Tuesday, November 29, 2022

6 Positives & 3 Negatives From UFC 280

On Saturday, the MMA leader returned to our screens for its latest pay-per-view event, UFC 280.

After months of anticipation, Abu Dhabi finally played host to arguably the most stacked and star-studded card of 2022 to date. It featured two title fights topping the slate, multiple contenders in action looking to stake their claims for shots at their divisional gold, and a number of exciting prospects hoping to make an impression.

Throughout the UFC’s latest offering, a number of questions promised to be answered — would Charles Oliveira return to the lightweight throne, or would Islam Makhachev complete the plan laid out for him by Khabib and Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov? Who would be left eating their words, Aljamain Sterling or TJ Dillashaw? Could Sean O’Malley upset the odds against former bantamweight king Petr Yan?

So, did we find out those answers during the kind of entertaining day of fights that the lineup promised beforehand? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC 280.

Positive – Mokaev Rolls On

It might not have been pretty, but Muhammad Mokaev remained unbeaten at UFC 280.

On debut, the Dagestani-born Brit made a huge impact by finishing Cody Durden in quick time. In his sophomore outing, Mokaev showed another wrinkle to his game — the ability to control and dominate across 15 minutes.

Making it three for three in terms of different results, “The Punisher” showed his ability to push through fatigue and adversity to find a finish late in the day in Abu Dhabi, when maybe some would have rode out the final seconds for a victory on the scorecards.

While that attribute was good to see, the ability to find the armbar on Malcolm Gordon provided a reminder of his submission threat after struggling to deliver similar offense in the first two rounds.

Of course, his ambition to become the UFC’s youngest-ever champion appears ambitious. But nevertheless, at 22 years old, Mokaev has racked up three solid wins to extend his unbeaten record and showed different elements of his arsenal in each one.

Negative – A Lackluster Start

While the hype for UFC 280 almost entirely surrounded a stacked main card, it still would’ve been nice to see some more enthralling action to start the card.

The first fight of the night between Karol Rosa and Lina Länsberg was forgettable. And while the finish that Mokaev found late in his bout with Gordon was impressive, the 14 minutes of action en route to that point wasn’t exactly edge-of-the-seat stuff.

AJ Dobson and Armen Petrosyan subsequently fought out a low-paced and low-volume 15-minute affair that failed to really get going. The best action of the first four fights came in Abubakar Nurmagomedov’s victory over Gadzhi Omargadzhiev, which saw some entertaining scrambles and grappling exchanges prior to a fatigue-infested final frame.

In the context of the card, was anyone looking at that set of four matchups as barnburners? Not particularly. But as fight fans, would a little bit more have been appreciated? I think we can safely say, yes.

Aj Dobson & Armen Petrosyan
Image Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Positive – Action!

If the first four fights were lacking action, Nikita Krylov and Volkan Oezdemir’s light heavyweight scrap certainly wasn’t.

From the opening seconds, the pair of top 10-ranked 205-pound veterans swung hard with bad intentions. The opening exchanges certainly favored the Swiss former title challenger, who clipped “The Minor” multiple times and had him on the back foot early.

But towards the end of the first frame, Krylov was able to turn things around with some hard blows of his own. And that tide change remained the status quo for the majority of the remaining 10 minutes before the Ukrainian was awarded a unanimous decision win.

While the output and back-and-forth action somewhat dwindled late on, the opening round was enough to make this clash a memorable one, and the best of the first five matchups.

Positive – Remember The Name.

In terms of delivering an emphatic statement when fighting down the rankings against a highly touted and undefeated name, not many have done it quite like Belal Muhammad did at UFC 280.

Early into his bout with Sean Brady, it became clear that the two elite grapplers would be throwing down. Aside from a few level changes from the Philadelphia native, the name of the game was striking.

And while Brady arguably played it the better of the pair in the first round, landing the more thunderous blows, that certainly wasn’t the case in the second frame. Continuing his aggressive game plan, Muhammad walked the 29-year-old down toward the end of frame, landing a never-ending onslaught of blows that eventually forced the referee to call a standing TKO with 13 seconds until the horn.

This result was positive in many ways. As well as delivering a memorable close to a fairly uneventful set of prelims, Muhammad cemented himself as a legitimate contender toward the top of the welterweight division — if he hadn’t already.

In doing so, he also dealt a blow to his detractors, who’ve attempted to label him as ‘boring’ and ‘one-dimensional’ following his victories over Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque.

While a first defeat will be a disappointment for Brady, he’ll perhaps look back at UFC 280 down the line as a result that was crucial for his development and rise towards the top, given that it marked his first true battle on the feet.

While he’ll look to rebound next time out, Muhammad has his sights set on the gold. And should something prevent Kamaru Usman from being ready to challenge Leon Edwards in the UK early next year, “Remember the Name” certainly hasn’t done his hopes of being next in line any harm with his latest success.

Negative – Divisional Clarity, But In The Wrong Way?

