***Official*** UFC 302: Islam vs Poirier Sherdog Content

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According to his coach, Islam Makhachev’s skills have reached their zenith.

Makhachev’s striking coach, Magomedgadzhi Bagandov, believes the champ can outstrike Dustin Poirier (30-8, 1 NC). Makhachev (25-1) is slated to defend his lightweight strap against Poirier in the main event at UFC 302 on June 1 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. With Poirier’s notoriety for emerging victorious in lethal slugfests and Makhachev’s Dagestani grappling background, taking the fight to the ground would be the obvious gameplan for the champion.

Makhachev’s camp has been highlighting the recent developments of their pupil’s striking skillset. Makhachev recently claimed that his teammate, Bellator MMA lightweight champ Usman Nurmagomedov, has better striking than Poirier. Coach Bagandov claims that Makhachev can not only hold his own in the stand-up against Poirier, but he may even have the advantage on the feet against “The Diamond.”

“I have been following Poirier for a long time,” Bagandov said on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s YouTube channel. “In terms of striking technique, he has a unique fighting style. Islam doesn’t just hold his own against him; if he doesn’t engage recklessly, Islam surpasses him… Even if you put wrestling aside, in my opinion, Islam can outbox him in pure boxing and in muay thai. There are no aspects in which Islam lags behind.”



Order Now! UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

It has been commonly observed throughout history that a true warrior fights not for personal glory. Instead, they fight for a legacy that lasts for generations and a purpose that extends beyond mere personal milestones. Such is the case of Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight king Islam Makhachev, whose path was illuminated by the success of longtime mentor and training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov, and the wisdom passed down by the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. Born in Dagestan, Makhachev’s dominance springs from years of dedication and unyielding mental resilience.



At UFC 280, Makhachev, the custodian of the grand “father’s plan,” was a man on a mission, determined to take the championship home. He had his sights set on the lightweight throne after “The Eagle” announced his retirement and relinquished his belt following his victory over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254. However, even during his crowning moment in Abu Dhabi, his humility shined through, articulating his profound reverence for Khabib and his father. As he stands on the cusp of a fresh challenge to his reign against Dustin Poirier at UFC 302, Makhachev looks to fortify his supremacy on June 1 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Ahead of the clash, let’s take a look at some of the defining moments of his career that have shaped him into the champion he is today:

1. An Unchallenged Upbringing​


Makhachev turned professional in August 2010, taking on Magomed Bekbolatov under the Tsumada Fighting Championship banner. He won the fight by unanimous decision. He secured ten more victories over formidable names like Mansour Barnaoui and Yuri Ivlev. During that run, he amassed seven finishes fighting predominantly in Russia and Ukraine.

2. After the Flames​


The Dagestani signed a four-fight contract with the UFC in October 2014. His debut appearance went according to plan, securing a second-round submission over Leo Kuntz at UFC 187. However, his sophomore appearance for the Las Vegas-based promotion would culminate in the lone blemish on his record. During his UFC 192 appearance against Adriano Martins, Makhachev’s early aggression proved costly against the patient Brazilian. Makhachev’s overhand left found empty air, and Martins countered with a well-placed right hook that stripped the legs out from beneath the Russian. The first-round knockout loss remains the first and only defeat on the Dagestani’s record. Since then, he has rattled off 13 straight victories, occupying the third spot in the organization’s history for longest win streaks alongside all-time greats Georges St. Pierre, Demetrious Johnson and Nurmagomedov.

3. Knocking on Contention​


Makhachev’s road to the title picture was a long and arduous journey. For much of his career, he chose to operate from the shadows of Khabib Nurmagomedov, not by design but by choice. It was always destined for him to take over the mantle from “The Eagle,” but the Dagestani had to endure fellow peers disputing his status and the organization casting doubt over his legitimacy as a contender. However, at UFC 267, in front of his second home of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Makhachev wrangled ranked contender Dan Hooker with a kimura in the first round. He doubled down on that campaign for gold with a TKO victory over Bobby Green at UFC Fight Night 202, guaranteeing he could not be refused the title shot.

4. One Crowning Moment​


More than seven years and 12 fights later, where he compiled an 11-1 record, Makhachev was granted the title shot at UFC 280 against Charles Oliveira. The Russian dominated the former champion, who surrendered the title to the scale at UFC 274 by missing weight. Makhachev dominated through the first frame and dropped the Brazilian with a left hand in the second. He followed Oliveira to the canvas, bold and defiant against his rival’s expertise on the ground, and secured an arm-triangle choke at the 3:16 mark. It was a dynamic effort from the freshly minted champion and the culmination of a dream years in the making.


 
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Order Now! UFC 302 "Makhachev vs. Poirier" Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

Islam Makhachev will attempt to tighten his stranglehold on the 155-pound weight class when he defends his undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title against American Top Team’s Dustin Poirier in the UFC 302 headliner on June 1 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Meanwhile, former middleweight champion Sean Strickland puts Paulo Costa to the test in the five-round co-main event at 185 pounds.




As UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” approaches, a look at some of the numbers the fighters on the bill bring to the table:

588: Days spent by Makhachev as undisputed lightweight champion. He ascended to the 155-pound throne with a second-round arm-triangle choke submission of Charles Oliveira at UFC 280 on Oct. 22, 2022.


15: Poirier wins by knockout or technical knockout, accounting for 50% of his career total (30). His list of UFC victims: Benoit St. Denis, Conor McGregor (twice), Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, Bobby Green, Yancy Medeiros, Diego Ferreira, Akira Corassani and Diego Brandao.

89: Rounds started by Strickland as a professional mixed martial artist. The Xtreme Couture export has gone the distance on 17 different occasions and carries a 13-4 record in those bouts. Only Dricus Du Plessis, Jared Cannonier, Kamaru Usman and Santiago Ponzinibbio have bested Strickland on the scorecards.

32: Seconds needed for Costa to bring down Ademilson Borges Duarte with a head kick and follow-up punches under the Upper Fight MMA Championship banner on June 15, 2013. More than a decade later, it remains his fastest finish to date.

350,000: Dollars in post-fight bonuses banked by Kevin Holland across his 21 assignments in the UFC. He has been awarded “Performance of the Night” six times and “Fight of the Night” once. Holland toes the line against Michal Oleksiejczuk in a three-round middleweight attraction.

8: Countries in which Oleksiejczuk has suited up as a mixed martial artist. In addition to a 12-2 mark in his native Poland, he has gone 3-3 with one no contest in the United States, 1-0 in Singapore, 1-0 in the United Arab Emirates, 1-0 in Russia, 1-0 in the Czech Republic, 0-1 in New Zealand and 0-1 in Denmark.

