The untold stakes of UFC 280


UFC | Wikimedia Commons

James DePuy

Everyone knows the main storylines going into UFC 280: fans are anxiously waiting to see if

Sean O’Malley can upset Petr Yan, questioning if TJ Dillashaw is the same fighter he once was and wondering whether Charles Oliveira can cement himself as one of the greatest lightweights of all time.

But there is more at stake for the retired lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov than the challenger for the UFC lightweight title, Islam Makhachev.

Nurmagomedov has more on the line than most people think because Makhachev is a prodigy who is essentially a less dominant clone of Nurmagomedov.

If Oliveira beats Islam, there is now a roadmap to beating the Nurmagomedov style which is popular with fighters from Dagestan, Russia, and allowed Makhachev to net a title fight without fighting any top 10 opponents.

With a victory, Oliveira would essentially prove that Nurmagomedov’s style is redundant and that fighting the best, experienced fighters ultimately trumps a dominant run of fighting less experienced fighters.

In his last four fights, Makhachev has battled only one top-15-ranked fighter, Dan Hooker. His rise parallels Nurmagomedov’s initial run up to his title fight against Al Iaquinta, where he fought the unranked Darrell Horcher, seventh-ranked Michael Johnson and third-ranked Edson Barboza, while avoiding serious challenges like Eddie Alvarez and pulling out of fights with Tony Ferguson.

Oliveira, however, has fought the best the division has to offer leading up to this fight. He has fought fifth-ranked Michael Chandler, third-ranked Justin Gaethje and second-ranked Dustin Poirier.

A large gap in competition between Oliveira and Makhachev  is present. But Nurmagomedov is not worried about the potential threat Oliveira faces to Makhachev, saying in an interview with UFC Russia: Islam should roll over Charles Oliveira at UFC 280.

Makhachev is a dominant threat on the ground and can strike well, so Nurmagomedov’s words are not unfounded. But Nurmagomedov doesn’t realize how much this fight affects him and his future as a coach, because a Makhachev loss can give rivals a roadmap to beating the Nurmagomedov style and derail Makhachev’s hype and chances to headline future cards.

But Makhachev still had a good chance of taking the belt home. He would be a natural successor to the throne Nurmagomedov abandoned in the lightweight division. Time will tell if Makhachev  gets more opportunities at the title.

The stakes are high at UFC 280, with pressure mounting on both main-event competitors to live up to lofty expectations.