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UFC 302: Makhachev v Poirier Predictions

It’s do-or-die for the legendary Dustin Poirier in his third and likely final shot at undisputed glory when he challenges the dominant Islam Makhachev for the lightweight title in the main event of UFC 302 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.


It’s do-or-die for the legendary Dustin Poirier in his third and likely final shot at undisputed glory when he challenges the dominant Islam Makhachev for the lightweight title in the main event of UFC 302 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Former middleweight champion Sean Strickland returns to battle Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa in a rare five-round co-headliner while a second exciting showdown at 185 pounds will see Kevin Holland throw hands with Michal Oleksiejczuk.

Plus, top-15 heavyweights Jailton Almeida and Alexander Romanov go at it and welterweights Randy Brown and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos wage war.

MAIN CARD (from 4 PM Sunday SA time):

Islam Makhachev (1.15) v Dustin Poirier (5.70) (Lightweight Championship)

A warrior to his core, Poirier (30-8) has – through unrelenting drive – gone from a young scrapper from Lafayette, Louisiana who broke onto the scene with a decision victory over Josh Grispi back in 2011 to one of the biggest names in mixed martial arts.

He’s a former interim lightweight champion and a future UFC Hall of Famer, a fighter’s fighter who’s done it the hard way. No trash-talking his way into big fights or campaigning on social media. No, “The Diamond” has done it the old-school way, by battling all comers, both at featherweight and lightweight.

He’s beaten five champions, starting with the trio of Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez, before besting Max Holloway to capture the interim 155-pound title and ascending to superstar status by stopping Conor McGregor twice in two of the biggest pay-per-views in UFC history.

He’s just about done it all. Just about.

The one milestone that still eludes Poirier is winning undisputed gold. He’s fallen agonisingly short of his ultimate goal on two occasions, first against Makhachev’s mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019 and then against Charles Oliveira in 2021, both times by submission.

However, he refused to give up on his dream. Betting on himself, he risked his top-five ranking by facing the hottest rising star in the division in Benoit Saint Denis in March. “The God of War” entered the clash unbeaten in the UFC and having finished his last five opponents, but Poirier – at 35 – proved he’s still one of the true elite by knocking out the French phenom in the second round to earn another shot at undisputed glory.

Nothing has come easy for Poirier, so it’s fitting that to realise his lifelong dream, he mustn’t beat just any champion but the pound-for-pound king.

Makhachev (25-1) is a monster wrestler, a sambo savant with killer instinct and ever-improving striking. The epitome of a dominant force, the Dagestani destroyer is on a remarkable 13-fight win streak with his only loss dating back to his UFC debut back in 2015 when he got caught by Adriano Martins.

Having captured the crown by dropping and then submitting Oliveira (his 11th win by tapout) in 2022, the 32-year-old has defended his title twice, beating featherweight champion and fellow pound-for-pound great Alexander Volkanovski in back-to-back super fights.

After being thoroughly tested by “The Great” in their first meeting, which saw Makhachev retain by decision, he made a statement in the rematch by stopping the Australian ace with a brutal head kick in the opening round (his fifth KO win), which further highlighted the fact that the 155-pound king is dangerous everywhere.

The same is true for Poirier. Though known for his striking, which has earned him 15 wins by knockout, he’s a slick grappler as well with eight submissions to his name. That said, his game plan will be to keep the fight on the feet, where he’s the crisper of the two southpaws.

Win or lose, Poirier hasn’t gone the distance in almost four years, and he won’t die wondering against Makhachev, so the judges will in all likelihood not be needed to determine the winner. As comfortable as Poirier is in chaos, he does have a problem with giving up positions that lead to submissions and I see that once again leading to heartbreak for him.

Prediction: Makhachev by submission.
Best Bet: Makhachev by submission at 1.83.
Alternative Bet: Under 2.5 rounds at 1.55.

Sean Strickland (1.40) v Paulo Costa (3.00) (Middleweight)

The co-main event, which like the headliner is scheduled for five rounds, is a crucial clash in the middleweight division pitting the technique of Strickland (28-6) against the power of Costa (14-3).

Strickland returns to the Octagon for the first time since losing his middleweight title to South Africa’s fighting pride Dricus du Plessis in a very competitive fight in January.

The unfiltered American feels he was robbed that night and after much moaning over the split decision going against him, he’s ready to get back on the horse and consolidate his No. 1 ranking.