12: Jailton Almeida victories by submission, accounting for 60% of his career total (20). His methods of choice: 10 rear-naked chokes and two arm-triangle chokes. Almeida confronts Alexander Romanov in a three-round heavyweight feature.

20: Takedowns completed by Romanov as a member of the UFC roster, tying him with Almeida for fifth on the promotion’s active heavyweight list. Only Curtis Blaydes (62), Sergey Spivak (27), Stipe Miocic (25) and Marcin Tybura (21) have been credited with more.

37: Years of age for Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. The oldest fighter on the card, he was born on Nov. 12, 1986 in Francisco Beltrao, Brazil. Zaleski dos Santos faces Randy Brown in a three-round welterweight appetizer.

2: Organizations in which Brown has plied his mixed martial arts trade. He holds a 12-5 mark in the UFC and a 6-0 mark in Ring of Combat.




Order Now! UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder Sean Strickland takes on Brazilian brute Paulo Costa on June 1 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The faint of heart may want to pass.



Renowned for his boxing skills and volume striking, Strickland looks to rebound from a split decision loss to Dricus Du Plessis. The American dropped the middleweight strap at UFC 297 only four months after capturing the title from Israel Adesanya in September. “Tarzan” appears to be fueled by an unyielding spirit to reclaim his position at the top. Meanwhile, Costa, a 185-pound powerhouse, aims to regain momentum after losing an entertaining scrap with Robert Whittaker in his last assignment. Costa’s physicality and finishing power could prove to be a decisive factor in the fight. The Brazilian has compiled a 2-3 record in his last five fights. The two men have engaged in plenty of verbal banter through heated exchanges on social media.

With the stage set for the battle between Strickland and Costa at 185 pounds, a look at some statistical intricacies that bind the fighters together:


6: Strickland holds the seventh spot on the middleweight divisional ladder for longest winning streak, with six straight victories.

1,887: Volume striking is the biggest weapon in Strickland’s arsenal. He occupies the third spot for most significant strikes landed in the history of the organization with 1,887.

1,155: Strickland currently sits in the No. 2 spot in the 185-pound division for most significant strikes landed with 1,155.

173: Strickland landed 173 significant head strikes on Uriah Hall in their July 2021 clash, the ninth-highest total in UFC history.

1.14: Strickland boasts the fifth-lowest bottom position percentage in UFC 185-pound history at 1.14%.

173: Strickland holds the No. 1 spot for most significant strikes landed in a middleweight championship bout, as he connected with 173 strikes of them against Du Plessis at UFC 297.

14: In 2020, Strickland fought Jack Marshman and Brendan Allen on 14 days’ notice, tying Chris Leben for third-fastest turnaround to win two UFC fights.

64.8: Strickland also exhibits solid defense in his fights, evading 64.8% strikes—the sixth-best percentage in the history of the 185-pound weight class.

6.20: Costa lands 6.20 strikes per minute on average, with a 58% striking accuracy.

6.38: Costa thrives in an all-out wars. In doing so, he also absorbs 6.38 strikes per minute on average.

75: While Costa generally likes to stand and trade leather with his opponents, he has a solid grappling game, bolstered by the 75% takedown accuracy rate he maintains in his fights.

 




0:00 Intro: Rate UFC 302 on paper
7:48 Andre Lima (8-0) vs. Mitch Raposo (9-1)
18:05 Ailin Perez (9-2) vs. Joselyne Edwards (13-5)
26:08 Mickey Gall (7-5) vs. Bassil Hafez (8-4-1)
36:26 Niko Price (15-7, 2 NC) vs. Alex Morono (24-9, 1 NC)
51:08 Philip Rowe (10-4) vs. Jake Matthews (19-7)
1:03:14 Grant Dawson (20-2-1) vs. Joe Solecki (13-4)
1:09:34 Cesar Almeida (5-0) vs. Roman Kopylov (12-3)
1:24:13 Randy Brown (18-5) vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (24-7-1)
1:36:10 Jailton Almeida (20-3) vs. Alexander Romanov (17-2)
1:53:41 Kevin Holland (25-11, 1 NC) vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk (19-7, 1 NC)
2:05:33 Sean Strickland (28-6) vs. Paulo Costa (14-3)
2:24:16 Islam Makhachev (25-1) vs. Dustin Poirier (30-8, 1 NC)
2:52:04 A quick rundown of all the picks

 


This has all the earmarks of a last-hurrah scenario for Dustin Poirier.




The American Top Team ace will challenge Islam Makhachev for the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight crown in the UFC 302 headliner this Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Poirier fought for the 155-pound title on two previous occasions, losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019 and Charles Oliveira in 2021. The championship window seems to be closing on the Lafayette, Louisiana, native, who turned 35 in January. Poirier enters his latest assignment on the strength of wins in nine of his past 12 outings. He last fought at UFC 299, where he punched out Benoit St. Denis in the second round of their March 9 firefight and authored the 23rd finish of his illustrious career. Makhachev, meanwhile, has established himself as one of the sport’s premier pound-for-pound fighters. The longtime Nurmagomedov protégé steps back into the spotlight with a remarkable 13-fight winning streak in tow, his run highlighted by his defeating former featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski in back-to-back appearances. Makhachev, 32, has secured 16 of his 25 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.

In addition to the Makhachev-Poirier showdown, here are two other reasons to catch UFC 302:

Out of the Ashes​


It was fun while it lasted for Sean Strickland. The unapologetically polarizing 33-year-old Californian draws his first assignment inside the Octagon since he surrendered the middleweight title in a contentious decision loss to Dricus Du Plessis, as he he locks horns with Paulo Costa in the co-main event. Strickland’s reign atop the 185-pound division covered just 132 days. The Xtreme Couture export holds a 15-6 record inside the Octagon, with wins over Israel Adesanya, Nassourdine Imavov, Jack Hermansson, Uriah Hall, Brendan Allen and Court McGee. On the other side of the equation, Costa has lost three of his past four bouts after starting his career with 13 straight victories. The former Jungle Fight champion last suited up on Feb. 17, when he was outstruck by a 95-67 margin and dropped a three-round unanimous decision to Robert Whittaker at UFC 298.

 


Arman Tsarukyan isn’t counting out Dustin Poirier in his upcoming UFC 302 title fight against Islam Makhachev.



Poirier challenges Makhachev for the lightweight title in the main event at UFC 302 on June 1 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Poirier previously suffered a submission loss in a foiled championship bid against Makhachev’s teammate and mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242 in 2019. Given the similarity of style between both Dagestanis, Poirier is a massive underdog heading into UFC 302.

