It’s a big one this weekend with two UFC titles on the line. The headlining bout at UFC 280 sees Charles Oliveira going for the lightweight title he had to vacate on the scales last time out. Trying to stop him is Islam Makhachev. We’ve also got bantamweight champ Aljamain Sterling defending his belt against T.J. Dillashaw.
And our staff is split on who will win the main event. In the co-main, we’re 4-2 in favour of Sterling retaining his belt. Opinion is less split with Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley, with all but one staffer picking Yan to end the O’Malley hype-train.
You can check out all our picks below. Please share yours in the comment section!
*Reminder: I’m making my picks based solely on fighter’s past winning percentages as an experiment to see how effective that nugget of data is at predicting fight outcomes. More on that here. You can see the data here. This method of picking fights is currently 35-25. Once 1,000 fights have been logged like this, we’ll take a look at what it all might mean.
Chalres Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev
Anton Tabuena: I think this is one of the most intriguing title fights in a long time, with two insane win streaks, and two of the most technical and well rounded fighters right now. Oliveira should be the more potent finisher with his striking and his submission game, but Makhachev, who is also very good at both, will have a clear wrestling advantage. Oliveira’s full belief in his submission game has been a cheat code that has fully unlocked his striking game, and he now just stands upright in a full on Muay Thai stance and walks everyone down without fear of being taken down. But what happens if someone as good a grappler as Makhachev actively engages him on the ground? Oliveira willingly concedes positions, opening avenues for Makhachev to employ a smart game plan by wearing him down clinching by the fence, and taking him down from there. For all the Khabib comparisons and talk about smeshing people, Makhachev is actually far more patient and more methodical in his approach than his teammate, especially on the ground. This could bode well for him as he’ll have to be very smart where and when to engage Oliveira — like by the fence to try and limit his guard, and focusing more on control than full on ground and pound until he gets dominant position. Islam is good enough to be competitive everywhere, and I can see him finding ways to wear down Oliveira en route to a late finish. But I think he’ll need a perfect approach that really dots his i’s and crosses his t’s. Because if he slips up on the feet, or worse — ends up on bottom — Oliveira will crack him, take his back and snatch that neck. I’m excited to see how this all plays out, but I think it’s more logical to pick the person who needs a simpler approach to win. Charles Oliveira by Submission.
Tim Bissell: I dearly want Charles Oliveira to win this one. I love his story and I get a lot of enjoyment seeing him compete at the highest level. That’s definitely clouding my judgment and making me think he’s going to win — buying into his own words about being able to hurt Makhachev on the feet and strangle him on the ground. The method I’m testing with these picks is all about win percentage, though, and due to Oliveira’s wobbles earlier on in his career (which I think are more of a benefit than a detriment to who he is as a fighter) it will be Makhachev who gets the pick here. He’s perfect in his career other than a shock KO loss to Adriano Martins in his second ever UFC fight. Makhachev’s .917 winning percentage in the UFC is almost .200 more than Oliveira’s. Let’s see if the algorithm (which is 35-25 so far) beats what my heart would have me believe. Islam Makhachev by decision
Zane Simon: In my heart, I’d rather see a Charles Oliveira win. His rise to prominence feels so much more unlikely than that of Makhachev, who seemed tabbed for greatness from the very beginning. Oliveira has had to learn, through countless hard knocks and gym wars, to adapt and survive. He’s become tougher, more dangerous, and more technical as time has passed. Makhachev likely has too, but the changes are hard to notice in a fighter who has almost always had his fights all his way. Unfortunately, when Oliveira has been beaten, it’s often come through an avenue that perfectly suits Makhachev’s game. As dangerous and technical a grappler as Oliveira is, his willingness to give up position means that confident takedown artists who can survive in his guard, tend to get all the time they want there. Give Makhachev a ton of top control, and the likelihood that he wins seems as near to certain as can be. If, for some reason, Makhachev decides he can’t afford to grapple with Oliveira, then the Brazilian could very well take him to the cleaners standing. But I’ll take Islam Makhachev via TKO, round 3.
