UFC 302: Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier Staff Predictions

UFC 302 is now only a couple of days away, and what better way to get hyped for the upcoming pay-per-view than with some MMA News staff predictions for the intriguing card?

The event will be available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view on Saturday, June 1, 2024. The main card begins at 10 PM ET, while the preliminary card kicks off at 6 PM ET.

The headline act will see gold on the line, as reigning UFC Lightweight Champion Islam Makhachev looks to defend his belt against an established 155-pound contender for the first time. After emerging from two challenges against Alexander Volkanovski with the crown still in his possession, the Dagestani is next tasked with stalling the ambitions of Dustin Poirier.

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Setting the stage for them in the co-main event, meanwhile, will be two middleweight contenders hoping to secure title opportunities of their own down the line. Having had his calls for a rematch with Dricus Du Plessis fall on deaf ears, former champion Sean Strickland must bounce back at the expense of Paulo Costa if he’s to earn a chance at achieving two-time status. 

Elsewhere, Kevin Holland will make a short-notice return to 185 pounds to square off against Michał Oleksiejczuk, Jailton Almeida will look to rebound from his first UFC defeat opposite Alexandr Romanov, and welterweights Randy Brown and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos battle to kick proceedings off in style on PPV.

UFC 302: MMA News Staff Predictions

Ahead of Saturday’s UFC 302 event, Kyle Dimond, Ryan Jarrell, Thomas Albano, Tyriece Simon, and Andrew Starc have provided their picks for the five-fight main card, which you can see below.

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  • Lightweight Championship Main Event: Islam Makhachev (C) vs. Dustin Poirier
  • Middleweight Co-Main Event: Sean Strickland vs. Paulo Costa
  • Middleweight: Kevin Holland vs. Michał Oleksiejczuk
  • Heavyweight: Jailton Almeida vs. Alexandr Romanov*
  • Welterweight: Randy Brown vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos

*Almeida vs. Romanov has since been demoted to the prelims, with Alex Morono vs. Niko Price now set to go down on PPV

Welterweight: Randy Brown vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos

Kyle Dimond: The battle of the welterweight top 15 hopefuls opens up the main card in Newark. The Brazilian has a ton of experience and some great wins inside the Octagon. To some extent, the same can be said for his opponent. Both men have been known to suffer defeats to the cream of the crop, so who rises to the top in this one?

For me, Brown has always jumped out as someone with bags of potential if he’s able to put a run together. This could be the moment for him but I’m expecting the durability of his opponent to hold up and for the judges to be required. (Prediction: Randy Brown)

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Ryan Jarrell: This welterweight fight will be a really exciting one to kick off the main card. My immediate thoughts were to lean toward Brown due to his striking and five-inch reach advantage. But, Zaleski dos Santos is no joke and could very easily win this fight.

The Brazilian has some big wins earlier in his career over Sean Strickland and Benoît Saint Denis and is (10-3-1) overall in the UFC. I won’t be betting on this fight because I could see it going either way. Right now, I’m going with Brown to utilize his jab and length en route to a decision. But my opinion may change as the fight gets closer.(Prediction: Randy Brown)

Thomas Albano: The first thing that people will always note about Brown is his massive 78-inch reach. It is incredible of a reach for a fighter to have, and Brown knows how to use it well, managing distance while using his boxing. And while his jabs and his combinations are usually his key to success, don’t count out his grappling. Though he hasn’t had a submission win since UFC 261, “Rude Boy” knows how to handle himself on the ground if the time comes for that.

We have only seen Zaleski dos Santos three times since the end of 2020, but he’s 2-0-1 in that span, including a win over a younger Saint Denis. While Zaleski dos Santos has jiu-jitsu in his background, his specialty is his Muay Thai. That means we should be in for a back-and-forth striking battle – though it will be interesting to see, if this fight does go to the ground, how Brown’s long limbs will help him in such an instance.

