rankings to face the number one contender in the bantamweight division, Petr Yan, in what could be a hugely consequential clash to decide the next 135lb title challenger.
Speaking to Barstool Sports ahead of fight week at UFC 280, Dana White suggested the victor of this three-round 135lb showdown could be next up for a crack at the winner of Sterling vs Dillashaw.
That merely added another layer of intrigue onto a contest that had already captured the imagination, pitting one of the UFC’s best loved prospects against a hungry former champion.
We're both big fans of Petr Yan
- Tim Welch, O'Malley's coach
Not many other fighters in the UFC would be able to command such a step up in opposition as O’Malley is undertaking this weekend; the 27-year-old is ranked outside the top 10 and has only fought against another ranked fighter once, Pedro Munhoz at UFC 276, in his nine UFC outings to date.
That did not end in the most satisfactory manner either with the clash against Munhoz waved off and ruled a no-contest after a second-round eye poke accidentally incapacitated the Brazilian.
Despite that result – or lack of - O’Malley’s ascent to stardom has remained unimpeded with the Montana man now fast-tracked and matched up against the most accomplished opponent of his career, taking another step closer to UFC gold in the process.
But is Yan a step too far for the ‘Suga Show’ at this point?
Speaking to BTSport.com this week, O’Malley’s coach, Tim Welch, revealed his initial anxiety about taking the fight against the 29-year-old Russian.
“I was a little nervous at first because we’re both big fans of Petr Yan and we know pound-for-pound he’s probably skill-wise one of the best guys in the UFC, easily,” he said.
“But I know where Sean’s talent is. We have very good sparring partners, he’s been sparring with really good strikers, I’ve been finding the best people in every discipline to spar with. Sean’s been fighting for a long time, he’s been striking for a long time and his range, his athleticism, is really going to show on fight night.”
With a four-inch height advantage and a little over five-inch superior reach, O’Malley certainly has the physical tools to be able to trouble the shorter Yan on paper.
Many also believe the three-round format of the contest should favour O’Malley too with Yan having developed a reputation as something of a slow starter in recent times.
However, for all the arguments that can be made in favour of the American, O’Malley goes into the bout as one of the biggest underdogs anywhere across the card at UFC 280, signalling the scale of the challenge facing him.
“There was this comparison recently where Sean O’Malley said, ‘I would love to be the next Conor McGregor and be a big global superstar,’” UFC boss Dana White relayed when speaking to Barstool Sports this week.
“Well, it’s about winning key fights. He’s already got that thing that people like about him. Now, it’s about winning key fights. This fight for him is like Conor’s Jose Aldo fight.”
Can O’Malley announce himself as a genuine force to be reckoned with at 135lb - or will the former champion remind the world why he’s one of the baddest men in the sport?
The lightweights you need to look out for
If the bantamweight division is the deepest in the UFC right now, the lightweight division certainly can’t be too far behind.
In terms of star power, it might well be the most attractive in the promotion with the likes of Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson, Rafael dos Anjos and Paddy Pimblett among those in the 155lb fishbowl.
That makes for an interesting backdrop when talking about this fight between possibly two of the most overlooked men in the 155lb landscape as Beneil Dariush takes on Mateusz Gamrot.
I'm very excited to fight a guy like Gamrot
- Beneil Dariush
The 33-year-old has been sidelined since that bout was shelved earlier this year but had been keen to return to action earlier than October only to find himself shunned by many of his lightweight comrades.
Speaking to The Fighter and The Writer podcast, Dariush said: “The most frustrating part [about coming back from injury] was trying to get an opponent. [I’ve been] trying to get matched up with guys like [Dustin] Poirier, which I thought made the most sense if I wasn’t going to get Islam.
“I asked for Islam first, for that fight to be rebooked but I couldn’t get that. So I said ‘okay then, I’ll take Poirier’. But they said ‘that’s not going to happen’, then Gaethje just fought so wasn’t going to be available for a long time. So I said ‘okay, I’ll go with [Michael] Chandler, then he wasn’t an option. So, I was just sitting there frustrated. I knew I wasn’t going to get the fight with Charles [Oliveira] even though credentials-wise I think I’m ahead of Islam, I knew they weren’t going to give me that fight.