Victor Rodriguez: Islam obviously has the wrestling advantage and a sneaky striking game, and the problem here is that Charles is so comfortable with his ground game off his back he won’t care if he’s taken down. Typically, that leads to a ballsier approach standing and a fair amount of confidence that gets channeled into fortifying stances and really sitting on those punches. Charles can grab a hold of anything and begin to work, and the longer the fight stays on the ground, the more questions I have about Makhachev’s cardio and ability to keep with Charles’ pace. I haven’t seen Makhachev do the kind of damage standing that will ruin Charles’ night, and I suspect Makhachev won’t have too many answers late down the stretch. Add to that the fact that Makhachev has been and can be cracked by a heavier striker, and this close matchup suddenly doesn’t seem as clear-cut to me. Charles Oliveira by submission.
Staff picking Oliveira: Kristen, Anton, Lewis, Victor, Stephie
Staff picking Makhachev: Bissell, Dayne, Zane
Aljamain Sterling vs. T.J. Dillashaw
Anton Tabuena: I really enjoy seeing Sterling’s backpack transitions, because he takes full advantage of today’s MMA metagame, where people always want to avoid guard and try to quickly scramble back up. Instead of forcing a takedown and trying to hold people down, he immediately looks for back exposure to counter people’s common reactions. Will that work on TJ? Like Yan, TJ has very good takedown defense, but he will still need to make adjustments because Sterling won’t have that traditional approach. I think TJ clearly lost a step or two as well, so while he should still be more technical standing, this should at least be an easier match up than Yan, for whatever that is worth. (PS: TJ should’ve fought Merab, and this should’ve been Aldo’s title fight.) Aljamain Sterling by RNC.
Tim Bissell: Here’s another fight where the picking method has me going against what I want to happen. Aljamain Sterling scored an epic own goal this fight week by hanging out with the repulsive Andrew Tate and then doubling down on the reasons why he sought out his company. Yuck. He’s 13-2 in the UFC. Dillashaw, who I feel has refreshingly owned his own flaws lately, is 13-4. Aljamain Sterling by decision
Zane Simon: From a base matchup point, this seems like a terribly hard matchup for Sterling. Outside of getting stopped, Sterling’s losses in the cage have come against fighters he just can’t manage to out grapple with reliable ease. Strand him on his feet, and with the exception of a dangerous and anomalous volume performance against Pedro Munhoz, Aljo has tended to show the continued limitations of his striking. And if you’re looking for fighters at bantamweight who never get taken down and controlled, look no further than TJ Dillashaw. The man is absolutely incredible at stuffing shots or, in the rare instances he is taken down, at getting right back up. Sterling is better than ever at taking the back without getting takedowns. So it may still be that he has a path to grappling dominance without control first. But I’m gonna take TJ Dillashaw by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: While Sterling did a gorgeous job against Petr Yan, it seems like he’s not going to have as easy a time outworking Dillashaw on the feet with the pivots and movement that TJ employs. I’d add that he’s much more familiar with Sterling’s wrestling style and could have the remedy to transition and improve his position to get out of bad spots when necessary. If Sterling could do like last time and soak up a ton of time on TJ’s back, it’ll clearly do more for him and allow for a favorable set of judges’ scorecards. But TJ’s speed, accuracy and tricky shifts will create some problems early that Sterling may not be able to make up for later on. TJ Dillashaw by decision.
Staff picking Sterling: Bissell, Dayne, Kristen, Anton, Stephie
Staff picking Dillashaw: Zane, Lewis, Victor
Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley
Anton Tabuena: As much as Dana keeps wishing O’Malley gets a KO here, I think if Yan will pick him apart and make him look really bad. O’Malley has power, but he has to catch and finish him very early while Yan is still adjusting to that reach advantage. If not, all the holes in his defense, clinch and lack of actual set ups will likely be exposed by a refined and experienced striker in Yan. Skill-wise, I just think they’re on completely different levels, but with it apparently determining the next title challenger, I just wish it was five rounds, even if they might not need it. Petr Yan by TKO.