The problem for Zaleski dos Santos is that he’s approaching 38, and while Brown is no Spring chicken either, his reach, energy, and momentum with more activity (wins in six of seven fights since the start of 2021), force me to give him the edge. (Prediction: Randy Brown)

Tyriece Simon: This fight should be a fun start to the UFC 302 main card. Brown and Zaleski dos Santos are coming into their matchup on two-fight win streaks and aiming to make a run in the welterweight division. That said, I lean toward Brown getting the win here. He has the height and reach advantage to stick behind his jab and utilize leg kicks to pick Zaleski dos Santos apart. If “Rude Boy” can stay at a distance, I think he can win decisively. (Prediction: Randy Brown)

Andrew Starc: Brown has won six of his last seven fights, having most recently knocked out Muslim Salikhov in the first round of their February encounter. Zaleski dos Santos, meanwhile, is undefeated in his last three, with his last bout against Rinat Fakhretdinov ending in a majority draw back in November. In what will likely be a mainly striking affair, I think the rangier and younger Brown will get the nod here. (Prediction: Randy Brown)

Consensus: 5-0 Randy Brown

Heavyweight: Jailton Almeida vs. Alexandr Romanov

Kyle Dimond: Heavyweights are up next and, once again, my money is on the favorite. Almeida did not have a good night last time out against Curtis Blaydes but he’s still proven himself to be in that mix. It was a humbling setback but one that should serve Almeida well going forward as he looks to crack that upper echelon of Blaydes, Ciryl Gane, Tom Aspinall, and Jon Jones.

I haven’t seen much from Romanov as of yet that makes me think he can break into that top group of heavyweights. So, while this isn’t the easiest matchup that is out there for Almeida, I think there could be a gap in quality once both men get tired, paving the way for the Brazilian to score a second-round TKO. (Prediction: Jailton Almeida)

Ryan Jarrell: Almeida will be too powerful and too dynamic for Romanov. I thoroughly expect “Malhadinho” to start fast and win quickly in this heavyweight bout. (Prediction: Jailton Almeida)

Thomas Albano: Big men going to the mat never seems to ring a desirable bell in MMA fans, but that’s exactly what we’re going to get here. If you’re a fan of wrestling and grappling, you’ll probably get a kick out of this one. Almeida was on a big win streak coming into his appearance on DWCS, and he’s continued to impress since then – despite getting knocked out by Blaydes. Almeida’s ground dominance can already be seen on the UFC stat sheets. He holds the UFC records for highest control time and top-position percentage. His 21-plus minutes of control time against Derrick Lewis is one for the UFC’s record books, as well as the nine takedowns he landed in the first round against Blaydes. If it isn’t obvious a
lready, it’s being the one to land the takedowns and unrelenting top-heavy pressure that is Almeida’s key to victory.

That said, his wrestling skills will be tested when he faces another talented man on the mat in Romanov. Like the Brazilian, Romanov, a freestyle wrestler, will also be aggressive and look for takedowns early. But while “King Kong,” has a little bit of a weight advantage (at least based on previous weights between these two fighters), how much success Almeida has had with grappling – in terms of both finishes and control time – might be too much for him to handle. (Prediction: Jailton Almeida)

Tyriece Simon: This is a must-win fight for Almeida. After a lackluster performance against Lewis and a knockout loss to Blaydes, “Malhadinho” needs an impressive win. However, Romanov is a tough opponent to defeat. Both fighters will want to take the bout to the ground, but the Moldovan is the bigger fighter and seemingly has the strength advantage. I also believe “King Kong” will be better in the clinch to get to a takedown. Although Almeida is the favorite, I think Romanov has the skillset to get the job done Saturday night. (Prediction: Alexandr Romanov)

Andrew Starc: Almeida’s rapid rise through the heavyweight ranks was cut short with a TKO loss to Blaydes in March. That was his first defeat in 15 fights, having scored wins against Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Lewis along the way. Romanov, meanwhile, got back in the win column against Blagoy Ivanov in July last year following two straight losses. Given Almeida’s grappling prowess and power, I think this will be an easy win for him. (Prediction: Jailton Almeida)

