UC 280 preview: who will win in huge main event between Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev

Few fighters have been chosen with such conviction as champions of Islam Makhachev.

Known for a significant part of his career as the next iteration of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and now that his mentor has retired – the Dagestani heir as a lightweight champion, his fate was predetermined in the eyes of many fans.

Makhachev carries the weight of a lineage started by Khabib’s late father, Abdulmanap, and there is tremendous internal and external pressure on the 31-year-old.

Charles Oliveira (right) and Islam Makhachev will close the horns when they meet at UFC 280

Makhachev has the pressure of expectation and Khabib Nurmagomedov will be in his corner

Saturday night, if all goes according to plan for the Russian, should be the last step of a journey that has gone inexorably to the top.

But getting in his way is arguably the UFC’s most entertaining fighter. Charles Oliveira has a bag of tricks like no other.

He has a record of 12-1 since returning to lightweight in 2017 and has more submission wins (16) than anyone in UFC history and one of only two fighters to finish off opponents on the ground using six different techniques – the other is Frank Mir.

Oliveira was stripped of his title for missing weight before the win over Justin Gaethje, but is still seen as the real champion by most fans, even if the title is technically empty.

Charles Oliveira submitted Justin Gaethje in the first round of their fight in May

The way he has dealt with Michael Chandler, Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier and Gaethje is very impressive.

And if there’s one fighter in the division who can fear Makhachev on the ground, it’s the multi-talented Brazilian.

Both sides are optimistic about their fighter’s chances.

Khabib said, ‘This is what Islam is going to do to Charles Oliveira: he’s going to ride him, how you ride your horse. Save this because many people underestimate Islam.

“They think Charles Oliveira has a ground game. He has no ground game.

“If you tap eight times in UFC, how can you say you have a ground game? You tapped eight times.’

But Oliveira’s coach, Diego Lima, thinks Khabib’s influence is too great and his words are more likely to hurt Makhachev than lift him.

Lima also believes that his man will ensure a finish before the third round.

He told MMA fighting: ‘Charles is stronger than him, and Charles has more techniques than him, so that doesn’t scare me.

‘Because if Makhachev puts him on the ground, Charles will beat him. And if Makhachev tries to stay upright, Charles will knock him out.

“It will be a knockout in the first or second round.”

Oliveira sensationally looked back at lightweight and destroyed the competition

Khabib believes Makhachev’s skills are underestimated despite being favorite to win

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He added: “That’s not good what Khabib is doing, that psychological thing, because he’s a really good guy, a really good fighter, and he was never that guy who was talking crap and stuff like that.

“It’s not good for Makhachev, because he needed Khabib to get the title, and Makhachev doesn’t need that, because he’s also a good fighter.

“Khabib brought with him a very great responsibility for Makhachev, because what will he do after Saturday, when Makhachev loses? Is he coming back? Is he fighting again?’

Assuming Oliveira arrives this time, the former champion will know full well how difficult this will be and the longer it takes, the worse his chances are.

Makhachev has a relentless engine and captivating top game. His strike is widely considered to be on a different level from Khabib when the inevitable comparisons between the pair are also made.

The statistics are frightening. Makhachev lands 58.9 percent of his significant attacks – behind only Gaethje in the division’s history.

The Brazilian is acclimatizing in Abu Dhabi ahead of Saturday’s big meeting

For a fighter best known for wrestling, that’s an astonishing figure.

Unlike Gaethje, Makhachev’s defensive skills are also elite. He absorbs 0.84 significant strikes per minute in UFC competition, the best rate in the company’s history.

So hand lands a lot and avoids a lot of what comes back in its way, largely due to the amount of time it spends in dominant positions on the ground.

But if Makhachev chooses to keep up with Oliveira, we could be in for a real treat.

He has a winning streak of nine fights and is definitely the right man to take on a challenge. And yet there is the fascinating added dimension to Saturday’s fight that Alexander Volkanovski, pound-for-pound No. 1, is in town.

He’s flown in purely from Australia to arrive and be a reserve when one of the chieftains is defeated by the scales.

That would be an amazing turn of events, but the Aussie is primed and ready for what he hopes would be a bid to become a two-weight champion.

Alexander Volkanovski is in Abu Dhabi in case one of the fighters doesn’t arrive

“Of course that’s why I put myself in this position,” he told MMA Junkie. To put it this way, I prepared myself for this. A lot of people think I do it alone – just in case.

“It’s not like no one is taking the opportunity away from me. That’s why I did it, but I made sure I’m still prepared and ready.

“We trained hard,” Volkanovski continued. “I still put in the work. It was a limited camp, but I’ve been – even in the cast, I was training pretty hard, thinking I think I was going to Abu Dhabi, so I wanted my cardio to scratch.

‘And when it was over and I was allowed to have the contact, I was in it. I’m literally treating this like I’m at camp, so it’s good to hear that from the big boss.”

Maybe Volkanovski is on the lookout for the winner if he doesn’t get the chance to don the gloves this weekend.

The bookmakers have Makhachev as a minor favorite over Oliveira, but the Brazilian has been the underdog in many of his recent fights.

Oliveira landed some heavy shots at Gaethje, who said he was injured early and often

It’s a tag he enjoys, but he’s under no illusions about the task ahead, which looks great beyond all his challenges as a champion.

Oliveira vs Makhachev is the fight of the year on paper at least, topping the chart of the year so far.

It promises to be an epic encounter and Sportsmail will be there until the wee hours of Sunday morning on Saturday to provide live updates throughout the night of the battle.

Merry

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