Tim Bissell: Sean O’Malley’s near perfect record (just one loss to Marlon Vera) gives him the nod from the algorithm here. Lots of arguments as to why he’s not worthy of that pick on that basis alone. Yan has fought much tougher opponents and one of his losses was a controversial DQ against Sterling. I also don’t want to pick O’Malley personally because he too was cozying up to a dangerous misogynist. Yan is no angel in my eyes, so I have very low investment in this fight and I’m not thrilled to see either progress up the ladder at bantamweight. Sean O’Malley by decision
Zane Simon: There’s no doubt that O’Malley’s pull-counter and feint-heavy game is always dangerous, but there are few strikers in MMA so dangerous in every kind of battle as Petr Yan. Front foot, back foot, clinch transitions, or grappling battles, Yan is a fearsome power puncher. He sets up his offense in layers in a way that O’Malley just doesn’t. If O’Malley can’t end it early, I gotta think Yan puts him away late. Petr Yan via TKO, round 3.
Victor Rodriguez: I must be alone in not trusting O’Malley purely based on his propensity to get injured in the weirdest and dumbest ways. But make no mistake, this fight is way more winnable for him than most people realize. His boxing is sharp and as noted above in the TJ fight segment, he shifts and pivots expertly while using lovely hand traps after his early feints as he gets better reads while the fight goes on. He’s a tall bantamweight and has great range, which he also uses very, very well. But that won’t be enough. Yan has the veteran savvy, durability, and most importantly a better and more powerful counterpunching game to go with his wrestling and submission game. It’s gonna be fun as hell to watch, though. O’Malley really might pull it off, but I’m not confident enough to pick him on this one. Petr Yan by late TKO.
Staff picking Yan: Dayne, Kristen, Zane, Anton, Lewis, Victor, Yan
Staff picking O’Malley: Bissell
Beneil Dariush vs. Mateusz Gamrot
Tim Bissell: Mateusz Gamrot lost his UFC debut (his first ever pro loss), but has since put together a nice four-win streak. That will earn him the nod here. Beneil Dariush, though more tested in the UFC, has four losses and a draw on his record. This is one I actually agree with. I think injuries and matchmaking may have conspired to close the window on Dariush’s chances of achieving more than he has to date. I see Gamrot getting a decision here thanks to more output on the feet paired with a good enough IQ to defend from Dariush on the ground. Mateusz Gamrot by decision
Zane Simon: If I had to guess here, my bet would be that Dariush starts this fight with a really good blitzing round of offense, both men find success in the scramble come round 2, and Gamrot really makes his gas tank count in round 3 to close out the fight. What that means in terms of winners? If this were a five round fight (as it should be) I’d pick Gamrot fairly easily. But with just three rounds and with Dariush’s berzerker-mode offense, I’ll take Dariush to have the bigger moments in rounds 1 & 2 and squeak out a victory. Beneil Dariush by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Dariush is waaaaay to complacent with abandoning defense for my liking. He’s capable of delivering plenty of “holy shit“ moments, but what you don’t see on the highlights is how much he’s willing to eat to make those possible. There’s only so much of that you can take before it becomes a liability, and off that alone I can’t trust him against a lot of the guys in the upper echelon of the division. Is Gamrot among those in that group? Kinda, but not quite yet. This fight will be the test that gets him in there. For all of Dariush’s grappling, Gamrot can meet him move for move, step by step. In fact, his submission game is probably better than Dariush’s and his striking is very sound. The work he’s done in American Top Team has paid off very well despite the very close fight against Tsarukyan, which even if he had lost was an excellent display of skill. Love Benny, can’t trust him here against a guy with the hot hand and some of the antidote for what he does best. Mateusz Gamrot by submission.