Consensus: 4-1 Jailton Almeida

Middleweight: Kevin Holland vs. Michał Oleksiejczuk

Kyle Dimond: Holland returns to middleweight in search of a win following back-to-back defeats to top welterweights. Despite going up, he is sure to have a considerable height and reach advantage in this fight. Holland is a dangerous finisher, too, and that’s concerning for Oleksiejczuk considering four of his five UFC losses have been submissions. Holland has got some tricky subs in his locker also, so I can see him hurting his opponent and putting him away early, maybe with a performance bonus in there for good measure. “Big Mouth” back with a big win. (Prediction: Kevin Holland)

Ryan Jarrell: Holland is back at middleweight and must feel the pressure to come out and look his best after his most recent performance against Michael Page. Oleksiejczuk boasts 14 KO/TKO wins in his career and made his UFC debut all the way back in 2017. We know this guy belongs and is a tough out for anyone. I do expect Holland to capitalize on his seven-inch reach advantage in this matchup and eventually find a club and sub to end the fight. (Prediction: Kevin Holland)

Thomas Albano: This is a sneaky fun fight that some people might be sleeping on. With 14 of his 19 victories coming by way of KO, we have seen Oleksiejczuk impress with some wicked finishes and powerful displays – just have a look at his finishes of Cody Brundage and Chidi Njokuani. That said, he hasn’t faced the same kind of competition that Holland has. And while “Big Mouth” has the talk (including inside the cage) that makes him either loved or hated, there’s no doubt he can hold his own with the middleweight contenders in the Octagon.

Holland has his own explosive power, and don’t ever count out his grappling. This will be a great experience for Oleksiejczuk and could prove to be a fun fight. However, Holland just has the experience and overall package that’s going to be too much to handle. A win here could also help Holland rebound from back-to-back losses to Jack Della Maddalena and “Venom” Page. Oleksiejczuk has four submission losses in his last five defeats, and “Trailblazer” should be able to take advantage of that with his previously mentioned grappling. (Prediction: Kevin Holland)

Tyriece Simon: Holland and Oleksiejczuk have the potential to be the Fight of the Night. I believe the critical factor in the matchup is whether Holland’s defense can hold up. Oleksiejczuk tends to swing big punches to try to get a knockout and has the power to do it. If “Trailblazer” can utilize his footwork and head movement to avoid the Polish fighter’s heavy strikes and fight him at a distance, he can finish him. Holland has to be patient and slowly pick Oleksiejczuk apart with jabs and leg kicks early, then ramp up his onslaught in later rounds. I think this will be his game plan, and he’ll outperform Oleksiejczuk to a decision or a knockout. (Prediction: Kevin Holland)

Andrew Starc: Holland, for me, might be one of the most frustrating fighters to watch. Since that outrageous KO of Ronaldo Souza back in 2020, which seemed to beckon a rise through the ranks, he’s lost six times in 11 fights, including his last two. Oleksiejczuk’s recent record is similarly patchy, but while Holland’s rangy boxing may cause problems, I think the Pole will get it done. (Prediction: Michał Oleksiejczuk)

Consensus: 4-1 Kevin Holland

Middleweight Co-Main Event: Sean Strickland vs. Paulo Costa

Kyle Dimond: Here comes the wildcard. Everything about this fight screams a Strickland decision win. He’s defensively aware and weaponizes his cardio, two factors that make him a tough fight for Costa. However, if there’s anyone that can out-crazy Strickland, it might be “Borrachinha.” Strickland’s recent losses, aside from the left hand of doom from “Poatan,” have come from the downsides to his style. Against Jared Cannonier and Dricus Du Plessis, he did well but saw rounds slip away, and with Costa not being intimidated by the jabs coming back at him, he might be able to win any round that’s competitive through sheer output and because his strikes are more eye-catching.

