10 Things We Learned at UFC 280 (Extended Edition)

The Champion Has A Name…

And it’s Islam Makhachev.

The surging Russian ran through Charles Oliveira in the UFC 280 main event, stinging him in the first before dropping him in the second and earning the submission finish.

This was one-way traffic from the outset, with Makhachev dominating the clinch and grappling exchanges and showing he’s capable of hanging on the feet with the dangerous former champion. When Oliveira showed he was willing to play jiu jitsu and look to work off his back, it only increased Makhachev’s chances of winning, and the challenger took full advantage.

We saw the different between Makhachev and the others that faced Oliveira in recent months when he dropped the Brazilian midway through the second. Where Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje were uninterested in chasing “Do Bronx” to the ground, Makhachev dove in, clamping onto a choke and securing the finish.

For a number of years, those around him heralded Makhachev as the next champion and a standout talent. He proved them all right on Saturday.

All Good Things Come to An End

Makhachev’s ascent to the top of the division means Oliveira’s incredible run of success has come to a close, and while he’s no longer the top man in the lightweight ranks, the streak that carried him to the throne and allowed him to stay there through Saturday won’t be soon forgotten.

Oliveira transformed from a near .500 fighter into a champion and then defended that spot multiple times, posting 11 consecutive wins and 10 finishes. He beat a collection of former interim champions and divisional standouts, and simply wasn’t able to get through a streaking force that was a stylistic nightmare for him inside the Octagon.

While we’re often quick to wonder about what comes next for the victors and the vanquished, let’s take one final moment to appreciate the incredible run that came to an end before we start talking about potential new eras that are now beginning.

And Still

Aljamain Sterling retained the UFC bantamweight title with a second-round stoppage win over TJ Dillashaw, extending his winning streak to seven and further securing is place atop the division, though some will want to quibble about his standing.

Sterling dumped Dillashaw to the canvas early, and the challenger’s shoulder fell out of socket. The champ dominated on the canvas for the rest of the frame, Dillashaw put his shoulder back in place between rounds, but it happened again in the second, and Sterling didn’t let him see the end of the round.

This was a strong effort from Sterling and it’s beyond unfortunate that Dillashaw entered compromised and gave critics room to question the champion’s dominance and continued place atop the division. Sterling has been stuck trying to find a way to earn legitimacy in the eyes of his detractors, and a second-round finish over Dillashaw would have done the trick, but this will simply add fuel to the “Yeah, but…” fires.

He deserves better than this, as he’s done noting wrong throughout this emergence and title reign, and hopefully he can get through his next title defence without incident.

A Questionable Decision by Dillashaw

Dillashaw said after the bout that he injured his shoulder in the early stages of his camp and dealt with his shoulder falling out of socket routine on the way to this fight.

If that is indeed the case — and there is no reason to suggest it wasn’t — he should have withdrawn and allowed someone else to step into his place, as fighting in such a compromised state makes absolutely no sense.

Beating Sterling is a tough ask at full health, and doing it with one arm is pretty well impossible, and while he may not have maintained his place in a championship opportunity if he withdrew, it might have been for the best long term.

Additionally, it’s not like there aren’t myriad additional bantamweights that could have stepped in to face Sterling and, in hindsight, delivered a more competitive showing than Dillashaw put forth.

And lastly — and this likely comes nowhere near crossing his mind — it robbed Sterling of the chance to earn a clean, unquestioned victory.

This just feels like a terrible decision that sullied what should have a huge win for Sterling and a tremendous fight.

Welcome to ‘The Suga Show’

Sean O’Malley silenced all his doubters, standing in with Petr Yan for 15 minutes and emerging with a split decision victory to establish himself as a bona fide contender in the bantamweight division.

This was a close, competitive fight where the Contender Series left no room for criticism any longer, stinging Yan multiple times, cutting him with a sharp knee in the third, and doing enough to merit the nod on two of the three scorecards. Whether you agree with the decision or not, there is no way to come away from this fight continuing to think poorly of O’Malley’s skills and the level of competition he’s faced.

What comes next is a very interesting question for each man.

O’Malley has likely secured himself a championship opportunity, having just beaten a former interim and undisputed champion, but he’ll likely bide his time and make sure it happens when it works best for him.

As for Yan, he looks like he needs a bit of a reset now, exiting this fight having suffered back-to-back losses and earning just one victory in his last four appearances dating back to his initial meeting with Aljamain Sterling. He’s still clearly world-class, but a step back and a chance to recalibrate things after a couple close losses would likely serve him well.

Dariush Keeps Rolling

It’s eight wins and counting for Beneil Dariush, as the somewhat unheralded lightweight contender adjusted well and out-worked Mateusz Gamrot in a highly technical, ultra-competitive affair.

After a tight opening stanza where the two tumbled around the cage, offering attacks and defences to one another on the canvas, Dariush opted to do away with grappling and make Gamrot pay for getting close. Each time the Polish talent stepped in, a left hand met him on the counter, and while Gamrot then made adjustments of his own, Dariush stayed right there with him.

On merit, Dariush should be next in line to challenge for the lightweight title, especially having previously been booked, but unable to compete against each of the men that competed for gold in the main event. Now, merit doesn’t always rule the day, but Dariush handled his business and said all the right things about being willing to do whatever it takes eventually secure his championship opportunity.