Makhachev also arguably has developed a cleaner striking skillset than Nurmagomedov over the years. According to Makhachev, teammate and Bellator MMA lightweight champ Usman Nurmagomedov has better striking than Poirier. Regardless, Tsarukyan believes standing up against Poirier will be a dangerous game to play for Makhachev. While Tsarukyan expects Makhachev to successfully execute his obvious game plan against Poirier, the Armenian-Russian could also put his money on “The Diamond.”

“I see like Islam gonna try to push him to the cage, to try to take him down and, try to hold him, submit him. But if he can’t do that, it’s gonna be dangerous. If he wants to box him, I think Dustin Poirier on a different level — his punch, his speed, he can knock him out very fast," Tsarukyan New York Post Sports. “That’s why Islam’s gotta try to take him down right away. So yeah, for me, the favorite is Islam, on this fight but I can put money on Dustin Poirier KO, because it could be happen.”




Islam Makhachev believes teammate Usman Nurmagomedov is a better striker than upcoming opponent Dustin Poirier.




Makhachev is scheduled to defend his lightweight title against Poirier in the main event at UFC 302 on June 1 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Since he’s in the same weight class, Bellator MMA lightweight champ Nurmagomedov is one of Makhachev’s chief sparring partners in camp.

While Nurmagomedov couldn’t join the rest of the team until recently, Makhachev revealed that the undefeated Bellator champ gave him some solid rounds as soon as they sparred. The reigning lightweight champion heaped praise on his teammate, also labeling him a better striker than Poirier.

“Usman, honestly always give me good rounds,” Makhachev said on the "Weighing In" podcast. “After he was sick and he just come back two days ago. We [rest of the team] are one week here. When he feel like better, right away he come to support me. And today he give me two good rounds. This guy I think have better striking than Dustin. He gave me good time in the striking because you know, his kick, his arm, he’s really good in the striking honestly. And when you spar with some guy at the high level, they call it [iron sharpens iron].”

While Dagestani exports are renowned for their dominant grappling, many have showcased elite striking skill sets over the years, including both Makhachev and Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov has scored eight of his 17 career wins via KO/TKO, albeit many of them via ground-and-pound. Nurmagomedov recently pulled out of a title defense against Alexander Shabliy scheduled for Bellator Paris on May 17 due to an undisclosed injury. The fight was supposed to be his return from a six-month suspension due to a failed drug test that resulted in his last title defense against Brent Primus being overturned to a no contest.

Makhachev has also shown exceptional striking in dropping Charles Oliveira before submitting him to win the title and knocking out Alexander Volkanovski with a head kick in his second title defense.

 


The upcoming Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view showcase, UFC 302, features a middleweight clash that will set the tone for the co-main and main event fights to follow. Kevin Holland, the organization’s go-to crisis fighter to revitalize the lineup of any event, will return to the 185-pound bracket having competed at welterweight in recent years. He is coming off consecutive losses to Jack Della Maddalena and Michael Page but remains a top draw in the organization despite only two wins in last five outings. Meanwhile, his foe, Michal Oleksiejczuk, has lost two of his last three Octagon outings, suffering submission losses to Caio Borralho and Michael Pereira. The Pole holds a 7-5 record in the Las Vegas-based organization with 1 no contest, and will be keen on recapturing momentum starting with a victory over Holland. With that, let’s take a look at some of the statistical intricacies that bind the fighters together.

7: The ever-entertaining Holland has earned six “Performance of the Night” bonuses and one “Fight of the Night” honor, meaning that he has taken home incentive money in over one-third of his 20 UFC bouts to date.


5: In 2020, “Trailblazer” defeated Anthony Hernandez, Joaquin Buckley, Darren Stewart, Charlie Ontiveros and Ronaldo Souza, tying Roger Huerta (2007) and Neil Magny (2014) for the most wins in a calendar year in UFC history. All three men went a perfect 5-0 in their respective year.

1: For that remarkable run, culminating in his memorable performance against “Jacare” in which he knocked out the grappling legend with punches from a seated position, Holland was named Sherdog’s Breakthrough Fighter of the Year for 2020, the first such selection of his career.

7: Not one to be bounded by the calendar, Holland’s drive to maintain active participation is illustrated by the fact that he holds the record for most UFC appearances in a rolling 12-month period. He competed seven times between May 16, 2020 and April 10, 2021.

1,219: The American holds the 10th spot in middleweight history for total strikes landed.

4.24: Holland lands 4.24 significant strikes per minute with 49% accuracy.

19: Oleksiejczuk has 19 wins on his professional record with seven losses and one no-contest.

14: “Hussar” has rattled off 14 KO/ TKO finishes, constituting 74% of his wins.

 


Every fight matters, but some matter just a little more.

A win is a win and a loss is a loss, of course, but some of those Ws and Ls feel bigger than others for various reasons. In some cases, the elevated stakes are easy to define. Picture the fighter on a losing streak who knows he or she is likely fighting for their job, or conversely, any title fight in a top regional organization, where the combatants know the big leagues are almost certainly scouting them. At other times, a fight feels especially important for reasons that are harder to quantify but no less real. Whether it’s the unspoken weight of being a pioneer in MMA from one’s native country or the simple added spice of two fighters who genuinely hate each other’s guts, that fight means just a little more.


This Saturday in Newark, New Jersey, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is set to deliver a dozen bouts featuring fighters in every stage of MMA’s career life cycle. From top-billed Islam Makhachev, one of the most dominant fighters in the sport and Sherdog’s current pound-for-pound king, to former champs looking to make it back to the top of the mountain, undefeated phenoms planning to make a big splash, and several ranked contenders who need to bounce back from losses, everyone has something to prove. Still, some may feel a bit more under the gun when the lights go down at the Prudential Center. Here are three fighters who need to stand and deliver at UFC 302.

Jailton Almeida: Don’t Join the JAG Corps​


In referring to Almeida, that three-letter acronym does not refer to Judge Advocate General, as in the long-running military legal drama series by that name, but “just another guy/gal.” There are about 600 fighters on the UFC roster at any given time, and about 500 of them are JAGs. They are not champs, contenders, cult heroes, or fan favorites; just very good fighters doing their best to keep their jobs and separate themselves from the pack in the world’s top promotion.

To be fair, despite his one-sided loss to Curtis Blaydes at UFC 299 in March, “Malhadinho” is not really in immediate danger of falling all the way into the ranks of the JAGs, no matter what happens against Alexander Romanov on Saturday. While it surely stung to have his perfect 6-0 UFC record snapped—to say nothing of his 15-fight win streak overall—it was simply a case of Almeida running into the worst stylistic matchup the division had to offer. Almeida is a huge, athletic man who has parlayed those gifts into an excellent wrestling attack, despite having no formal background in that discipline, which then feeds his crushingly heavy top game. In Blaydes, who is even bigger, just as athletic, and perhaps the best heavyweight wrestler in MMA history, Almeida faced a foe who basically trumped all his best cards.

