UFC 280: Oliveira and Makhachev Battle for Ultimate Lightweight Supremacy

Charles Oliveira Islam Makhachev UFC 280
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 21: (L-R) Opponents Charles Oliveira of Brazil and Islam Makhachev of Russia face off during the UFC 280 ceremonial weigh-in at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Charles Oliveira is looking to cement his all-time status in the history of lightweight division while Islam Makhachev seeks to continue the legacy of both his team and childhood friend at UFC 280.

It is rare that the UFC goes from arguably one all-time great champion to the next.  In 2021, feel could have expected that Charles Oliveira would do what he’s done in the fashion that he has.  Claiming the vacant title after the departure of Khabib Nurmagomedov from active competition, “Do Bronx” took the reins of the lightweight division in almost mind-boggling fashion.  After the dominance of Nurmagomedov, Oliveira went on to stop Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje even faster that “The Eagle” did.  He’s also added highly regarded foes such as Tony Ferguson and Michael Chandler to his resume, opponents that Nurmagomedov did not add to his resume.

Once a perennial contender who struggled to have that breakthrough that secured his place amongst the elite, Oliveira is now on the cusp of all-time greatness himself and has plenty of motivation.  After being stripped of the title in May unceremoniously over a controversial weight miss, he is now seen as a king without a crown who needs to reclaim his gold in emphatic fashion. Should he do so, it would be his twelfth victory in a row, just one short of the. 13 fight benchmark in the promotion that is the standard for the elite.  Finally, if that wasn’t enough, it is believed that a victory in the face of Khabib Nurmagomedov against his teammate would be the only thing that could possibly entice “The Eagle” for a return to try to avenge the loss in what would be a titanic bout in 2023.

This is the moment that Islam Makhachev has seemingly been working towards his whole life.  As a teenager, he met and befriended Nurmagomedov and would go on to both help his countryman prepare and follow the path that was set forth.  He followed Nurmagomedov to the  American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California where he is now the latest to draw praise from head coach Javier Mendez who has led Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold, and Cain Velasquez to world titles during his career.  It would be neglectful to not also mention that Nurmagomedov’s father himself also expressed that Makhachev would win the title after his son vacated it.

But while the comparison’s to his longtime friend and teammates are many, Makhachev has been the one to step into the cage and get the victories himself.  He is on the coattails of Oliveira with his own ten fight win-streak and has successfully turned away the likes of Dan Hooker, Bobby Green, Drew Dober, Arman Tsarukyan, and Thiago Moises.  While a strong reign of his own as lightweight champion will be necessary to carve his own place in history, there is no doubt that he has shown the consistency that would suggest he has the ability to get the job done should he continue on his trajectory.

The offensive weapons between the two make for a highly competitive contest.  For Oliveira, the greatest challenge will be getting the fight to the mat.  While the former champion typically does not look for takedowns in the center of the Octagon, he may be well served pursuing them as opposed to seeking them from the clinch as he usually does.  Unless Oliveira delivers heavy damage, catching Makhachev off guard by changing levels may be his best route to neutralizing his offense.  For Makhachev, energy conservation will be key as he is the larger athlete and the more likely to spend more energy if he can’t get a finish.  While his ability to pressure opponents with takedowns is the best at lightweight right now, Oliveira’s submission attack off his back could force a more conservative approach.  As such, managing energy and being more patient in pursuing takedowns will be key to winning a long bout if he can not keep Oliveira down early and secure a finish.

The winner will determine exactly how much is at stake for the other high profile lightweight bouts this fall.  With featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski likely left to choose whether to wait pursue a second title or defend his own at home in February, the winner of the fight between Beneil Dariush and Mateusz Gamrot figures to step into the on-deck position on Saturday’s undercard.  In the event of a Makhachev victory, the winner of the marquee bout next month between Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler also figure to be in the running.  Finally, should Oliveira retain the belt, it would be folly not to consider the motivation for Khabib Nurmagomedov to return to both avenge his teammate and to compete in what would easily be amongst the most lucrative bouts that the UFC could make.