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Hot Tweets: Charles Oliveira’s all-time stakes against Islam Makhachev at UFC 280, plus Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley

UFC Fight Night: Makhachev v Green
Islam Makhachev
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

So I know there are fights this weekend, but let’s be real, these aren’t the fights we’re looking for. Next Saturday is the best card of the year, and at least on paper, one of the best in recent memory. So with only the smallest amount of disrespect toward all the fine men and women competing at UFC Vegas 62, let’s skip over that event entirely and talk about UFC 280.

If Charles Oliveira wins

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this question because I think it’s kind of important, and truth be told, I still don’t have an answer I’m 100-percent confident in. Because Charles Oliveira’s career is so damn weird, it makes it really hard to fit him into conventional understandings of stuff like this.

Oliveira’s current win streak is undeniably impressive: 11 in a row, the most recent three being all-time classic comebacks, and wins over elite, elite competition. And before his current streak he amassed a very solid résumé, with some good wins and a ton of awesome performances, but also some bad losses in there. Some of that was youth and some of it was his ill-fated attempt to cut to 145, but still, those losses stand out. And then there’s the whole weight fiasco at UFC 274. In truth, it doesn’t matter because no reasonable person believes a half-pound made the difference in that fight, but at the same time, it was only a half-pound, and he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — drop it. That sticks in my craw.

All of this is compounded by the fact that lightweight is the most cutthroat division in the sport’s history. No one has a long title reign because no one in the division can put together long runs of any kind. It’s just too difficult. That’s why I rate Khabib so highly. He’s the only person to really do that, and even he didn’t do it with a belt on the line.

Ultimately, I think if Oliveira beats Islam and does it impressively, I’ll view him as the second-best lightweight ever, with room to take the top spot. I can’t put him above Khabib yet, if only because Khabib was the best lightweight alive for five years but was denied a title shot due to injury and the business side of the UFC. Oliveira has only been the top dog for a year, and so I’ll need to see a little more from him in that regard.

As for most exciting lightweight champions ever, I think he pretty clearly already has the top spot, because there isn’t a lot of competition. No champion has had more than three defenses in the weight class, and none of those fights were nearly as electric as Oliveira’s title run. Now, if you’re expanding your definition out to just mean, “most exciting fighters who have ever been UFC lightweight champion,” Oliveira is probably in the top five. Justin Gaethje and Conor McGregor are No. 1 and No. 2, no doubt. Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier are probably slotted in above Oliveira (though I’m willing to hear arguments otherwise), and then it’s just a matter of whether you prefer “Do Bronx” to Tony Ferguson, Anthony Pettis, Benson Henderson, and B.J. Penn.

Fortunately, I don’t think this is going to matter, as I’m picking Islam Makhachev to steamroll Oliveira.

What if Islam Makhachev wins?

Let’s start here: I believe that Islam Makhachev is going to thump up Charles Oliveira in dominant fashion.

Full credit to what Oliveira has done his last few fights. I thought he would lose handily to both Poirier and Gaethje, because he’s way too easy to hit and they hit hard. But Oliveira hacked MMA.

By having the reputation as a dangerous guard player, when people hurt Oliveira they were too afraid to follow him down and elbow his face off like Paul Felder did, instead thinking that standing with him offered them a safer path to hurt him again. That gave Oliveira time to recover and stand back up, where he could trade shots again. And if Gaethje hurts him again? So what? Just drop and recover. But when the time inevitably comes that he hurts Gaethje? Game over. It’s a brilliant strategy that puts the math firmly in Oliveira’s favor. Unless you change the equation. And buddy, Islam Makhachev is out here doing calculus.

My read on this fight basically boils down to one thing: Oliveira isn’t going to submit, or really threaten Makhachev off his back. It’s not to say that Oliveira isn’t a dangerous grappler, but his reputation exceeds his ability. Plenty of fighters have held their own with him on the floor, with a decent number just straight up beating him there. It’s really hard for me to see Oliveira tricking Makhachev on the mat.

And on the feet? Makhachev and Oliveira are pretty even there. Oliveira is much worse defensively, but he’s more threatening and has more variety. But because Oliveira doesn’t have the safety valve of dropping to his butt to save him that he’s relied on, he’s still at a disadvantage.

The transitions are where Oliveira has the best shot to do something, in my opinion. He’s got a great guillotine and if Makhachev gets lazy during a takedown, that could be curtains. But Makhachev isn’t an idiot and he’s going to have spent his entire training camp looking to minimize exactly that sort of thing. This just feels like a terrible style matchup for Oliveira.