Staff picking Dariush: Zane, Anton, Lewis
Staff picking Gamrot: Bissell, Dayne, Kristen, Victor, Stephie
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Manon Fiorot
Tim Bissell: Like many other people I’m very high on Manon Fiorot’s potential. She’s undefeated in the UFC (4-0) so she gets the pick from the algorithm here. Katlyn Chookagian has an 11-4 record with losses only to champions and title challengers. We’ve seen a small sample size, but I think Fiorot poses as much as a threat as some of the women who were able to outlast and outpoint Chookagian. Manon Fiorot by decision
Zane Simon: There’s a lot to be cautious with here when it comes to picking Fiorot. She’s got the size and strength to trouble Chookagian, but her ability to finish fights has still been dictated much more by volume and persistence than it has one-shot power, and few fighters trade in volume and persistence like Chookagian does. If Fiorot can’t scare Chookagian off of even exchanges, we may see a fight very much like Alexa Grasso vs. Viviane Araujo. Two women going practically shot-for-shot over 3 rounds, with the winner dictated by who had the cleaner technique. Would that necessarily be Fiorot here? I’m not convinced. However, I do think the question of whether or not Chookagian gets pushed off her game by more physical opponents is a real one that she has yet prove isn’t a problem. Everyone she’s beat lately is 5’4” and under. Even if they had a power edge over her, Chookagian could easily dictate range. Against Fiorot, and that damned side kick, I think she’ll find herself a lot less able to plant and throw the way she has been lately, to turn rounds clearly in her favor. Manon Fiorot by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: The worst part of this for Chookagian is the fact that this is not only the hardest hitter she’s faced, it’s also the most disciplined. Fiorot mixes up her shot selection and has rarely dealt with much adversity on the ground, but we know where this is mostly to be contested. Chookagian is here for good reason, she’s battle-tested and a very smart and technical striker with good submission defense. But dealing with someone that has more physicality in her game and can overwhelm and bully her in the clinch and in the mid-range? Not liking Katlyn’s chances here. Manon Fiorot by decision.
Staff picking Chookagian:
Staff picking Fiorot: Bissell, Dayne, Kristen, Zane, Anton, Victor, Stephie
Belal Muhammad vs. Sean Brady
Tim Bissell: Sean Brady has quietly put together an impressive run in the Octagon to earn an extremely appropriate step up in competition. His recent wins over Michael Chiesa and Jake Matthews pushed his overall record to 15-0. That undefeated record will get him the nod here over Belal Muhammad, whose three career losses have come in the Octagon. I think Brady will show cleaner and crisper striking over Muhammad and also score a takedown or two on route to a decision win and yet another step up in competition. Sean Brady by decision
Zane Simon: Flip a coin on this one for me. There are a couple key aspects that make this fight very hard to predict. On the one hand, Sean Brady still has a fairly raw and limited game. He’s unquestionably powerful and can look smooth on the feet in spots, but pushback takes the wheels off his striking in a hurry, and both Court McGee and Michael Chiesa have had great success standing against him in late rounds. His takedown game is also very predicated on that strength, with lots of running opponents into the cage, getting his hands locked, and dumping them from there. That said, the best wrestler Belal Muhammad has ever faced was a 43-year-old Demian Maia who was 10 of 89 on takedowns over the last four years of his career. It could just be that Brady is a challenge we haven’t seen ‘Remember the Name’ take on. Be that as it may, Muhammad’s takedown defense has been great over his career, and he’s one of the best gameplanning fighters out there. If Brady is going to fall to pieces at any moment, I expect Muhammad can be there to pick up whatever opportunities he gets. But, if Brady just banks two rounds of top control? Then Muhammad is hardly the fighter to finish him late. Belal Muhammad by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: As much as I love the evolution of Sean Brady, I’m not quite sure he’s got the seasoning and development for this one yet. Will it be competitive? Absolutely, and that’s a testament to Brady’s growth and skill. But it seems to me that Belal’s striking and takedown defense will prove to be a set of riddles Brady won’t be able to solve until way later. Gonna go with the guy that should already be ranked higher than #5 at welterweight. Belal Muhammad by decision.
