The action inside the Etihad Arena on Saturday gave fight fans much to be excited about moving forward after UFC 280. Thrilling finishes and questionable decisions will spark debates over the results for months to come from Abu Dhabi.
With former lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner, Islam Makhachev captured the vacant 155-pound title by submitting ex-champion Charles Oliveira in the first fight in UFC history matching fighters entering with double-digit win streaks. An early injury to TJ Dillashaw also brought an abrupt end to Aljamain Sterling's second defense of his bantamweight title in the co-main event.
Let's take a look at what we learned from a memorable night inside the Octagon.
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1. The champion has a new name (and he might not yield the strap anytime soon)
While the comparisons between Makhachev and his trainer/mentor Nurmagomedov were never quite fair, the potential for immediate dominance atop the lightweight division is starting to look eerily similar. Makhachev's game is slightly different than that of "The Eagle," a fact that became abundantly clear when he used his striking in Round 2 to break down and drop Oliveira after outwrestling him in the opening round. But the prophetic words of Khabib's late father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who predicted Makhachev would pick up where his son left off as lightweight king one day, appears to be coming true. Not only did Makhachev step up his striking in a big way against Oliveira, his ability to dominate on the ground and create an opening for an immediate finish was nothing short of Khabib-like. If the elite MMA fighters from Dagestan, Russia, have proven anything in recent years within UFC, it's their ability to suck the excitement out of a fight by systematically disarming and exhausting their opponents. In that regard, Makhachev has the perfect level of skill, toughness and demeanor to present a major problem to every single fighter in the division. Makhachev cut Oliveira early with a left cross and was never in trouble against a fighter who owns the UFC record for submission and stoppage wins. If he can make it look that easy against a fighter riding an 11-fight win streak of one dramatic victory after another, there's plenty of reason to believe a new era at lightweight has begun.
All according to father’s plan ❤️ #UFC280 pic.twitter.com/tQ8BgIyEpq— UFC (@ufc) October 22, 2022
2. Makhachev's first title defense is shaping up to be nothing short of a superfight
Pound-for-pound king and defending featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, who is 12-0 since making his UFC debut in 2016, entered the Octagon following Makhachev's victory for a staredown meant to hype a potential fight between the two in Australia next year for the 155-pound title. Makhachev made sure to start the trash talk between them by twice insulting Volkanovski, who is four inches shorter, for his 5-foot-6 height. But regardless of who is taller, a fight against Volkanovski offers Makhachev his biggest shot at instant critical acclaim and a shot at P4P kingship in just his first title defense. It's also a massive superfight as Volkanovski would get the chance to fight in front of his home crowd while attempting to become just the fifth simultaneous two-division champion in UFC history. Given the ease at which he finished Oliveira, it also isn't out of the question that the larger Makhachev would enter as the betting favorite.
Volk is ready for the smoke 😤— UFC (@ufc) October 22, 2022
[ @AlexVolkanovski | #UFC280 ] pic.twitter.com/ZQB1HOlcsr
3. TJ Dillashaw should've never been allowed to compete at UFC 280
Something seemed to be weird about Dillashaw's lack of face time during fight week. The former two-time bantamweight champion, who was hoping to make history at 36 by challenging Aljamain Sterling, was mysteriously absent during UFC Embedded filming and didn't take part in the public workout. Just seconds into Saturday's co-main event, a Sterling takedown then appeared to pop Dillashaw's shoulder out of place. Dillashaw deserved enormous credit for surviving the opening round while Sterling, a ground specialist with suffocatingly long limbs, had his way with him on top and repeatedly took his back. He also deserves our respect for continuing to fight after coach Duane Ludwig popped it back into place before Round 2. But the moment Dillashaw lost use of his left arm again early in the round, the fight should've been stopped, long before referee Marc Goddard finally called a halt to the action as Sterling was raining down a series of nasty elbows. And once an apologetic Dillashaw revealed during the post-fight interview that he "completely blew out his shoulder" in April, only to then dislocate it upwards of 20 times during training camp, it's clear he should've been ruled medically unfit to compete.
Dillashaw sat out a full year following a knee injury he suffered during a close win against Cory Sandhagen to secure a title shot. And while it's clear from his apology that he wasn't interested in holding up the sport's deepest division any longer, nobody wins in a scenario such as this. Considering UFC's decision to so openly embrace sports betting on its fights, it also presents a feeling of impropriety for those who placed large bets on the idea that Dillashaw might become a three-time champion. With a history of performance-enhancing drug use that cost him the title during his second reign, Dillashaw was already considered a villain in the eyes of most fans. But pushing forward with a fight he was physically unfit to win, even with the courage he showed, makes it that much harder to reward him with a big payday for acting "heroically."
THE BW KING REIGNS SUPREME 👑@FunkMasterMMA gets it done over TJ Dillashaw!! #UFC280 pic.twitter.com/UGjTI0YBQC— UFC (@ufc) October 22, 2022
4. Sean O'Malley proved he belongs despite a heavily disputed decision
In what turned out to be the clear show stealer on this deep card, O'Malley received the benefit of the doubt from the judges in a split decision win over former champion Petr Yan. The fight was as dramatic as it was fun to watch as O'Malley weathered the storm of Yan's six takedowns and constant physical pressure to bloody and drop his opponent with a flying knee in Round 3. Given the fact that UFC president Dana White had previously announced the winner would get the next bantamweight title shot, it was an impressive test for O'Malley, especially considering the lingering criticism surrounding the rising star from his 2020 TKO loss to Marlon Vera. By fighting back from being hurt, O'Malley proved he has the toughness and adaptability to give anyone in the star-studded division a serious challenge. But did he actually win the fight? That's where debates were quickly had online after two of three judges scored Round 1in his favor before all three gave him the edge in an equally competitive final round. O'Malley was lucky to receive the nod and twice during his postfight interview admitted that he wasn't sure he even won and would need to rewatch the tape before commenting on whether he's ready for a title shot. Either way, it's likely UFC is very ready. Even though Sterling called out former champion Henry Cejudo following his win over Dillashaw, an immediate fight with O'Malley seems inevitable given the commercial potential of "The Suga Show."