As for Conor’s place in all this, the short answer is “no.” Islam isn’t going to fight Conor unless the UFC absolutely forces the issue. Conor in no way deserves it and I doubt Islam cares about the money grab, especially with Khabib in his corner. Islam will likely just fight the next dude up. Now if Oliveira wins, Conor is for sure in play. “Do Bronx” has been angling for the money grab hard and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if part of the UFC’s incentive to get him to take a fight with Makhachev in enemy territory was offering him Conor as the prize.

What happens to the loser?

The co-main event is arguably more interesting than the main event, if only because there are more possibilities at play there. Any number of things can happen in that fight, whereas the main event really comes down to whether or not Oliveira can submit Makhachev. But I take your point.

As to your question, if Makhachev loses, I suspect he’ll earn another title shot at some point. He’s still relatively young, the UFC is behind him, and he’s better than just about everyone else in the division. If Oliveira loses, I think it’s 50/50. He’s also young, but he has A LOT of mileage on him, and its entirely possible that whenever Oliveira does next lose, he has a precipitous fall, a la Tony Ferguson.

In both instances though, the big benefit to being in the grinder that is the lightweight division: Once you make it into the top five, people stay there forever. Dudes will round robin at the top, holding their rankings down and staying in the title conversation and forcing the new blood to go on impossible streaks to break into the picture. So given that, both guys would still have a fair chance to do the damn thing again.

Alexander Volkanovski

No. And him being the backup is stupid. Volkanovski has a weight class, one in which he has only beaten the No. 1, No. 3, and No. 6 contenders (and Chan Sung Jung being No. 6 feels generous). Beat the other dudes in the top five, or at least another couple of top-10 fighters, and then we can talk.

Also, because Volkanovski is determined to make me hate him for some reason, he’s going to for sure call for a fight against the winner, which has a zero-percent chance of happening. The UFC is going to Perth. Volk will be on that fight card. And the lightweight champion of the world is not going to go to the featherweight champ’s backyard to fight, because why they hell would they? Especially if it’s Oliveira, with the UFC going to Brazil next year. This is all stupid and I hate that Conor broke the brain of every fighter who ever wins a title.

Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley

I respect that no one wanted to talk about the co-main event. Arguably the best fight on the card, but screw it. People hate Aljamain Sterling and T.J. Dillashaw — for entirely different but almost equally as dumb reasons, but whatever — and so they refuse to care about this fight, even though it rules. Instead, the other bantamweight bout is the one that’s getting the people going. Alas. At least it’s also a very good fight.

If O’Malley pulls off the upset against Petr Yan, he is 100-percent guaranteed to get the next title fight. The only way he wouldn’t get it is the only slight absurd possibility that Sterling beats Dillashaw and Dana White strips him of the belt and just hands it to O’Malley for beating the “true bantamweight champion” or some such s***. There’s never been more of a sure thing. And furthermore, beating Yan would actually mean O’Malley deserves it.

God love Marlon Vera, but the man doesn’t deserve a title fight yet. He needs one more win. And regardless of who that win comes over, how he gets it, or the fact that he beat O’Malley, if O’Malley beats Yan — the clear No. 2 bantamweight in the world and arguably the actual best one — that’s the trump card. Aces beat Kings, every time.

And for what it’s worth, I think O’Malley has a shot. Not saying I’m picking him to win, but Yan is a slow starter and O’Malley usually comes out quickly. In a three-round fight, sometimes that’s enough to make the difference. In a five-round fight, Yan wins handily, but there’s a path for O’Malley here.

Undercard bout

I think Manon Fiorot beats Katlyn Chookagian, but I don’t have a ton of confidence in it.

Death, taxes, and Chookagian by decision. That’s the joke and with good reason. The woman simply knows how to win. It may be ugly, it might be close, but she gets her hand raised. The only times Chookagian doesn’t is when she’s simply physically outmatched. Jessica Andrade bodied her up, Valentina Shevchenko big-sistered her, and I think Manon has the same chance do to so. Fiorot is a good athlete, powerful, and a better striker. All of that, in combination, is a tall order for Chookagian. It won’t be stunning if “Blonde Fighter” manages to find a way to win, but I think Manon is about to punch her ticket to a flyweight title shot.

Thanks for reading and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Send them to me and I’ll answer the ones I like the most. Let’s have fun.

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