I’m not sure whether the pressure of Strickland is going to work as well against such an imposing figure in Costa, and without the former champion being able to make the Brazilian second guess himself, his toughness will keep him in the fight over five rounds and he may be able to take three of them on the cards. (Prediction: Paulo Costa)

Ryan Jarrell: This co-main event fight should be a very interesting stylistic matchup. I’m curious to see what kind of a gameplan Strickland has against the powerful Costa. If the former champion fights smart and doesn’t try to fight “Borrachinha” the way he did Alex Pereira, I think he will grind out a win. I believe this will be the Fight of the Night and end in a narrow decision leaving many bettors upset that their parlays were busted. (Prediction: Sean Strickland) 

Thomas Albano: Strickland is going to have quite the test for his first fight back since losing the title. While I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Costa’s performances in the Octagon, he poses an interesting challenge in that he has power that Strickland has arguably never seen in the cage before. It’s also arguable to say “Tarzan” hasn’t had the greatest track record when facing upper-level competition at middleweight, but his upset of Israel Adesanya has landed him here.

This could be a fun battle, given how similar these two men can be in the cage. Both like to be aggressive in their striking and have strong wrestling backgrounds. I, however, give the edge to Strickland for two reasons. One, I see Strickland being the more aggressive of the two when it comes to his output. Two,
with this being a five-round bout, the American has more experience competing in these kinds of fights. Costa, in fact, has only gone 25 minutes just one time – when he and Marvin Vettori competed at light heavyweight in late 2021. Could Costa land some damaging shots? Maybe, but I see Strickland outlasting him in a fight that goes the full way. (Prediction: Sean Strickland)

Tyriece Simon: This matchup is intriguing as both fighters generally love to be the ones pressuring their opponent. Strickland tends to overwhelm his foes by outworking them with his striking activity, while Costa utilizes his power to shut down his competitors. The winner of this fight will be who advances and puts their opponent on the back foot.

Costa will possibly be the aggressor in the first round. If Strickland can weather the storm, use that variation of the Philly Shell that he has had success with, and counter with 1-2 combos, he can build momentum for the second round. At that point, I think “Borrachinha” will slow down and the work Strickland put in the previous round will pay off. I’m not sure the former champion can finish Costa, but he can outwork him to a decision. (Prediction: Sean Strickland)

Andrew Starc: While Strickland lost his middleweight crown in his last outing, it was by the narrowest of margins. His cardio and solid striking are going to cause problems for Costa. While having a good showing in his most recent loss to Robert Whittaker, the Brazilian doesn’t look to be a true threat to the elite of the division. Unless Costa lands something wild, I can’t see Strickland losing on points. (Prediction: Sean Strickland)

Consensus: 4-1 Sean Strickland

UFC Lightweight Title: Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier

Kyle Dimond: Gilly or no gilly, it’s hard to pick Poirier in this one. If he fought Makhachev 10 times, I’d imagine he’d win just a few times, and I don’t think Newark is going to be his night — not with the current form of the champion. “The Diamond” is far too good to be counted out and I’m not willing to write him off. But, the simple fact of the matter is it’s hard to favor anyone in the division over Makhachev right now.

There’s several names I think would be a tougher matchup for the champ, at least on paper. We ride into New Jersey as a silly gilly-jumping gaggle, but ultimately, Makhachev will come out on top with a tap of his own. (Prediction: Islam Makhachev)

Ryan Jarrell: Poirier is one of my favorite mixed martial artists and I very much want to pick him here to secure a massive upset and finally become the undisputed champion. Unfortunately, my head tells me that Makhachev is just too well rounded for him.

