UFC Predictions: UFC 302: Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier

UFC 302 goes down this weekend in New Jersey
UFC 302 goes down this weekend in New Jersey

After an empty weekend, it's almost time. The UFC returns to pay-per-view this Saturday, and it should be a good one.

UFC 302: Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier is set to take place in Newark, New Jersey, and could be one of 2024's biggest events yet. With some major fights in numerous divisions, no MMA fan can afford to miss this one.

Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC 302: Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier.

#1. UFC lightweight title: Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier


While this isn't necessarily the lightweight title fight that UFC fans would've wanted to see next, it's an incredible fight and should be a major challenge for reigning champion Islam Makhachev.

If the Dagestani can get past Dustin Poirier, he will equal the record number of lightweight title defenses in UFC history - a record jointly held by his mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov.

More to the point, he'll have knocked off another legend of the octagon and should be well on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats at 155 pounds.

So can Makhachev do it, or will 'The Diamond' manage to become an undisputed champion in his 13th year with the promotion?

It's fair to say that timing, more than anything else, netted Poirier this title shot. July 2023 saw him violently knocked out by Justin Gaethje, seemingly knocking him out of contention. He returned earlier this year to beat hot prospect Benoit Saint Denis, but that win shouldn't have been enough to get him a shot at Makhachev.

However, with Makhachev unable to fight at UFC 300 as the promotion would've liked, and both Max Holloway and Arman Tsarukyan fighting there and being unwilling to compete on a quick turnaround, 'The Diamond' has jumped the queue.

Who takes this one, then? It should come down to two things: firstly, whether Poirier can put enough pressure on Makhachev with his boxing to force him onto his back foot, and secondly, whether Makhachev can take 'The Diamond' down.

At his best, Poirier is a handful for any fighter in the world on the feet. Using excellent combination work and set-up strikes, he loves to force an opponent backwards and then come at them with brutal combinations until they wilt.

He's undoubtedly a superior striker to Makhachev, although the Dagestani carries heavy power and has shown improvements in that area.

The issue for him is the fact that if he gets too close to his foe, he'll probably wind up in the clinch, which is where Makhachev tends to land most of his takedowns from.

More to the point, Poirier has shown a tendency to wilt in fights if he's put into a bad position, as he did against Khabib. Sure, he fought through adversity against Saint Denis, but he's never had any issues with brawling on the feet with anyone. On the ground, though, is another thing entirely.

Overall then, Poirier can definitely win this fight if he can put pressure on Makhachev and force him into making an error on the feet, particularly if he can draw him into a shootout.

It's more likely, though, particularly with 'The Diamond' being closer to the end of his career, that he'll let the Dagestani inside and be tripped to the ground. From there, he'll probably be punished into a submission.

The Pick: Makhachev via second-round submission

#2. UFC middleweight bout: Sean Strickland vs. Paulo Costa


Assuming this fight goes ahead, not only is it an excellent fight that pits two of the top 185-pounders in the world against one another, it could be pivotal for both men.

Why are there questions around it? Sean Strickland, as late as May 15, claimed that Paulo Costa had yet to actually sign an official contract for the bout.

With any hope, though, this issue should now be settled. It's unlikely the UFC would continue to promote the fight with less than a week to go if it genuinely had been scrapped.

At any rate, neither man can really afford to lose here.

That seems weird to say, particularly for Strickland. 'Tarzan' held the middleweight title as recently as January, when he lost it to Dricus du Plessis via split decision. Prior to that, he stunned fans by unseating Israel Adesanya for the crown.

However, if he were to lose to Costa here, not only would he be shunted further down the ladder, but that win over 'The Last Stylebender' would feel more and more like a fluke, particularly given his bad loss to Alex Pereira in 2022.

Costa will essentially be hoping to recreate Pereira's win over the former champ, but to do so, he'll need to be at his very best. Unfortunately, that's something we haven't seen in a while.

'The Eraser' destroyed everyone in his path between his 2017 octagon debut and his own title shot against Adesanya, initially going 5-0. However, since being stopped by Adesanya, he's fought three times and has only beaten Luke Rockhold.