Almeida would appear to be the one holding the high cards this time around, as Romanov is another massive wrestler who made a big splash upon his arrival in the UFC a few years ago but hit a ceiling once he ran into Top 10 competition who exposed his one-dimensional game and questionable cardio. Almeida’s originally scheduled opponent, Alexander Volkov, was a tall order for a rebound fight, pun fully intended. The 6-foot-7 Russian striker would have been an interesting test, thanks to his veteran composure, underrated power and ever-improving takedown defense. Romanov is Volkov’s stylistic opposite, offering essentially a poor man’s version of Almeida’s own skill set, in a smaller package to boot. At age 32, a spring chicken by heavyweight standards, Almeida still gives off a bit of an up-and-coming prospect vibe despite having over 20 professional fights. If he truly is a special fighter—a future champ, or at least a perennial Top 5 fixture like Blaydes—he should absolutely wreck Romanov. If he struggles or, heaven forbid, loses…well, the good news is that as a heavyweight JAG, he could easily stick around for another full decade, cashing checks.

Walk It Off, Grant Dawson


Speaking of fighters at UFC 302 who will be looking to bounce back from their first UFC loss but also have the chance to help—or hurt—their perceived status as future title contenders, Dawson is probably even more eager than Almeida to put his last performance in the rearview. The alum of Season 1 of Dana White's Contender Series went undefeated in his first nine UFC bouts, and aside from a scare against Ricky Glenn in 2021 that led to a majority draw, he has made it look pretty easy. Dawson’s struggles all seemed to be outside of the cage, with three weight misses—two while still laboring under the delusion that he was a featherweight—and a brush with USADA that forced one of his bouts to be rescheduled.

However, by late 2022, “KGD” seemed to have hit his stride. Even after his longtime gym, Glory MMA and Fitness, crashed and burned, he not only survived but thrived, settling in at American Top Team and racking up his two best wins to date, manhandling Mark O. Madsen and Damir Ismagulov to complete the turn from talented but inconsistent featherweight prospect to ranked lightweight contender. Dawson was rewarded with his first main event booking, entering the cage last October at UFC Fight Night 229 as a better than 4-to-1 favorite over Bobby Green. Considering the depth of the UFC lightweight division, it was still a long way off, but at 29, with a professional record of 20-1-1 and rolling over strikers and grapplers alike, it was tempting to wonder whether Dawson might eventually be the one to break the Dagestani dynasty at 155 pounds—or at the very least, the first to avoid becoming an instant takedown dummy.

Any speculation along those lines proved to be very premature, however, as Green needed just 33 seconds to leave Dawson, his 12-fight unbeaten streak, and a lot of his hype face down in the middle of the UFC Apex. Returning for the first time since that quick and brutal setback, Dawson, like Almeida, has drawn an opponent who appears to be a reasonable yet very winnable challenge. Joe Solecki is a tricky, stance-switching boxer and an even trickier grappler, capable of threatening with submissions from almost anywhere, but Dawson will be bigger, faster, harder-hitting, and a vastly superior wrestler. Here is a chance for Dawson to show his continued maturation by bouncing back from defeat authoritatively. Show up, make weight, fill a cup with clean pee, and take care of business against Solecki, preferably showing along the way that the Green knockout did not leave him gun-shy on the feet. Start up another dozen-fight streak and the rest will take care of itself.

Cesar Almeida: Become Poatan’s Poatan​


Three years ago, when the UFC offered a contract to a 34-year-old former elite kickboxer with just four MMA bouts to his name, it seemed pointless at best, perhaps even silly. Unless, that is, you knew that Alex Pereira’s kickboxing record happened to include two wins over UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya. Context is everything, folks. If this column has an overall theme, that’s it, and the “Poatan” signing is a perfect example of that principle at work. At the time, the best realistic hope would have been somehow getting Pereira enough wins to justify a title fight slash grudge match with “The Last Stylebender.” At that point, mission accomplished. Even if Pereira lost badly, the signing would have served a purpose, as Adesanya was in real danger of having to clean out his division twice over while waiting for fresh contenders to emerge.

The move paid off better than the UFC could have dreamed. After hooking up with the perfect mentor in fellow late-bloomer legend Glover Teixeira, Pereira won his way to a middleweight title shot, whereupon he knocked Adesanya out. Pereira lost the rematch, but in many ways, that ended up being better for everyone involved, because having given the middleweight division the kind of hard reboot it so desperately needed, he then moved up to light heavyweight and won a belt there too. Suddenly, the crossover curiosity, the gimmick signing, might be among the 25 or 30 most accomplished mixed martial artists of all time, and he basically did it in three years and eight fights.

 


While time may be of the essence for Cesar Almeida, the 36-year-old Brazilian kickboxer understands he cannot rush to find success in the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight division. Narrowminded focus trumps all in a sport where results are often determined by the details.

“The next fight is always the most important, the fight of my life,” he told Sherdog.com. “That’s how I look at it. To feel a little stress is normal. Even when sparring, we feel a little twinge in the stomach. It’s normal to feel that way, but what matters is controlling it and being in a good headspace.”


Almeida will put his perfect 5-0 record on the line in his latest assignment, as he collides with Roman Kopylov in the featured UFC 302 prelim this Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Lotus MMA rep burst on the major mixed martial arts scene on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2023, procuring a UFC contract with a unanimous decision over Lucas Fernando. Almeida made his organizational debut at UFC Fight Night 240 and did not disappoint, as he put away Dylan Budka with elbows and punches in the second round of their April 6 pairing. The “Performance of the Night” effort netted him an additional $50,000.

“Everything went well,” Almeida said. “It was the beginning of a great new road, and the bonus was unexpected. Other than that, nothing has changed. My objectives remain the same. Our main objective is to get another victory in the UFC [and] to make it 2-0. Then maybe we’ll look for someone ranked, since Kopylov is a guy who is already close to being ranked himself. Beating him will open up this possibility for us.”

A former Fight Nights Global champion, Kopylov enters the cage with wins in four of his past five outings. He last suited up at UFC 298, where he submitted to a rear-naked choke from Anthony Hernandez in the second round of their Feb. 17 encounter. It was the first setback for Kopylov, 33, in more than two years.