Costa is a feared knockout artist with 11 wins by KO. Big for the weight class, the muscle-bound Brazilian can stop anyone at 185 pounds with his neutralising power and threatened to finish ex-titleholder Robert Whittaker in February but wound up losing on points.

Ranked seventh, “The Eraser” is 1-3 in his last four fights, however, he can vault straight back into title contention with a victory this weekend. He won’t have to go chasing Strickland as the Xtreme Couture ace always comes forward and stays in his foe’s face, yet he’s a tough target to hit due to his masterful use of the Philly Shell.

Strickland is such a savvy and unique striker that even Israel Adesanya was snake-charmed when the 33-year-old dethroned him in one of the biggest upsets in UFC history last September. Thus, I don’t see a flat-footed Costa landing the clean shot he’ll need to upset the applecart.

Instead, Strickland will put pace and pressure on Costa and chip away en route to a decision victory. 

Prediction: Strickland by decision.
Best Bet: Strickland by decision at 2.50.
Alternative Bet: Fight to go the distance at 2.20.

Kevin Holland (1.34) v Michal Oleksiejczuk (3.35) (Middleweight)

The ever-entertaining Holland (25-11) returns to middleweight where he first made a name for himself after a three-year quest at welterweight.

“Trailblazer” cracked the top 10 and went 4-3 at 170 pounds, losing only to top contenders, and back-to-back close defeats to Jack Della Maddalena and Michael Page see him move back up to 185 pounds, where he’d previously won five straight to enter the elite before being cooled down by Derek Brunson and former title challenger Marvin Vettori. 

Oleksiejczuk (19-7) is not on the level of any of the names listed who Holland has lost to. The Pole has no notable wins to speak of and doesn’t have dynamic striking or strong wrestling. He’s 3-2 since moving from light heavyweight to middleweight in 2022 and lost both of his bouts against ranked opponents (Caio Borralho and Michel Pereira).

On top of being the slicker striker and grappler (he boasts 14 knockouts and seven submissions), Holland is the much bigger man and will enjoy a seven-inch reach advantage. He’ll take it to “Hussar” and outclass him to get the finish.

Prediction: Holland by stoppage.

Best Bet: Holland by KO/TKO/Submission/DQ at 1.95.

Alternative Bet: Holland by submission at 3.50.

Jailton Almeida (1.33) v Alexander Romanov (3.40) (Heavyweight)

This isn’t your typical heavyweight showdown. While they do possess the power you expect from the big boys, these two are among the primary grapplers in the division, which makes for an intriguing contest.

Seventh-ranked Almeida (20-3) had strung together six straight wins to put himself one fight away from a title shot. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, he lost that fight to perennial top contender Curtis Blaydes and is looking to bounce back from that March setback.

Thirteenth-ranked Romanov (17-2), meanwhile, halted a two-fight losing skid with a decision win over Blagoy Ivanov last July. The Moldovan is more of a brawler on the feet than Almeida, with the latter simply using strikes to mask takedown attempts, but he does it well and his wrestling is strong enough for him to control Romanov, who’s been blanketed by lesser grapplers in the past.

“King Kong” hasn’t fought the level of competition Almeida has, while “Malhadinho” is more athletic and has better cardio as well, so he should grind out the win.

Prediction: Almeida by decision.

Best Bet: Almeida by decision at 5.00.

Alternative Bet: Over 1.5 rounds at 1.95.

Randy Brown (1.55) v Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (2.50) (Welterweight)

All-action welterweights who love to put on a show promise to get the main card off to an exciting start.

Brown (18-5) started the year with a bang, knocking out Muslim Salikhov in February for his sixth win in seven outings. Tall and rangy, “Rude Boy” is a problem on the outside with his spear-like jab and clever combinations.

Dos Santos (24-7-1) has been quietly putting in solid work. It’ll come as a shock to many that he boasts victories over Strickland (back in 2018) and Saint Denis (in 2021). He’s unbeaten in his last three fights but had to be satisfied with a draw last time out (against Rinat Fakhretdinov).

Dos Santos won’t shy away from trying to close the distance (he’ll have a five-inch reach disadvantage), but in doing so, he’s set to eat punches. He’s tough to put away, though, so Brown’s accuracy and versatility will most likely lead to a decision win.

Prediction: Brown by decision.

Best Bet: Brown by decision at 2.50.

Alternative Bet: Brown at 1.55.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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