While I don’t necessarily agree that Manon Fiorot and Katlyn Chookagian’s main card opener was boring per se, it certainly wasn’t the barnburner most would have liked at the start of UFC 280’s PPV portion.

The rising Frenchwoman and the #1-ranked contender fought an incredibly closely contested three-round affair. While not full of action or particularly memorable moments, the pair went at it with a solid pace and largely traded blow-for-blow.

The positive here is that, whilst not convincing, Fiorot proved that she belongs towards the top of the division and established herself as a contender. The negative is that for the second week in a row, flyweight fights at the upper end of the rankings have failed to deliver a concrete challenger for Valentina Shevchenko.

With that, the path at 125 pounds may have actually been laid out — while Fiorot meets Alexa Grasso in a title eliminator, Shevchenko runs it back with Taila Santos. While that clarity isn’t a bad thing, the fact that it came from a fairly lackluster bout wasn’t ideal.

Positive – If You Needed Reminding…

One of the biggest issues in mixed martial arts is how quick people are to forget the pedigree of certain fighters. While Beneil Dariush was the victim of that pre-UFC 280, he was able to reap the rewards of proving many wrong in Abu Dhabi.

While there’s no doubt that Mateusz Gamrot is an elite contender and possible future title challenger, his favorite status against Dariush, who’d racked up seven straight wins to rise to a career-high #3 on the lightweight ladder last year, appeared questionable.

But with a year-plus layoff induced by the broken leg he suffered ahead of a likely title eliminator against Islam Makhachev, Dariush’s credentials were somewhat being clouded by some doubt again.

With an impeccable takedown defense and explosive striking performance across three rounds on Saturday, Dariush eliminated that doubt by halting the charge of “Gamer.”

Positive – He Belongs

Whatever the result was to be, and whatever you ultimately think about the three judges’ verdicts, Sean O’Malley proved that he belongs in the cage with the best bantamweights in the world at UFC 280.

The fight itself was nuts. Both O’Malley and Petr Yan had their moments, with the two appearing rocked on numerous occasions. While “Sugar” looked to utilize his usual elusive striking, Yan was pushing forward and mixing in takedowns with his classic boxing attacks.

In terms of the result? I had Yan taking rounds one and two, with O’Malley edging the third. Was it a robbery? I don’t think so. It seems like one of those where people accept the first frame being close, but then two rounds later change their tune to it being clear in one direction.

While it’s a shame that the result will be debated, and perhaps overshadow the fight itself, the true positive here is that O’Malley proved his place toward the top of the division against a former champion and one of the best in the game.

It was also good to see O’Malley’s attitude to the win. Many would take the result and run with it, but “Sugar” showed a level of maturity by admitting that he was rocked and was unsure whether he’d done enough.

Negative – What Could Have Been

It felt like the bantamweight championship co-main event had the potential to be a really entertaining scrap. Ultimately, we were robbed of any chance of that happening by the emergence of a pre-known injury.

With champion Aljamain Sterling’s very first takedown, TJ Dillashaw was left wincing in pain on the ground after dislocating his shoulder. While he survived the first five minutes before having the joint popped back in, it didn’t take long for the injury to recur in the second round prior to a TKO finish.

The fact that the fight itself was hampered by an injury was the first negative here. If we’re being honest, Dillashaw had next to no hope of securing a win the second the shoulder popped out in round one.

With that in mind, what’s accomplished by sending him out for the second frame, and what’s accomplished by Marc Goddard allowing him to continue once it was clearly dislocated again? The revelation that the injury was known in the back further arises questions over why Dillashaw was allowed to fight with the issue.

While the admission that his shoulder likely dislocated “20 times” in training is worrying for the state of Dillashaw’s shoulder, attempting to fight with it has likely resulted in further damage.

We should be talking about another impressive defense for Sterling or the start of a historical third reign for Dillashaw. In the end, we’re left reflecting on a fight that ultimately felt like a waste of a title buildup.

Positive – A New Era

Khabib Nurmagomedov retired in 2020 following his victory over Justin Gaethje. It’s taken just two years for his protégé to return Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov’s legacy to the UFC’s lightweight throne.

In the UFC 280 headliner, Islam Makhachev made good on his pre-fight prediction and confidence, essentially rolling through Charles Oliveira to take the vacant belt back to Dagestan.

The beginning of the end came in the form of a knockdown that’s come to be expected when “Do Bronx” enters the cage — only this time, he wasn’t granted the luxury of recovering on his back while his opponent hesitated to enter his guard.

Makhachev, more than willing to engage on the ground, dived onto the Brazilian before locking in an arm-triangle choke for the tap.

Barring any shenanigans or asterisks — à la Sterling vs. Dillashaw — the result of the main event was always likely to be a positive. Either Oliveira continued his incredible win streak and career resurgence or Makhachev began a new era at 155 pounds.

Ultimately, it was the latter. And with that, bring on champ vs. champ at UFC 284 in Perth, Australia!

What were your positives and negatives from UFC 280?