“Every fighter has flaws, and Kopylov is no different,” Almeida said. “We’ve already studied him [and] put in the work, and we are putting together our strategy. As we get closer to the fight, the smallest details count. We have to pay full attention. He’s dangerous and fast—a knockout artist. It’s going to be a striking war with small gloves. Our strategy will work, God willing. We’ll put it on the line, and I’ll get my hand raised in the end.”

As he continues to carve out a place in the UFC, Almeida finds assurance in the fact that he owns a kickboxing victory over current light heavyweight champion Alex Pereira. He went 1-2 against “Poatan” under the WGB Kickboxing banner between March 2013 and July 2015. All three of their fights went the distance.

“This counts very positively for me, as I’m one of the few guys who managed to defeat Alex in kickboxing,” Almeida said, “and when I lost to him, I wasn’t knocked out. I fought five rounds with him. That counts for a lot.”

Almeida admits he shares a kinship with Pereira as a kickboxing convert.




Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight Alexander Romanov made a real statement in his most recent appearance, as he rebounded from back-to-back defeats to Marcin Tybura and Alexander Volkov with a three-round unanimous decision over Blagoy Ivanov. Time may soon tell whether or not he truly righted the ship.

Romanov broke into the UFC with an 11-0 record and proceeded to collect five straight victories before the aforementioned losses to Tybura and Volkov. At 33, he still finds himself to accomplish whatever goals he set for himself at the start of his journey through combat sports. Romanov will next face Jailton Almeida in a UFC 302 heavyweight showcase on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Neither man can afford to budge.


As Romanov makes final preparations for his looming battle against the impressive Brazilian, here are fiving things you might not know about him:

1. A formidable wrestling background anchors his skills.​


Romanov started training in freestyle wrestling at the tender age of 7. “King Kong” has represented the Moldovan national team four times at the World Wrestling Championships, twice as a senior and twice as a junior. He also was part of eight national teams for the European Championships. In 2016, he bagged the bronze medal at the World University Championships and placed 12th at the 2020 European Wrestling Championships. Additionally, he is also a two-time United World Wrestling grappling European bronze medalist.

2. There are brains behind the brawn.​


The 33-year-old Romanov revealed in an interview with UFC.com that he studied at the law faculty of Comrat State University. He also mentioned attending the pedagogical faculty of Chisinau Sport Institute (USEFS), although the exact details of his coursework and tenure remain unclear.

3. Family motivates him.​


Romanov was born to a Russian father and a Ukrainian mother on Dec. 11, 1990, in Comrat, Moldavia, in what was then the Soviet Union. He often posts pictures with his wife Anna Romanov and their three kids. The UFC heavyweight standout has made sure that the values of martial arts discipline are instilled in his kids from a very young age. Oldest son Alexandr Jr. recently participated in his first muay thai tournament. Romanov took to Instagram to share the proud moment and captioned the post: “April 20, 2024 Severna Perk Community Center hosted MDL muay thai tournament. For me, this tournament is especially interesting, because it was here that my oldest son Alexandr Jr. Romanov held his debut duel. Truly proud of my son!!! This tournament is especially interesting for me, because it was here that my eldest son Alexandr Jr. had his debut match. Romanov. I am truly proud of my son!!! Appreciate his coaches.”

4. He understands the weight of being a champion.​


Romanov predominantly competed under the Eagles Fighting Championship banner before signing with the UFC. Having amassed a 5-0 record in the organization, he was handed the opportunity to fight for the heavyweight title at EFC 8 against Alexander Stolyarov. It took “King Kong” merely 36 seconds to demolish his foe, registering a TKO win in the first frame and seizing the heavyweight throne in the process.

 


Sean Strickland's head coach, Eric Nicksick, is confident in his student’s ability to recognize and address the issues that cost him the middleweight strap against Dricus Du Plessis at UFC 297 in January.

As Nicksick prepares his charge to compete against Paulo Costa in the UFC 302 co-main event, the decorated coach recently shared his analysis of their previous assignment and how Strickland has worked on not repeating the same mistakes.

“I think there’s a lot of things we could have done better. That's honest to God truth man,” Nicsick told Submission Radio. “For example, we got away from our kicking, our teeps. I think you and I actually talked about this, the teeps are like three or four things that we needed to negate the pressure, to slow Dricus down with the bodywork but also giving another scoring criteria to the judges to see rather than just the jab essentially. There are some things we could have done better on the ground, for example, every time we got up, a lot of times Sean hit a switch and was in a position to inflict some top-side damage as well, which instead he just got up and got away from. So there were moments there where we could have obtained some scoring criteria and give the judges more and make it look a little better in our favor.

“I said something to Sean a few weeks ago when he was sparring, and I actually saw it resonate with him. He was winning all of his rounds, he won rounds one, two and three; he won them, but I said something going into round five, I was like hey bro, you’re sparring like you fought Dricus, you fought Dricus not to lose, I want you to fight like you fought Izzy and that was with nothing to lose. He had nothing to lose against Izzy; he fought Izzy differently. I said he lost to Dricus because he just didn’t have that edge that I normally felt from him. So rounds four and five, he ended up beating the crap out of the last two guys and that’s what I want out of him,” Nicksick added.

Nicksick also revealed what he expects from his fighter going into his five-round co-main event meeting with Costa this weekend.

“You know as a five-round [bout,] I think this definitely favors us. At least that's the mentality right now is to try and drag this dude into some deep waters. So, I'm hoping we can get him out of there by round four round five. But this dude's tough. He's gritty, he's durable but it's going to be up to us to be just chipping away at him. So, that's the goal. I'm not trying to make a prediction but I'm just telling you what we are expecting from our athlete and that's it.”


 


Jailton Almeida aspires to move beyond the setback that toppled his 15-fight winning streak. The Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight standout suffered his third pro defeat and first in six years when he succumbed to punches from Curtis Blaydes at UFC 299 on March 9. Almeida will take one Alexander Romanov in featured UFC 302 attraction this Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Prior to his knockout loss to Blaydes, the Brazilian was a perfect 6-0 inside the Octagon with five finishes.

Meanwhile, Romanov enters the match on the heels of a bounce-back win over Blagoy Ivanov at UFC on ESPN 48 in July. The victory closed the book on a two-fight skid for the Moldovan, who had suffered consecutive losses to Marcin Tybura and Alexander Volkov. They remain the only two setbacks of Romanov’s 19-fight career.


Ahead of the Almeida-Romanov clash, a look at some of the statistical intricacies that bind the fighters together:

3: Almeida has received “Performance of the Night” three times for his dominant displays against Anton Turkalj, Shamil Abdurakhimov, and Jairzinho Rozenstruik.

