UFC 302

UFC 302: Main Card Predictions

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The highly anticipated UFC 302 card goes down in the Garden State on Saturday, June 1st. MMA has come a long way in New Jersey since its first sanctioned fight for UFC 28 at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. The state has emerged as a hotspot in the sport, breeding UFC champions, great gyms, and top regional promotions.

In the main event, we see longtime veteran Dustin Poirier get his, “25 minutes to make life fair.” The former interim UFC champion will get a third and likely final crack at his dream of winning undisputed gold when he takes on Islam Makhachev. The fun does not end there; UFC 302 also features a main event-worthy fight between Strickland and Costa as the co-main event. The fight will likely determine a number-one contender for Dricus Du Plessi’s middleweight title.

With a prominent undercard and a ruckus Newark crowd, it should be an interesting night. Check out our staff’s predictions for the main card:

UFC Lightweight Championship

Islam Makhachev (C) vs. Dustin Poirier (4)

Lee: This fight simply comes down to whether or not Dustin can fight off his back and once he’s taken down, can he get back to his feet… In his losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira, he was unable to and was submitted twice. Makhachev hopes to successfully defend his lightweight title for the third time. But it’s his first time against a true lightweight. Dustin is hands down the better striker. Islam is a great wrestler and will look to employ the same fight plan Khabib used against Dustin.

Official Prediction: Islam Makhachev via 4th-Round Submission

Evan: If there was any fighter who deserves the storybook ending to his career, it’s Dustin Poirier. He’s one of the greatest competitors to never have won a UFC title, and a victory here would solidify his legacy in full. Poirier has also shown time and time again, why doubting him in the underdog role is a perilous thing to do for his opponents or detractors. If he can make this a grimy affair, keep it in the center of the octagon, and force Makhachev into boxing exchanges in the pocket, he’s got a shot to pull off the upset.

However, I think he’s battling an uphill climb in this one. Islam is just simply that good, and I don’t believe he’ll underestimate Dustin here. His precision striking from the kicking range, as well as the array of takedowns and trips he has in his arsenal from the clinch, while up against the cage, will be the biggest issues for Poirier to overcome. I’m picking him to keep the Dagestani dynasty going in dominant fashion.

Official Prediction: Islam Makhachev via 3rd-Round TKO or Submission 

Marcos: Much like Dustin’s fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov, the best route to victory will be his top-level boxing. Although Poirier can be dangerous off his back, we have seen Islam handle more dangerous guys on the ground. Khabib’s striking was certainly not up to par with his grappling, whereas Islam Makhachev is very much a dangerous matchup no matter where the fight goes. If Poirier is not able to land the perfect shot on the chin like Adriano Martins did in Makhachev’s only defeat, then it will be a long night for the veteran.

Official Prediction: Islam Makhachev via 3rd-Round Submission

Middleweight Bout

Sean Strickland (1) vs. Paulo Costa (7) 

Lee: Sean Strickland will need to use a well-rounded game plan to beat Paulo Costa. The Brazilian definitely has the power advantage in the striking matchup. However, Strickland holds the advantage when it comes to cardio. This being a five-round fight should favor Strickland who has fought five rounds seven times in his career. Strickland needs to use head movement and footwork to negate Costa’s striking and allow the fight to go into the championship rounds. Both fighters are coming off losses and this fight should be entertaining.

Official Prediction: Sean Strickland via Unanimous Decision

Evan: I’m still not sure if this fight is even happening at this point. There’s probably not another fighter in the sport that I dislike more than Sean Strickland. As a fellow survivor of domestic and child abuse, I feel he’s an awful representative for that community. With that being said, he’s still a damn skilled fighter. Costa is no doubt the better finisher of the two. He’s more powerful and physical than Sean as well. 

But I think the fact Paulo himself admitted to taking this fight on short notice, combined with Sean’s ability to frustrate someone with his unique defense, could be the difference. He’s got a style that gives his opponents a death by 1,000 paper cuts if you will. Paulo might just run out of gas here too, especially in the later rounds. I see Strickland defusing and deterring Costa’s power for the most part, in a closely contested matchup.

Official Prediction: Sean Strickland via Unanimous Decision

Marcos: In a three-round fight, Costa can throw more power shots and really fight the way he would prefer. Given that this is a 5-round fight, Costa becomes far less dangerous considering he must pace himself. This will play right into the hands of Sean Strickland, who will look to control the fight at his pace and distance. Paulo’s power should ease up in the later rounds, so as long as Sean can avoid the big shots early, he should be fine. Expect Sean Strickland to outland Paulo Costa over the course of five rounds with his jab and slick defense.