A New Flyweight Contender Emerges

Manon Fiorot claimed a place in the flyweight title conversation with a unanimous decision win over perennial silver medalist Katlyn Chookagian in Saturday’s main card opener.

“The Beast” essentially used a more powerful version of Chookagian’s trademark game plan to secure the victory, landing with greater force while matching Chookagian’s output through the first two rounds. She slowed a little in the third and the veteran contender turned up her pressure, securing the round in what was ultimately a pyrrhic victory.

Now 5-0 in the UFC and part of an exclusive club of fighters to best Chookagian, this victory slides Fiorot in alongside Alexa Grasso as the top new names in a position to potentially challenge Valentina Shevchenko in 2023. Taila Santos might still get a rematch, and if that is the case, let’s hope that the UFC doesn’t make the mistake of matching the two recent winners against one another, sacrificing one new name to advance another.

Statement Made

Belal Muhammad took a massive risk fighting backwards in the ranking against undefeated emerging talent Sean Brady, but he made it pay off, collecting a second-round stoppage win in Saturday’s final prelim.

Brady started well, working forward and keeping Muhammad from deploying his pressure style, but that didn’t last too long. Once Muhammad settled in, he got into his bag, walking Brady down and suffocating him with a steady diet of pressure and activity before stinging him with a right hand.

The second he recognized Brady was hurt, Muhammad swarmed, unleashing a barrage of shots that forced the stoppage. He swarmed with a variety of punches and finished just before the end of the round, extending his winning streak to four and his unbeaten run to nine.

A title shot is unlikely to come next — are perhaps not before the year is out — but there is no denying that Muhammad has done more than enough to merit an opportunity to challenge for championship gold.

Borralho Keeps Barrelling Forward

Middleweight hopeful Caio Borralho continued to move forward in the 185-pound weight class, securing his third UFC win of his rookie campaign and 10th straight victory overall in Saturday’s penultimate preliminary card bout, grinding out a good win over Makhmud Muradov.

The Dana White’s Contender Series alum used his superior grappling to keep Muradov on the canvas for long stretches, threatening at times with submissions, but also being content to grind things out as needed.

This was the type of step up Borralho needed after beating two fellow DWCS alums and he passed the test with solid marks. He’s clearly a very good fighter and someone with clear upside, but these next couple fights are going to be where we see whether he has the potential to be a contender or simply settle in at this level.

If he can continue to develop his game and sharpen the tools he has, good things will follow, but those things are never assured.

The Importance of Evolution and Adaptation

Nikita Krylov showed on Saturday that having more than one road to victory is critical as you work your way up the divisional ladder in the UFC, using his superior grappling ability to grind out a good win over Volkan Oezdemir towards the end of the UFC 280 prelims.

While the two came out swinging and looking to finish things early, when that didn’t happen, it was Krylov that was able to shift gears and be effective. The 30-year-old veteran closed the distance each time he landed something solid on Oezdemir and put the former title challenger on the canvas, grinding out long periods of time in top position in each round.

His efforts were contrasted with those of Oezdemir, who continues to be someone that seems to have one path to victory and nothing behind it. When he’s unable to force opponents to battle him on the feet and find their chins, there is no real Plan B, and at this level, that’s disastrous.

You have to continually expand your arsenal and diversify your skill set at all times, and Oezdemir hasn’t done that, and it’s led to his stagnation.

Still Unbeaten, But Still Needing to Grow

Flyweight prospect Muhammad Mokaev maintained his unbeaten record on Saturday, earning a third-round submission win over Malcolm Gordon, but it wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be going in.

Mokaev dominated the first round with his grappling, but got a little careless in the second, allowing Gordon to have success. The Canadian was able to take the back and threaten with a jaw crank late, and looked to do the same in the third before the 22-year-old was able to reclaim control and find the finish.

This one showed that there are still things that Mokaev needs to work on, primarily committing to just play to his strengths and handle business before he chases highlights and gets ahead of himself, but he’s clearly an outstanding talent with an abundance of skills. It’s likely this will be the kind of fight that helps Mokaev grow going forward, but also one that shows we need to dial back our expectations for the undefeated fighter from Wigan for the time being.

No F$&%ing About

Lukasz Bosacki didn’t waste any time taking a point from Karol Rosa in the opening bout of the night when the Brazilian landed a clearly illegal knee on Lina Lansberg when she was down along the fence.

More officials need to do the same.

The Polish referee, who is one of the best in the business and a staple of these UFC events in Abu Dhabi, paused the action immediately, addressed Lansberg’s concerns and called in the ringside physician. Once it was clear Lansberg was going to be fine to continue, he marched over to Rosa, pulled her into the center of the Octagon and took the point.

This is how we need to handle fouls, regardless of whether they’re accidental or incidental or not. Fighters need to be in control of their weapons and understand the situation they’re in at all times, and when they don’t and something goes awry, they need to be penalized.

Props to Bosacki for handling things accordingly and without hesitation. At the same time, he gets full marks for not taking a point in the bout between Abubakar Nurmagomedov and Gadzhi Omargadzhiev later in the night when it was clear that Omargadzhiev was playing the “three-points of contact” game and caught a stray.

Just a great display of understanding the dynamics of a fight and addressing the fouls appropriately.

E. Spencer Kyte is a veteran MMA content creator based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He's written for numerous outlets, including FOX Sports and The Province, British Columbia's leading newspaper, and has been a freelance contributor to the UFC website for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @spencerkyte.