0.7: Almeida holds the second spot in UFC history for the fewest strikes absorbed per minute at 0.7.

88.4: With a staggering 88.4% control time percentage, Almeida ranks No. 1 all-time in the category.

80.6: Almeida also enjoys the highest top position percentage in UFC history at 80.6%.

21:10: Almedia delivered a shutout performance against former title challenger Derrick Lewis, accumulating the most ground control time in a UFC heavyweight bout and the fourth-most in a UFC bout with a mind-blowing 21:10 of control time.

9: Almeida landed nine takedowns on Blaydes in the first round, the highest single-round count ever in a UFC heavyweight bout.

11: Romanov has rattled off 11 first-round victories in his professional career—a testament to his explosive fighting style.

53: Romanov has registered nine submission victories, which amounts to a 53% submission finish rate. In addition, he holds a knockout rate of 35%, with only two wins by decision.




Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos wants a more significant piece of the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight pie, and a history of consistent performance indicates he probably deserves one.

The 37-year-old Brazilian cozies up to his latest assignment with a stellar 11-3-1 promotional record, as he takes aim at former Ring of Combat champion Randy Brown in a featured UFC 302 attraction this Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Even with a proven track record—two of his losses resulted in split decisions—and fan-friendly style, Zaleski dos Santos finds himself outside the current rankings at 170 pounds.


“From the moment I started fighting, I did it in a way where I could show my best,” he told Sherdog.com. “I always look for ways to improve in martial arts. Every fight has been tough. I see myself as belonging in the Top 15 and being a future champion of the organization. Anything can happen. I still have a lot of time to do my job within the UFC. I have renewed my contract, so I want to be able to show it and see how far I can get.

“I have my goals, and I know I can get very far,” Zaleski dos Santos added. “A lot can happen, and I see a very bright future within the organization with the time I have left. I believe that our division is the most dangerous division and the most in flux. There are a ton of fighters since it’s the average male size in the world, and everyone is looking for their place in the sun.”

Brown does not figure to be an easy obstacle to navigate. “Rude Boy” has rattled off eight wins in 10 appearances, losing only to Jack Della Maddalena and Vicente Luque. Brown, who stands 6-foot-3 and wields 78 inches of reach, last competed at UFC Fight Night 235, where he put away Muslim Salikhov with punches in the first round of their Feb. 3 pairing.

“I expect a great fight, like all the others,” Zaleski dos Santos said. “Brown is a guy who has had good fights, too. He has his own objectives, as do I. For sure, I will keep putting in the work to achieve them. As I see it, he’s a complete fighter, as am I. I think I will find the right opportunity to finish this fight, to knock him out. I see this fight ending before the third round. I believe that we will be able to give our best in there and have a great fight for the organization and for all the fans.”

A longtime CM System representative, Zaleski dos Santos continues to train under Cristiano Marcello in his native Brazil. Marcello’s guidance, wisdom and expertise have been invaluable to him over the years.

“The guys on our team give me the support and put their minds into it,” Zaleski dos Santos said. “We have 50 athletes from every category. We get a lot out of it. I’ve been improving and adding more new weapons to my game so I can always perform the best way possible.”

Zaleski dos Santos settled for a majority draw with the once-beaten Rinat Fakhretdinov in his most recent appearance at UFC Fight Night 231 some seven months ago. He turns 38 in November and seems to understand the urgency associated with his current situation.

 


The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns to Newark, New Jersey, and the undercard provides some reason for intrigue as several competitors look to get back in the win column. Middleweight Cesar Almeida gets the featured slot at the Prudential Center, which suggests the UFC views him as the next former kickboxer with the potential to make an impact at 185 pounds. To that end, his clash with Roman Kopylov serves as an excellent litmus test to see where Almeida can go from here. Further down the UFC 302 bill, Grant Dawson and Joe Solecki lock horns in a possible ground battle in the lightweight division, while welterweights Niko Price and Alex Morono rematch one another seven years after their first encounter. Near the bottom of the draw, an old-fashioned grudge match between Ailin Perez and Joselyne Edwards should settle some personal issues between the two at 135 pounds.



Now to the preview for the UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” prelims:

Middleweights​

Cesar Almeida (5-0, 1-0 UFC) vs. Roman Kopylov (12-3, 4-3 UFC)


ODDS: Almeida (-112), Kopylov (-108)

The path from kickboxing to the UFC’s middleweight division has proven to be a fruitful one in recent years, and Almeida is the latest to try and make that successful transition. His Dana White’s Contender Series bout in August was his first mixed martial arts fight with any real meaning, and he impressed by that standard. He faced an opponent who, as expected, looked to wrestle, and while Almeida’s takedown defense wasn’t airtight, he proved surprisingly adept as a scrambler and grappler on the mat. After a brief injury layoff, Almeida’s UFC debut two months ago was fairly cut and dry. Dylan Budka outwrestled Almeida early, got tired and was then knocked out for his troubles. Almeida could probably use some more seasoning, but at 36 years old, it’s worth trying to rush him up the ladder; and if the UFC wants wrestling to be as little of a concern as possible for Almeida, Russia’s Kopylov is a solid bridge to see if the Brazilian is ready for ranked competition.

Order Now! UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

Kopylov signed with the UFC in 2019 and was a tremendous disappointment for about three years. The hope was that Kopylov could continue his success as a high-volume striker, but he typically got overwhelmed during his rare trips to the Octagon in between injuries and visa issues. However, Kopylov hit his groove as soon as he appeared to be on the cut line, scoring a knockout of Alessio Di Chirico that marked the first of four straight victories. Kopylov tamped down the volume just a bit to focus on his punching power and the result has been a much more effective balance, and even his February loss to Anthony Hernandez was generally a positive sign. It was a poisonous style matchup on paper against a pressure-heavy grappler, and while it did end in a second-round submission for Hernandez, Kopylov forced him to work a lot harder than his previous work in the wrestling department would suggest. This is a hard fight to parse. While Kopylov is likely going to give Almeida the kickboxing match he desires, the Brazilian’s plodding and counter-heavy style might find trouble tracking down a quicker and longer fighter. Add in that Kopylov is willing to wrestle as a mix-up every so often, and the Russian gets the benefit of the doubt in terms of being able to coast this one out. The pick is Kopylov via decision.

Jump To »
Almeida vs. Kopylov
Dawson vs. Solecki
Matthews vs. Rowe
Morono vs. Price
Hafez vs. Gall
Perez vs. Edwards
Lima vs. Raposo

 


Islam Makhachev had to go through all kinds of trials and tribulations to become the Ultimate Fighting Championship's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter.



