UFC Vegas 49: An Upset or an Ascension in Makhachev vs Green

Islam Makhachev and Bobby Green, UFC Vegas 49
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 25: (L-R) Opponents Islam Makhachev of Russia and Bobby Green fo during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on February 25, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Islam Makhachev could secure a shot at the title once held by his teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov on Saturday, but he must avoid an upset against a man with nothing to lose in Bobby Green at UFC Vegas 49.

After a nine fight win-streak in the UFC and posting a 21-1 mark overall, there is little Islam Makhachev should have to prove in regards to where he stands on his own merit.  Often compared to his longtime friend and teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhacehv has shown that he is a dangerous force in his own right after victories over the likes of Dan Hooker, Thiago Moises, Drew Dober, and others.  Per most experts, any victory whether it be impressive or uninspiring is expected to secure him the next shot at the UFC lightweight title.

Through unfortunate circumstances, several not in his control, the one criticism of Makhachev is that his road to the top of the lightweight division has not seen him face the most difficult schedule.  He has yet to face a top five opponent and the withdrawal of his previously scheduled opponent Beneil Dariush means that will not change on Saturday.  Is that an indicator that he is not ready or an insinuation that he may be overhyped?  Absolutely not.  But in a division that still houses perennial contenders such as Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, and Michael Chandler, it means that he will have plenty more work to do upon reaching the title picture should he win.

A veteran of the UFC since 2013, to say that Bobby Green has been putting in work is an understatement.  Looking at his record, it should be noted that the numbers don’t tell the whole story.  Holding a 10-7 mark in the Octagon, “King” has experienced his share of wins and losses as he’s faced opponents such as Dustin Poirier, Edson Barboza, Josh Thompson, Francisco Trinaldo, Moises, and Clay Guida.  That said, even his disheartening losses always saw him give his best attempt to bring excitement.

Similar to Jorge Masvidal, Green had a run in 2021 that saw him seemingly turn the corner in the general consciousness of the fans after many years already in the game.  After a health scare during weigh ins in February, he returned in August for one of the more entertaining non-headliners of the year against Rafael Fiziev.  Though he came up short on the judges scorecards, he rode the momentum into a fight with Al Iaquinta at Madison Square Garden where he scored a first round finish.  Just two weeks ago, he kicked off his year with another strong performance by defeating Nasrat Haqparast and earning commentator Jon Anik’s praise that he should headline an event.  It was a prediction that has now obviously materialized far earlier than expected.

Facing a stylistically different opponent in Green after preparing for a versatile opponent in Dariush, Makhachev should look to put the pressure on as early as possible to test the gas tank of his opponent.  Though he should avoid exchanging with Green, the quickest route to a takedown will be to mask his entries behind strikes.  On the mat, the most efficient route to victory will be to focus on his ground and pound and not go for submissions that could allow Green to escape back to his feet.  For Green, footwork and volume will be the key to an upset.  Rather than be lured into the pressure of Makhachev, he must exercise as much lateral movement as possible and look to get in-and-out with short combinations when he commits to an exchange.  Above all else, he must avoid being a stationary target for Makhachev to test his physicality against.

A victory for Green would be the biggest of his career, and as of this writing be nearly a lock for upset of the year despite several more than half of the year left to go.  Makhachev would in all likelihood be next for a shot at the lightweight title, and it is expected to be a highly anticipated bout as he challenges for the title previously held by his childhood friend Khabib Nurmagomedov.