Official Prediction: Sean Strickland via Unanimous Decision

Middleweight Bout

Kevin Holland (15) vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk

Lee: Kevin Holland is moving up to middleweight (again) to meet Michal Oleksiejczuk. Personally, I feel Holland is better at welterweight, even though he is coming off two decision losses. Oleksiejczuk, the former 205er, looks to rebound from a 61-second submission loss to Michel Pereira. Holland will need to use his 7-inch reach advantage to negate Oleksiejczuk‘s 44% TD accuracy. Honestly, this is a hard fight to pick. But…

Official Prediction: Kevin Holland via 3-Round KO/TKO

Evan: I frankly think Kevin Holland’s going to steamroll Oleksiejczuk. While Michal is a solid striker with decent power, I’ve got massive questions about his ground game, and durability. Holland’s grappling skills are in a different stratosphere than his counterpart here. Between that, his finishing instincts, length, and power of his own, he should have advantages everywhere. As long as he doesn’t get too overconfident or sloppy, I’m rolling with Kevin to finish this fight in whatever way he chooses.

Official Prediction: Kevin Holland via 2nd-Round KO or Submission

Marcos: Michael Oleksiejczuk is a good pressure fighter with knockout power and solid striking. Holland also possesses good striking and should be superior if this matchup goes to the ground. If the fight can stay at range, I favor Holland in the standup. But if Oleksiejczuk can get in close and land his own shots, then I can see danger for the “Trailblazer.” Overall, Kevin Holland seems to be the better fighter, and I think he will have success no matter where this goes. Although I prefer Holland at welterweight, this is a good matchup for him at 185 pounds.

Official Prediction: Kevin Holland via 1st-Round TKO

Heavyweight Bout

Jailton Almeida (7) vs. Alexander Romanov (13)

Lee: Jailton Almeida is making a speedy turnaround after his first UFC loss at UFC 299 which snapped a 15-fight winning streak. Romanov will look to use his grappling, however, Almeida has some BJJ tools he can deploy as well. Almeida may not be the hardest hitting heavyweight, but he would prefer to keep this fight on the feet. The fighter with the better cardio should win this fight.

Official Prediction: Jailton Almeida via 2nd-Round KO/TKO

Evan: I’ve got massive doubts about both of these fighters’ skill sets. Once thought to be two of the next big things in the heavyweight division, the hype for either has dwindled immensely. Almeida and Romanov have shown to have severe limitations within their games. Neither is a good striker, they both are one-trick-ponies in a way. Romanov’s cardio worries me hugely, but I don’t really agree with Lee that Almeida would prefer to keep the fight on the feet or that he’s got a striking edge here. Whoever gasses first and is unable to dictate the grappling exchanges, probably will lose this fight. It’s a coin flip matchup in my eyes. I’ll hesitantly take Jailton in this one.

Official Prediction: Jailton Almeida via Unanimous Decision 

Marcos: We have two heavyweights here who really like to use their wrestling abilities to dictate fights. The problem with Romanov is his lack of physical conditioning, which makes me doubt how long he can even impose his game plan. Almeida is a good offensive grappler with strong takedown entries. Romanov is very heavy on top and can deliver efficient ground-and-pound strikes with his strength. Not the two most skilled or well-rounded heavyweights here, if we are being honest. However, Almeida’s superior grappling and cardio will be the difference in this fight as he gets back in the win column.

Official Prediction:  Jailton Almeida via 2nd-Round Submission

Welterweight Bout

Randy Brown vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos

Lee: Randy Brown is coming off a knockout in the first round against Muslim Salikhov. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos has gone 3-1-1 in his last five fights, including wins over Sean Strickland and Benoit Saint Denis. Both fighters are good on the feet, but Brown holds 39% TD accuracy rate compared dos Santos’ 14%. Brown is taller and has a 5-inch reach advantage will that be enough to get the win…

Official Prediction: Randy Brown via Unanimous Decision

Evan: These are two of the more underrated fighters in the 170 pound division. They’re both fairly well rounded and have a plethora of quality wins over good competition. I’ll give Brown the slight edge in this matchup. I think he’s slicker on the feet, and has better footwork. Behind his jab, kicks, and length, I believe he’ll be able to keep Zaleski dos Santos at the end of his range. Although, don’t be surprised if Elizeu pulls this one off either.

Official Prediction: Randy Brown via Split-Decision

Marcos: This is a good matchup for Brown, who takes on a guy in dos Santos who has struggled with taller, rangier opponents. Brown should absolutely thrive in the boxing range, while I am not sure how effective dos Santos’ kicks will be in this fight. I can see a competitive striking contest here with Randy Brown keeping him at a distance, thus out-landing him over 3 rounds. Despite his age, dos Santos can certainly end this fight with his power. He has also beat top guys in the UFC before. As long as Brown can avoid the big shots and stick to his game plan, he should be fine.

Official Prediction: Randy Brown via Unanimous Decision 

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