Staff picking Muhammad: Dayne, Zane, Anton, Lewis, Victor
Staff picking Brady: Bissell, Kristen, Stephie
Makhmud Muradov vs. Caio Borralho
Tim Bissell: Caio Borralho is yet another undefeated UFC fighter on the card. He’s won all four of his contests so far, which gives him the nod over the 3-1 Makhmud Muradov. I think Borralho might stifle Muradov on the ground here, leading to a frustrating decision win (like we saw him pull off over Armen Petrosyan last time out). Caio Borralho by decision
Zane Simon: If Muradov can stay on his feet, he’s got the speed and technique to land heavy shots on Borralho. But that’s a big if, given just how dedicated Borralho is to his suffocating ground game and how technical he is about getting there. Caio Borralho by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: I remember not being quite sure what to make of Borralho when he made his back to back appearances on Contender Series and underestimating his abilities. While he’s certainly gotten more technical, he’s still very reliant on his athleticism. That’s not too much of a problem for a younger fighter when you’re still figuring things out, and it actually might help him a lot here against Muradov. It feels weird to say that considering Muradov has a hell of a highlight reel with devastating finishes due to strikes, but putting Caio away is a very tall order, and he might be defensively sound enough to eventually bully Muradov and do big damage. I’m a believer now. Caio Borralho by TKO.
Staff picking Muradov:
Staff picking Borralho: Bissell, Dayne, Kristen, Zane, Anton, Victor, Stephie
Nikita Krylov vs. Volkan Oezdemir
Tim Bissell: This match-up is extremely close on the win percentage front. Nikita Krylov has a 9-7 (.562) record and Volkan Oezdemir has a (6-5) .545 record. Oezdemir showed he can defend against a tricky submission threat last time out, by outlasting Paul Craig. Krylov isn’t just hunting for arms and necks, though, he can knock you out. And Oezdemir has shown that he can be hit. Nikita Krylov by TKO
Zane Simon: The thing with Krylov is that most of the time he has to have a significant wrestling advantage to win fights. It’s not that he’s the most deft or technical wrestler in the world, but that physical bullying element is pretty key to his style. Oezdemir certainly can be taken down and exhausted on the mat, but that’s more difficult than ever with his increasingly patient, risk averse gameplan. Standing, Krylov can be violent and surprising, but usually just in short bursts on his way inside, and often with a lot of mess and a lack of defense. I’ll take Volkan Oezdemir to pick his spots and land the bigger shots that show up better with the judges, but this could be a tight one. Volkan Oezdemir by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Aaaaaaaah, yes. My favorite kind of MMA conundrum. The dreaded “who do I trust the least“ kind of matchup. Thanks, UFC light heavyweight division. I frankly do not care not one iota about this one, and neither should you. Nikita Kyrlov by whatever.
Staff picking Krylov: Bissell, Dayne, Kristen, Anton, Lewis, Victor
Staff picking Oezdemir: Zane, Stephie
Abubakar Nurmagomedov vs. Gadzhi Omargadzhiev
Tim Bissell: Abubakar Nurmagomedov, another member of team Makhachev, appears in a rare Dagestan vs. Dagestan match-up here. Both men are 1-1 in the UFC, so that means the algorithm looks at their overall MMA records to pick a winner. That means the 13-1 Omargadzhiev is my pick here (Nurmagomedov is 16-3-1). Omargadzhiev has youth on his side and shown to be better at getting the fight to the ground than his opponent in their Octagon careers thus far. Gadzhi Omargadzhiev by decision
Zane Simon: Abubakar looked great last time out against an opponent very much designed to make him look great. The question is pretty open ended as to just how much Omargadzhiev can avoid being that guy. A sub grappler at heart, Omargadzhiev has a pretty obvious takedown game, given how hard he needs to sell on it to avoid striking exchanges. Caio Borralho shut that down and took him out of the bout completely. Nurmagomedov has certainly had the mat time to do the same, but if Omargadzhiev is just too big and too strong, we’ve seen Nurmagomedov get exhausted by better athletes on the mat, and even get subbed. I’m gonna take Nurmagomedov’s experience and improved boxing to tip this in his favor, but the physicality of the fight could change all that fast. Abubakar Nurmagomedov by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Abubakar!! Been covering that guy since I did Vivisections with Zane for World Series of Fighting (RIP). Curiously enough, Abubakar’s most notable losses were against a very advanced kind of submission grappler, and Gadzhi is exactly that kind of guy. Another fight that sucks for me, because I don’t like seeing either guy lose, but I’d probably have to go with the dude that has more tricks in his bag. Gadzhi Omargadzhiev.