Makhachev (25-1) hails from Makhachkala, Dagestan, a region where the most common dream for kids now is to become a UFC champion. The area has also been successfully churning out a plethora of highly-skilled fighters who have established themselves in every major mixed martial arts promotion in the world.

However, while combat sports have always been a part of Dagestani culture, the hype behind them only peaked with the crowning of Makhachev’s teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov as UFC champion in 2018. The Eagle’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, considered a pioneer of the sport in the Russian territory, is credited for the massive growth of MMA in the region by crafting champions like his son and Makhachev.

Abdulmanap managed to produce world-class athletes under harsh conditions in the mountains of Dagestan, often without the best training facilities. Makhachev recently shared his early career struggles while training under the tutelage of Nurmagomedov. The UFC lightweight champ revealed that he once used to share a mouthpiece during competitions, sometimes with as many as 10 of his teammates. While they would clean the mouthpiece with hot water, it wasn’t as much for sanitization as to slightly change its shape to fit the next fighter.

“Before we don’t have a mouthpiece,” Makhachev said in a recent appearance on “The Weighing In” Podcast. “We go to some competition, and we can use one mouthpiece. I swear to God, I remember, one competition we have one mouthpiece for like 10 people. In the rules, you cannot go inside the fight without the mouthpiece. We clean with hot water and everybody [use]… We put hot water because it’s [the shape] different you know, change it a little bit.”

 


Islam Makhachev has filled the enormous shoes of his longtime mentor quite admirably.

The Khabib Nurmagomedov protégé will put his undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title on the line against Dustin Poirier in the UFC 302 headliner this Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Makhachev steps back into view with the wind of a remarkable 13-fight winning streak in his sails. The 32-year-old Russian last fought at UFC 294, where he closed the book on his two-fight series against Alexander Volkanovski in emphatic fashion and stopped the City Kickboxing star with a head kick and follow-up punches in the first round of their Oct. 21 rematch. Makhachev has secured 16 of his 25 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission. On the other side of the ledger, Poirier has won nine of his past 12 bouts. The American Top Team mainstay last competed on March 9, when he punched out Benoit St. Denis in the second round of their UFC 299 pairing. Already well established as one of the most popular UFC fighters of all-time, Poirier’s outstanding resume includes wins over Conor McGregor (twice), Max Holloway (twice), Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis.

The Makhachev-Poirier showdown and its resulting fallout for the lightweight division is but one storyline to watch at UFC 302. Here are three more:

Brute Force​


Paulo Costa has lost much of the luster that surrounded him after he started his career with 13 straight victories and established himself as the No. 1 contender for the UFC middleweight crown. Nevertheless, he remains an intriguing physical specimen ahead of his co-main event opposite Sean Strickland. Costa, 33, has compiled a disappointing 1-3 record across his last four appearances, though all three of those defeats were suffered against top-shelf opponents: Israel Adesanya, Marvin Vettori and Robert Whittaker. In Strickland, he faces one of the sport’s most polarizing figures. The 33-year-old Xtreme Couture representative finds himself on the rebound, having surrendered the undisputed middleweight championship in a contentious split decision loss to Dricus Du Plessis at UFC 297 on Jan. 20. It was Strickland’s first setback in more than a year and put a stop to his three-fight winning streak. Can Costa rise to the occasion and re-establish himself as a primetime player at 185 pounds?

Order Now! UFC 302 "Makhachev vs. Poirier" Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

Bottom-Rung Business​


Kevin Holland appears to have drifted into a state of limbo inside the UFC welterweight division. The 28-year-old Dana White’s Contender Series graduate looks to get back on the rails when he confronts Michal Oleksiejczuk in a three-round attraction at 170 pounds. Holland enters the Octagon on the heels of back-to-back losses to Jack Della Maddalena and Michael Page, having fallen all the way to the bottom of the Top 15 rankings. He still holds a respectable 12-8 record in the UFC, with wins over Michael Chiesa, Santiago Ponzinibbio, Tim Means and former Strikeforce champion Ronaldo Souza. Oleksiejczuk, meanwhile, continues to run hot and cold. The onetime Thunderstrike Fight League titleholder last suited up at UFC 299, where he was put to sleep by a rear-naked choke from the surging Michel Pereira in the first round of their March 9 encounter. Oleksiejczuk has never won or lost more than two fights in a row since he joined the UFC roster in 2019. Will Holland regain his bearings enough to make another push toward welterweight contention?

 


While Dustin Poirier (30-8) is one of Mike Brown’s best fighters at American Top Team, “The Diamond” also gives his coach a lot of stress.



Poirier is scheduled to challenge Islam Makhachev (25-1) for lightweight gold in the main event at Benoit St. Denis at UFC 299 in March. Prior to knocking out St. Denis, Poirier attempted multiple unsuccessful guillotine chokes, compromising position each time. When Brown told Poirier to avoid the guillotines after Round 1, “The Diamond” responded by saying he could secure one and proceeded to go for another right at the beginning of Round 2.

While things worked out well for Poirier in the end, Brown admits that the Louisiana native is his most stress-inducing fighter by far. Aside from Poirier being hard-headed at times, the pressure also comes from their close bond, which started with his promotional debut in 2011.


Order Now! UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

“Oh, he’s No. 1 [to stress me out] by far. By a long shot, by a long shot,” Brown recently told Shakiel Mahjouri. “But I also care about him, so the more you care the more you’re going to be stressed. He can make it harder on himself sometimes. And he is his own guy, at the end of the day he does what he wants to do. Yeah. he's his own guy. When he’s got something in his head, he’s going to do it. The guillotine is a good example. If he wants to jump a guillotine, he’s jumping the guillotine.”

While Brown couldn’t recall who stressed him out the most after Poirier, he was quick to mention the fighter who had the opposite effect on him while coaching.

According to the ATT head mixed martial arts coach, former Professional Fighters League lightweight champ Kayla Harrison (17-1) stresses him out the least, thanks to her disciplined and coachable approach to the sport.

“The least would probably be Kayla Harrison. She’s going to do whatever you ask of her. And obviously, who she’s fighting and where’s we’re at. Probably I have less stress with Kayla.”

 


Andre Lima wants to be remembered for much more than the bizarre manner in which his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut concluded.

Some two months after Igor da Silva was disqualified for biting him, the undefeated 25-year-old Brazilian will return to the Octagon to confront Mitch Roposo as part of the UFC 302 undercard this Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Lima hopes to put the da Silva incident behind him, even though a post-fight tattoo—it outlines the bite mark below his left biceps—serves as an enduring reminder.


