Saturday’s UFC 280 event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Abu Dhabi,it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Etihad Arena.
1 - Islam Makhachev
It’s not the usual post-fight reaction, but I got a little emotional when new UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev spoke of his relationship with his late coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov and current coach Khabib Nurmagomedov. It was a reminder that practically every fighter chases the goal of being a world champion, and when and if it comes, it’s a moment where words are often hard to come by, especially for someone like Makhachev, who has been training his entire life for this. It’s hard not to be happy for him after his win over Charles Oliveira, but back to business, and Makhachev apparently doesn’t want to take a victory lap. Instead, he wants a SuperFight with featherweight boss Alexander Volkanovski, and if that’s the way Makhachev wants to represent himself as champion, that’s a great thing for the sport.
2 - Sean O’Malley
I’ll admit I was among the crowd who was shocked when it was announced that Sean O’Malley was going to face former bantamweight champion Petr Yan. Not that I was doubting the talent of the Arizonan, but this was Petr Yan, the guy who lives by his nickname “No Mercy.” To me, it was too much too soon, but O’Malley shut a lot of us up on Saturday afternoon. And even if the split decision didn’t go his way, O’Malley proved that he belongs among the 135-pound elite, and nothing will ever be the same for “Sugar Sean” from here on out.
3 - Aljamain Sterling
Aljamain Sterling hasn’t had the smoothest stay atop the bantamweight mountain, and Saturday was no different, as he had to deal with more talk about a TJ Dillashaw injury than his one-sided win over the former two-time champ. That needs to stop, and Aljo should get the respect he’s earned as a champion. That’s right, earned it.
4 - Belal Muhammad
Belal Muhammad didn’t need to take a fight with the unbeaten Sean Brady last Saturday. Brady was ranked below him at 170 pounds, so it was high risk-low reward for the veteran contender. So what did Muhammad do? He made a statement against Brady that should now reap him the rewards he deserved. Yeah, it was high risk, but Muhammad stepped up and delivered. That’s what the elite do.
5 - Beneil Dariush
Pound-for-pound one of the nicest folks in the business, Beneil Dariush is also one of the top fighters in the 155-pound weight class. But injuries, layoffs and other assorted roadblocks have kept him from getting his shot to prove that he’s the best lightweight in the world. But in Abu Dhabi, Dariush returned from over a year on the sidelines ot defeat surging contender Mateusz Gamrot. In the process, he reminded the world that he’s here, and he’s not going anywhere.
UFC 280: Oliveira vs Makhachev took place live from Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on October 22, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!