The Brazilian did show flashes of his former self in his recent loss to Robert Whittaker, though, and the relatively quick turnaround bodes well for him. At 33, 'The Eraser' is still in his physical prime, and could put another run at the title together with a win here.

This fight will probably be decided by who can control distance and range. At his best, Costa's MO involves him walking his foes down to abuse them from close quarters with powerful hooks, knees and elbows. Like classic Alistair Overeem, he's basically a bully in the octagon.

Strickland, on the other hand, tends to win if he can stay on the outside, work his jab, and slow his opponent down while tiring them out with combinations.

'Tarzan' does have a nasty tendency to hang his hands, too, but while it caught up with him against Pereira, it's arguable that no other middleweight has the striking of 'Poatan'.

The worrying thing about this fight for Costa is the fact that it's a five-rounder. He's shown a tendency to get tired and sloppy in his longer fights, while Strickland's lackadaisical style means he can easily fight at the same pace for 25 minutes.

Overall, this is a close one to call and it feels like if there's a finish, it'll come from 'The Eraser'. However, given his somewhat inconsistent style, as well as Strickland's recent form, the pick is 'Tarzan'.

The Pick: Strickland via decision

#3. UFC 302: The Main Card


In a middleweight bout, Kevin Holland faces Michal Oleksiejczuk. This will be Holland's first fight at 185 pounds since his 2021 bout with Kyle Daukaus, and he'll be looking to snap a two-fight skid, too.

To be fair to 'Trailblazer', he hardly looked bad in his losses to Michael Page and Jack Della Maddalena. The former fight saw him narrowly beaten by a slightly more technical striker, while the latter could've gone either way.

Holland won't tend to enjoy such a huge length and reach advantage at middleweight, but in this fight, he'll tower above Oleksiejczuk.

More to the point, 'Trailblazer' has only tended to lose to two types of fighter recently - heavy wrestlers or pinpoint, sniping strikers. 'Hussar' is neither, and while he hasn't been knocked out in his octagon career, he has shown a tendency to be caught in chokes. Therefore, the pick is Holland via second-round submission.

In a heavyweight clash, Jailton Almeida meets Alexandr Romanov. This will be Almeida's big attempt to bounce back from his first UFC loss to Curtis Blaydes - a loss that cost him a shot at the heavyweight title.

Romanov actually might not be the easiest foe for 'Malhadinho'. 'King Kong' is a heavy-handed wrestler who is difficult to stop if he can get into top position.

However, while he might be the heavier man in this fight, Romanov actually has a smaller frame than Almeida, and in his losses, he's shown a tendency to get tired.

Therefore, if 'Malhadinho' can escape the first round, this will probably be his fight - particularly if he can find his way to a dominant spot on the ground. The pick is Almeida via TKO.

Finally, at welterweight, Randy Brown takes on Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. This is a pivotal fight for Brown. Although Zaleski dos Santos is not ranked, he's a tough veteran with explosive striking power. 'Rude Boy' is 6-1 in his last seven fights, and so if he could win here, it'd prove he should be knocking on the door of the top fifteen.

Can Brown do it? It feels likely. He's a well-rounded fighter with ability in all areas, and while Zaleski dos Santos is very dangerous, he also has a tendency to slow down as a fight goes deeper.

Assuming 'Rude Boy' can avoid an early barrage, he ought to be able to wear the Brazilian down. Therefore, the pick is Brown via decision.

#4. UFC 302: The Prelims

Picks in bold

UFC middleweight bout: Cesar Almeida vs. Roman Kopylov

UFC lightweight bout: Grant Dawson vs. Joe Solecki

UFC welterweight bout: Philip Rowe vs. Jake Matthews

UFC welterweight bout: Niko Price vs. Alex Morono

UFC welterweight bout: Mickey Gall vs. Bassil Hafez

UFC bantamweight bout: Ailin Perez vs. Joseleyne Edwards

UFC flyweight bout: Andre Lima vs. Mitch Raposo

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