“Everything was going well until my opponent bit me, as everyone saw,” Lima told Sherdog.com. “The fight wrapped up in the second round, so I wasn’t able to show everything I trained to do. It doesn’t bother me. Some folks felt I was losing the second round, even though they also felt I won the first. In my mind, I was still going to win that fight. I damaged him more in the first round, and prior to being taken down in the second, I landed two good elbows on him.

“Of course, I wished to win in a different way, but the result would have been the same,” he added. “I believe this next time around I’ll be able to show my work.”

Order Now! UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

Raposo steps in as a short-notice replacement for Nyamjargal Tumendemberel, who, in turn, was scheduled to fill in for Hyun Sung Park. Lima relishes the opportunity to compete, no matter the circumstances. Raposo heads into his promotional debut on the strength of a four-fight winning streak. The 25-year-old Fall River, Massachusetts, native last appeared at a Cage Titans Fighting Championship show on Jan. 27, when he put away Justin Valentin with fourth-round punches and captured the organization’s vacant flyweight crown. Raposo suffered his only career defeat on Dana White’s Contender Series, as he bowed to a rear-naked choke from Jake Hadley in October 2021.

“He’s my third opponent for this card,” Lima said. “He’s someone who’s competed in wrestling since he was young, but he prefers to strike. I believe this matchup favors me, as he’ll want to keep it standing. I also believe I’m a step ahead in jiu-jitsu. His loss by submission shows me that. I can also submit him after showcasing my striking arsenal.”

 


While coach Eric Nicksick agrees that Sean Strickland could benefit from some sophistication, he doesn’t want his fighter to turn soft.

Strickland (28-6) is scheduled to take on Paulo Costa (14-3) in a five-round co-headliner at UFC 302 on June 1 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Strickland is notorious for his rants and controversial opinions. However, “Tarzan” was recently seen teaching his pup Harley how to swim, leading people to wonder if the former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight champ is really kind-hearted and compassionate on the inside.

Strickland’s longtime coach recently confirmed that his pupil is, in fact, a “softy.”

According to Nicksick, Strickland’s girlfriend, himself and other members at the gym all work on refining some of Strickland’s edges. However, they unanimously also don’t want the California native to turn soft altogether.

Order Now! UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

“Yeah, of course, man, he’s a big ol’ softy bro. Like 100%,” Nicksick told Shakiel Mahjouri. “That’s the thing with him, it’s just keeping his edge and all the while you try to refine him a little better too as you hang out with him more and more. His girlfriend K.J.’s definitely been a huge godsend to Sean and his life. I think between myself and K.J., the gym and Danny Davis and the bunch of us, we don’t want to turn this dude soft. We have to keep his edge of course, but it is nice to have a little bit of refinement when it comes to Sean.”

 


Benoit St. Denis believes Islam Makhachev has more tools at his disposal than Dustin Poirier to get his hands raised at UFC 302.

Makhachev is slated to defend his lightweight strap against Poirier in the main event at UFC 302 on June 1 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Poirier made his case for the gold bid with a second-round knockout win over St. Denis at UFC 299in March. While St. Denis acknowledges Poirier’s elite boxing, “God of War” notes that Makhachev’s complete skillset cannot go unnoticed.



While St. Denis is leaving room for a potential knockout from Poirier, the Frenchman believes Makhachev has a more well-rounded arsenal to get the job done, either via knockout, submission or decision.

“It’s a great fight. Dustin Poirier is a very composed and experienced fighter. I do believe he has boxing on his side, but Makhachev is very well-rounded,” St. Denis recently told MMA Fighting at the ADXC 4 grappling event in Paris. “I do believe he has watched my fight against Poirier, as well as Dustin’s fight with [Charles] Olivera. Everybody knows what the game plan is going to be. It’s going to be Makhachev trying to submit Poirier, and Poirier trying to knock out Makhachev.


Order Now! UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

“Makhachev [has] more options. Makhachev can knock out or submit Poirier. But I see Poirier only having the knockout win eventually, and decision-wise, I also see Makhachev having the physicality to dominate the fight if it goes long. We will see who will win this fight; it’s an interesting fight anyway.”

After coming up on the short side of a unanimous decision against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut in 2021, St. Denis racked up a five-fight finishing streak to earn himself top tier opponent in Poirier. St. Denis was even the favorite going into the toughest matchup of his career against “The Diamond,” who derailed the French standout’s run.

St. Denis returned to his winning ways with a unanimous decision win over fellow UFC fighter Marc Diakiese at the ADXC 4 grappling event in Paris on May 18. The Frenchman is now looking to stay as active as he can and is eyeing a slot on either UFC Manchester in July or UFC Paris in September, and ideally both.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be [Manchester on July 27 at UFC 304], I don’t know if it’s going to be Paris [on Sept. 28]. But my manager is doing great work, he’s working with the UFC to find the best place for me to compete. And I want to climb the rankings and get at the top. I feel like I do belong there… If I can be on both cards, I will be on both cards. If it’s going to be just Paris, it’s great as well. It’s a great opportunity. I just want to fight. I just want to show that I’m the best. And for that, I need a tough opponent. So I’m waiting for the UFC to work with my manager to find a matchup that everybody will want to see, and that will prove who is the next future contender.”

Despite St. Denis’ loss against Poirier, “God of War” dominated the Louisiana native in the first round, proving that he certainly belongs amongst the elite. While St. Denis’ ideal targets for his next contest are all Top 5-ranked lightweights, for now, the 28-year-old is content with the highest-ranked opponent he can draw.

 


Islam Makhachev has confirmed that Khabib Nurmagomedov will be in his corner for his upcoming title fight.

Makhachev (25-1) will defend his lightweight title against Dustin Poirier (30-8) in the UFC 302 main event on June 1 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. While Makhachev has been seen training with Nurmagomedov ahead of UFC 302, it wasn’t confirmed up until now whether “The Eagle” would be present for the card. However, Makhachev has now clarified that Nurmagomedov will indeed be in his corner for the pay-per-view offering, which he is certainly glad about. “Eagle is landed in Jersey City. He is going to be in my corner. Honestly, I’m very happy because he is one of the best corner, coach, brother, friend. That’s it.”

Order Now! UFC 302 “Makhachev vs. Poirier” Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+

Nurmagomedov retired from competition after defending his lightweight title against Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in 2020, following the death of his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. “The Eagle” subsequently appeared to fill in his father’s shoes, coaching and cornering his friends and teammates. However, Nurmagomedov claimed to have completely parted ways with the sport in January 2023, a month before Makhachev’s UFC 284 title defense against Alexander Volkanovski. UFC 302 will be the first time since then that Nurmagomedov will grace a Ultimate Fighting Championship event.

 
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