The American is incredibly gritty and has the ability to stun and put out anyone. I just think the Dagestani will resort to his wrestling if he gets in any major trouble in this fight. I hate to say it, but ultimately I think the champ gets ahold of Poirier’s neck and finishes him with a gilly. (Prediction: Islam Makhachev)

Thomas Albano: With Khabib Nurmagomedov’s fighting days now behind him, Poirier gets one more crack to be the UFC lightweight champion. Unfortunately for him, he’s going to be taking on Khabib’s protégé in Makhachev. Even more unfortunate? “The Eagle” has been working with Makhachev in training camp and will be in the champ’s corner on Saturday night. Khabib and Poirier met for the lightweight title back at UFC 242 in September 2019. While “The Diamond” gave Khabib a scare with his now-known jumping of the gilly, the then-champ controlled a significant amount of the action, putting Poirier away in the third with a choke. Khabib has noted in previous interviews and hype packages that he’s using what he knows of Poirier’s strengths and weaknesses in training the current lightweight king.

Granted, Poirier has evolved over the years. And one place he’ll have the advantage is on the feet. It sounds boring to say that this is a typical striker vs. grappler matchup, especially considering what we saw Makhachev do to Alexander Volkanovski in October. But, there’s a big difference between Volkanovski – who was coming up 10 pounds, fighting on short notice, and was a bit drained from all of his in-cage activity – and one of the best 155-pound fighters of the modern day. If Poirier can somehow keep this fight standing – and resist his desire to jump the gilly – then just maybe he can pull off the upset.

But that’s easier said than done; Makhachev is a smart man, and he will probably just takedown and wrestle Poirier in the same way his mentor did. (Note: Charles Oliveira even had plenty of control time on Poirier, even though he never landed a takedown on the stat books!) And if that happens, unfortunately for “The Diamond,” it could be the same as it ever was in his third undisputed title fight. (Prediction: Islam Makhachev)

Tyriece Simon: In what is potentially Poirier’s last fight, I’m not sure he can defeat Makhachev. I believe “The Diamond” has the striking ability to give the UFC lightweight champion issues. However, the most significant factor of the fight will be the challenger’s cardio. Lately, Poirier seems to slow down quicker with heavy activity in a fight early as he has gotten older. I’m certain Makhachev is mixing up his striking and grappling to confuse his opponent and sap away Poirier’s energy.

It will be a tough night for the Louisianan if Makhachev can get Poirier backing up early and put his back against the cage. The veteran contender has to keep the fight standing to give himself a chance. It may also be beneficial to attack the body of Makhachev and not head hunt early on to slow him down. Poirier also needs to focus on trying to get up rather than going for a submission if he does end up on his back. As good as Poirier is on the ground, he’s less likely to get a submission win over Makhachev and would sacrifice control time to his opponent. Ultimately, I believe the champ will be too much for Poirier on Saturday. (Prediction: Islam Makhachev)

Andrew Starc: I can’t see Makhachev losing this one. This is Poirier’s third shake at the title, and while he’s shown his elite caliber over the years, most recently with his KO of Saint Denis in March, I don’t think he has an answer for Makhachev’s grappling. I think this one might go the same way for Poirier as his first title shot against Khabib.(Prediction: Islam Makhachev)

Consensus: 5-0 Islam Makhachev

That’ll do it for our UFC 302 staff picks! What do you think? Do your picks look similar? Let us know in the comments section! Also, you can check out the UFC 302 undercard below.

Preliminary Card:

  • Middleweight: César Almeida vs. Roman Kopylov
  • Lightweight: Grant Dawson vs. Joe Solecki
  • Welterweight: Phil Rowe vs. Jake Matthews
  • Welterweight: Niko Price vs. Alex Morono

Early Preliminary Card:

  • Welterweight: Mickey Gall vs. Bassil Hafez
  • Women’s Bantamweight: Ailín Pérez vs. Joselyne Edwards
  • Flyweight: André Lima vs. Mitch Raposo

Be sure to keep it right here on MMANews.com tomorrow for all the results, highlights, and updates on UFC 302!

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