With UFC 280 seeing new champions crowned and new contenders emerge, we look back on a terrific night of action from Abu Dhabi.
Despite being stripped of the lightweight title, Charles Oliveira’s win over Justin Gaethje in May confirmed his status as the best lightweight in the world. Dana White immediately confirmed he was next in line for a title shot, but emphasised he simply had to make weight next time around.
Oliveira duly obliged and took on champ-in-waiting Islam Makhachev, and while Oliveira’s jiu-jitsu game has been unmatched in the lightweight division for some time, he simply couldn’t live with Makhachev.
It begs the question: if the best lightweight in the world couldn’t live with Makhachev, who can? We may be about to see an era of dominance akin to mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov’s. Don’t be surprised to see a few lightweights trying to lose 10lbs or gain 15lbs over the next couple of years…
Styles make fights – certainly in MMA – but Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler and Gaethje have all taken on Oliveira recently, and have spent an average of around six minutes in the Octagon with Do Bronx. It’s hard to make a case for any of them lasting much longer with Makhachev.
Few people can win three consecutive title fights against high-calibre fighters and still have question marks over them, but that’s where Aljamain Sterling finds himself.
March 2021 was a real sliding doors moment for Petr Yan – and Sterling himself. Yan was well on his way to defending the bantamweight title against a Sterling who was struggling to live with the Russian. There would have been no rematch, but Yan’s reckless decision to knee the grounded Sterling cost him his title.
To be fair to Sterling, he posed a better threat in the rematch, but was fortunate to escape with a split decision victory.
Once again, Lady Luck shone down on the Funk Master on Saturday night, presenting him with a one-armed opponent in TJ Dillashaw who suffered a dislocated shoulder moments into the fight.
Yan simply can’t catch a break. Admittedly, he didn’t do himself any favours with the aforementioned DQ against Sterling, but this is the second fight in a row where he’s found himself on the wrong end of a controversial split decision.
While Yan undoubtedly won the second round, two judges surprisingly gave Sean O’Malley the first round. The third round was tight, with both men landing big shots, but al three judges gave that one to O’Malley too.
All 26 media scorecards from Saturday night gave Yan the victory. Not one gave it to O’Malley, but two of the three opinions that mattered did, and O’Malley is set to fight the champion, while Yan goes back to square one.
The good news is the nature of his three defeats weren’t those of an outclassed fighter, and he may still only be one fight away from getting himself back in the title picture.
With the exception of a waning Tony Ferguson, Beneil Dariush hasn’t really faced top opposition, and that may be what prevents him getting what he feels is a deserved title shot.
While you wouldn’t necessarily call Mateusz Gamrot up and coming, he was certainly progressing and was a billed as a big test for Dariush, but Benny came through superbly.
It’s still a highly competitive division, and while it wouldn’t be a shock to see Dariush next in line to take on Makhachev, a fight against one of the top four – Charles Oliveira makes perfect sense – would be welcome.
It may be that Manon Fiorot raises her game to the level of her opposition, and you’d hope that’s the case if she takes on Valentina Shevchenko.
While the French fighter wasn’t particularly troubled by No.1 contender Katlyn Chookagian, there wasn’t much there to suggest that she’s a serious challenger to Shevchenko.
Fiorot conceded the first round but came back well to win a straightforward decision, but it seems the wait for a top flyweight contender goes on.