“Getting matched up was the most frustrating part and everybody’s like ‘oh you shouldn’t fight Mateusz Gamrot, you should wait for somebody ranked higher’. But in my opinion, he’s top five. He’s very good. He’s very skilled. And I don’t care what number you have next to you, I care about your skillset. So that was the most frustrating part. But at the same time I’m very excited to fight a guy like Gamrot.”
Gamrot entered the UFC tipped to be an immediate problem to many in the upper echelons of the 155lb landscape.
The 31-year-old was undefeated and a two-weight world champion under the KSW banner when he joined the UFC but he came up short up in his debut in an absolute barnburner against Guram Kutateladze back in October 2020.
That curtailed his progress slightly but four straight wins, including three finishes and three performance bonuses since, have restored Gamrot back on the path to contention and the American Top Team man will be seeking to take the most impressive scalp of his career this weekend.
“The most important thing for me is winning the fight,” Gamrot told MMA News recently.
“Doesn’t matter how. If it’s before time [runs out] or going the distance. The important thing is I want to win this fight but I am ready for everywhere. Fighting jiu-jitsu, in wrestling — I know Dariush likes putting pressure on all the time, going forward and heavy hands, I am ready for everything. I am used to pressure, I am used to being the champion.”
Big moves at welterweight
The featured bout on the preliminary card this weekend – which will be streamed live and for free across BT Sport’s digital channels – is one you definitely don’t want to miss as Belal Muhammad takes on the highly-rated Sean Brady in the welterweight division.
Muhammad is one of the most in-form fighters at 170lb having lost only once in his last 13 fights but the 34-year-old has had to earn his respect – and his top five ranking - the hard way.
The Chicago-born Palestinian fighter has not always been looked upon the most favourably by UFC matchmakers, it’s fair to say, having been sent the scenic route on his quest to reach the summit of the division.
I think I'm the best fighter in the division
- Belal Muhammad
Even now, Muhammad looks set to have to prove himself once again having been matched up against one of the division’s hottest prospects whose name probably lacks the platform upon which to call for a title shot next.
But Muhammad is unperturbed by the challenge facing him next, promising instead to impose himself on Brady and produce a performance worthy of his ‘Remember The Name’ moniker.
“I’m gonna dictate where it goes,” Muhammad told MMA Junkie this week.
“I think my last three or four fights, they’ve all been different styles. I’ve had to play defensive grappling with Demian Maia, I’ve had to play offensive grappling with with ‘Wonderboy,’ I’ve had to do both with [Vicente] Luque, so I’ve showed that I can be a chameleon and I could pick and choose what I want to do, and I think he hasn’t had that.
“All of his fights, they’ve been grapple-heavy, because guys that he’s fought allowed him to do that.
“Once he gets in there with me and he feels me and he realizes, ‘Dang, this wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be,’ and he starts panicking, that’s when I pick and choose and start picking him apart, because a lot of guys, they all underestimate me.
“I’m still an underdog in this fight. I’ve been an underdog in my last four fights and people just don’t understand it until they’re in the cage with me that they realize that (I’m) No. 5 for a reason. (I’ve) beat these guys for a reason. It wasn’t because of age, it wasn’t because of this, it wasn’t because of that. I think I have the best IQ in the division, and I think I’m the best fighter in the division.”
Meanwhile Brady has quietly emerged in the shadow of a much noisier welterweight phenomenon in the shape of Khamzat Chimaev.
But the Brady has proven himself as worthy company to the Swede, possessing the ability to become a real contender while slowly amassing an impressive ledger of scalps and a body of work almost as impressive as the Russian superstar.
Dominant wins against Court McGee, Christian Aguilera and Jake Matthews earned the Philadelphia fighter a shot at former Ultimate Fighter winner Michael Chiesa last time out, with whom Brady also dealt with in impressive fashion.
Now on the cusp of crashing the top five with the biggest win of his career, UFC 280 could be the perfect coming out party for the division’s other top prospect.
Don't miss UFC 280 on BT Sport Box Office HD this Saturday afternoon from 5pm.