In October, the UFC lightweight championship is officially due in Abu Dhabi.
The vacant 155lb title will have former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira fighting Islam Makhachev for the belt.
Recently named ESPY’s MMA Fighter of the Year, Oliveira has won 11 fights in a row, including the last 10 as a finisher.
Meanwhile, Makhachev has an impressive 22-1 record and a 10-fight win streak of his own. The former teammate of UFC legend Khabib Nurmagmoedov has finished off his opponents like “The Eagle” with four straight wins.
But now that this fight is official, questions linger. Have other lightweight competitors been snubbed? Should Alexander Volkanovski, the UFC Featherweight Champion, have something in his next shot at the lightweight crown? If Oliveira wins, does he deserve first place in the pound-for-pound rankings? How do the odds makers rate Makhachev’s chances?
We asked MMA insiders Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim, Reed Kuhn and Ian Parker for their answers to critical questions about his Superstar Match and possible contests to consider in October.
Is this the best lightweight title fight the UFC could have made?
Brett Okamoto: This question should be easy to answer. Oliveira is on a winning streak of 11 fights and Makhachev has won 10 in a row. Oliveira has eliminated the other top names in the division – Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler. Makhachev was the obvious next contender.
The reason for this Not A simple answer, however, is Alexander Volkanovski. Would an easy title fight between Oliveira and Volkanovski be better than this? A big part of me wants to say yes. I have Volkanovski as the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now, and I have Oliveira at #4. It doesn’t get much better than that in terms of a matchup. I want Volkanovski to step up and eventually get a shot at a second belt, but for now I’ll say this is the best fight the UFC could make. I prefer to reward competitors who have well deserved title opportunities, and Makhachev qualifies for that.
What challenges does Makhachev pose to Oliveira? Oliveira to Makhachev?
That win over Islam Makhachev in the first round is ultimately the deciding factor in a win over Bobby Green.
Marc Raimondi: Notice some sequences in Oliveira’s fight with Gaethje at UFC 274 in May. Gaethje landed shots and Oliveira fell to the canvas. Was Oliveira injured, or was he trying to persuade Gaethje to go down with him, to Oliveira’s domain? If you believe Oliveira after the fight, it was more the latter. In any case, Oliveira knows that his greatest strength is against almost everyone in the grappling department. However, Makhachev is not about anyone.
While Oliveira might be a more talented submission artist, Makhachev — a longtime wrestler and sambo world champion from Dagestan — might be the best grappler he’s encountered in the UFC. Oliveira’s biggest advantage, perhaps for the first time in a 14-year career, will be on his feet in this fight. Oliveira has recently emerged as a dangerous muay thai forward with power in his hands and underrated kicks and knees. Makhachev also masters the feet. But Oliveira could stand this one better than his other fights.
Makhachev has been a dominant grappler throughout his career, and his best route to victory is, more often than not, takedowns followed by submission attempts and possibly ground and pound. Will he execute that game plan against Oliveira, the greatest submission artist in UFC history? It would be dangerous, but it’s his bread and butter. When it comes to fruition, the mat fight between these two men will be featured.
Will the winner be entitled to pound for pound #1?
Jeff Wagenheim: Whoa, let’s pump the brakes a little. A win over the other would be a great achievement for either of them. This fight is a game changer between two fighters with double digit winning streaks. But No. 1 for the winner? nope
Oliveira got to where he is – tied with Israel Adesanya at No. 3 on the ESPN pound-for-pound top 10 – by finishing Chandler, Poirier and Gaethje back-to-back. This is a top notch run as Poirier is in our P4P leaderboard and Gaethje was there. But a win over the unranked Makhachev probably wouldn’t be enough to justify our voting panel elevating Oliveira over Kamaru Usman, Alexander Volkanovski and The Last Stylebender.
And while a Makhachev win would put him in the pound-for-pound rankings, maybe even in the top 5, a jump to No. 1 would be too much, too soon. Still, it would be definitive proof that his Dagestani compatriot, training partner and biggest fan, former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, was right all along when he insisted Makhachev is the future of the 155lb division.
Early odds say the challenger is the favourite
Reed Kuhn: When Oliveira defeated Poirier for the lightweight title, he did so as a slight underdog. Statistically even more impressive was that he won despite a knockdown in the first round. Only 20% of fighters on the receiving end of an early knockdown come back to win. Oliveira pulled off the same kind of comeback in his next fight.
According to the metrics, Makhachev will be his toughest matchup yet despite being MMA’s new heart child with a string of comeback finishes. If the early numbers are right, we could see Oliveira with the best underdog chances he’s had in five years. And unfortunately for Oliveira, the stats seem to add up. Makhachev is considered a less favorable matchup than either of Oliveira’s previous two title fight opponents.
Makhachev doesn’t have many holes in his game based on performance metrics. His standing serve is technical and he is young and relatively undamaged. On the mat he has shown dominant wrestling and he has already confronted and choked decorated grapplers like Arman Tsarukyan and Nik Lentz. How betable Makhachev will be depends on the prizes closer to the fight time, but at first glance by the numbers he’s already a legitimate favorite.
The first bet: Makhachev + in the distance
Ian Parker: There are already some intriguing spots for this fight. Mahachev is listed as a 2-to-1 favorite over Oliveira, who has done nothing but dramatically finish off his last three opponents. In his last three fights, Oliveira was dropped in the first round and rallied to score a KO or submission finish to win.
We all know Oliveira as a submission machine, but what has made him so dominant lately is his improvement in punching power. In his last fight, Oliviera was dropped by Gaethje, but Gaethje was reluctant to follow him to the ground, giving Oliveira more time to recover. I don’t see that being the case in his upcoming match against Makhachev. I think Makhachev will be the better grappler and his top control will not only neutralize Oliveira but potentially lead to a finish of his own.
At the current odds I would take Makhachev but if they go higher try to include him in a combo or pick the fight that goes under 2.5 rounds or doesn’t go the distance.
https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34254141/charles-oliveira-vs-islam-makhachev-key-questions-analysis-ufc-lightweight-championship Oliveira vs. Makhachev — Key questions and analysis on who will wear the UFC’s lightweight crown