Staff picking Nurmagomedov : Kristen, Zane, Anton, Stephie
Staff picking Omargadzhiev: Bissell, Dayne, Victor
Armen Petrosyan vs. A.J. Dobson
Tim Bissell: The pick is for the 2-1 Armen Petrosyan here over the 1-1 A.J. Dobson. Armen Petrosyan by decision
Zane Simon: Petrosyan has one area of the fight where he’s really very comfortable and practiced. Dobson has several areas where his game is alright, but not that deep. I’ll take the singular skillset over the broad MMA game. Armen Petrosyan by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Oh, Jesus. They really front-loaded this card and funneled a ton of Contender Series guys again, didn’t they? Damn, son. Alrighty, then. Armen Petrosyan by TKO.
Staff picking Petrosyan: Bissell, Dayne, Zane, Anton, Victor, Stephie
Staff picking Dobson: Kristen
Muhammad Mokaev vs. Malcolm Gordon
Tim Bissell: The undefeated, and highly impressive, Muhammad Mokaev is the pick here. Muhammad Mokaev by submission
Zane Simon: Considering how much Gordon needs to grapple to keep from getting chin checked, this should be a slam dunk for Mokaev. Muhammad Mokaev via TKO, round 3.
Victor Rodriguez: Yowzers, what a horrible matchup for Malcolm. Mokaev by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Mokaev: Bissell, Dayne, Kristen, Zane, Anton, Victor, Stephie
Staff picking Gordon:
Karol Rosa vs. Lina Lansberg
Tim Bissell: Karol Rosa’s 4-1 record trumps Lina Lansberg’s 4-5 record. Karol Rosa by decision.
Zane Simon: It’s pretty impressive that Lina Lansberg has done as well as she has over her time in the UFC. But hitting 40 now and with a game that was always dependent on pretty limited physicality, I’m not expecting big things. Karol Rosa via decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Lina’s return to the UFC after motherhood was the disappointing loss to Pannie Kianzad, and I’m not sure she can deal with a more functionally dynamic athlete like Rosa that can bumrush her at any point unless she sets the pace early and punishes Rosa in-close to keep things at her preferred range. I have no faith in her keeping the fight at that distance, unfortunately. Karol Rosa by decision.
Staff picking Rosa: Bissell, Dayne, Kristen, Zane, Anton, Victor, Stephie
Staff picking Lansberg:
Zane and Stephie both had strong showings last week, going 9-2, their only misses were on Victor Henry over Raphael Assuncao and Nick Maximov over Jacob Malkoun. That was enough for Zane to keep top position and fend off Kristen (who went 8-3). Victor was a sniper last week, making just four picks but getting them all right (Grasso over Araujo, Martinez over Swanson, Mana Martinez over Brandon Davis and Malkoun over Maximov).
Leader board (as of Sept 3):
1. Zane 44-16 .733
3. Kristen 34-14 .708
2. Dayne 39-18 .684
4. Victor 11-7 .611
5. Stephie 36-24 .600
6. Bissell 35-25 .583
7. Anton 20-16 .556
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