UFC 302 Predictions

UFC 302 takes place tomorrow night in New Jersey and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.

Main Card

Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier

Islam Makhachev has become the UFC’s lightweight champion and No.1 pound-for-pound fighter during his current 13-fight winning streak and will now look to defend his title for the third time in a match-up against former interim-titleholder Dustin Poirier, who KO’d Benoit Saint Denis back in March to pave the way for one final shot at becoming champion.

The-32-year-old Makhachev is often likened to retired legend Khabib Nurmagomedov, who will be in his corner on Saturday night, and it’s not hard to see why, but there are difference in their approach.  For one thing Makhachev has focused more on his stand-up game over the years and as such he looks more comfortable there and has developed very good precision and timing in his punches and kicks, which has helped him find success even against top-flight striking talents like Charles Oliveira and Alexander Volkanovski.   His ground game is still his greatest asset though, chaining together takedown attempts with ease, having strong top control, and unlike Khabib he shows more eagerness to find a finish either by his skilled submission game or ground-and-pound.

The 35-year-old Poirier is a big underdog heading into this title clash, and his pre-fight suggestions that he may call time on his career whether he wins or loses doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.  It’s understandable though as Poirier has been competing at the highest level in the UFC for a long time now and has already achieved financial security.  He’s been in a lot of wars too and there are signs that’s catching up to him as he was KO’d by Justin Gaethje last year and had to endure through tough moments before finding a finish against BSD last time out.  Still, he remains a very good striker with savvy shot selection in the heat of the battle, good power and he uses footwork and angles well.  Poirier is capable on the mat too with good scrambling and he offers a submission threat, but on the other hand his takedown defense isn’t the best, he has a habit of jumping for guillotine chokes without ever having successfully found a finish with one, while he has also been tapped out by skilled grapplers in the past.

On the feet Poirier still remains a threat, but while Makhachev can be fairly competitive there too, it’s clear that his best path to victory here is to dominate him on the mat, and like Khabib Nurmagomedov five years ago I think that may well end up leading to a third round submission victory for the champ here, if not earlier in the fight.

Pick: Islam Makhachev wins by submission in Rd3.

Sean Strickland vs. Paulo Costa

Sean Strickland enjoyed a brief stint as middleweight champion last year after a major upset win on the scorecards over Israel Adesanya, before suffering a split-decision loss to Dricus du Plessis in January.  Now he’ll try to get back towards the title again in a fight with Paulo Costa, who lost to Robert Whittaker in January, marking his third loss in his last four bouts.

These two both favor the striking game, but their approaches are very different.  The 33-year-old Strickland adopts a heavily boxing influenced approach, working almost exclusively behind a well-versed jab that’ll benefit from an extra 4″ in reach over Costa here, while his straight right tends to see limited use until he has opponents in trouble.  Meanwhile, Strickland utilizes a ‘Philly Shell’ style of defense and relies a lot more on parries and shoulder rolls compared to most MMA fighters, an unlikely approach that’s actually paid off for him more often than not.  He’s not known for his finishing power, but his constant offensive pressure along with very good durability and cardio has a knack for wilting opponents as the round goes on.

Meanwhile the 33-year-old Costa is much more of a physical specimen as well as being a more versatile, dynamic striker with speed and stopping power in both his punches and kicks.  He burst onto the UFC scene with four TKO victories in a row, looking both ferocious and fearless, but it wasn’t long before the cracks began to show and his mentality came into question after blaming a convincing TKO loss in a title fight against Israel Adesanya on drinking wine to help him sleep the night before, while he unapologetically made no attempt to cut weight for his next fight against Marvin Vettori and still lost.  He did win a bizarre fight with a well-past-his-best Luke Rockhold after that, but actually performed better in a loss to ex-champ Whittaker last time out.

So Costa has largely squandered his potential, but he’s still a very dangerous fighter who is perfectly capable of finishing Strickland here with a barrage of hard-hitting punches or a sudden highlight-reel head kick out of nowhere.  Strickland is the more reliable fighter though, and despite his relatively simple approach offensively his cultured jab and pressure could well throw Costa off his game and frustrate him.  The longer the fight goes the more likely it is that Strickland will gain the upper-hand and so I’ll take him to emerge with a decision victory here.

Pick: Sean Strickland wins by decision.

Kevin Holland vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk

After going 4-4 since moving down from middleweight a couple of years ago, Kevin Holland is now heading back up to the division for his next fight against Michal Oleksiejczuk, a former 205lb’er who has gone 3-2 so far at 185lbs.

The 31-year-old Holland’s previous run at middleweight actually started off very well and at one stage he won five fights in a row as he put his striking ability and tall, long frame to good use, before major deficiencies in his defensive wrestling were exposed and exploited.  Several years later those issues haven’t been fully resolved, but it’s not likely to be an issue against a primary striker like Oleksiejczuk, and if anything it’s Holland’s respectable offensive wrestling and solid submission game that could come into play if the fight goes to the mat.   Holland does relish the striking battle though and fights well with straight punches and good kicks delivered with power and speed from range (benefitting from a 3″ height and 7″ reach advantage here), while he can also be quite creative and unpredictable at times to keep his opponents guessing as to what’s coming next.

Oleksiejczuk is a 29-year-old striker whose game is built around applying pressure, with his heavy-handed boxing being backed up by a solid chin as he looks to overwhelm his opponents.  He can look for takedowns, but tends not too, while he has underwhelming takedown and submission defense, which accounts for four of his five UFC losses so far in the promotion.

I feel Holland has the size, speed and skill advantage on the feet here, and if he can’t find a finish early against Oleksiejczuk I can see him being tempted to serve a reminder that he can still be a threat on the mat by seeking out takedown and submission opportunities instead, leading to a 2nd round victory.

Pick: Kevin Holland wins by submission in Rd2.

Jailton Almeida vs. Alexandr Romanov

Jailton Almeida’s six-fight UFC winning streak was halted by a Curtis Blaydes KO defeat last time out.  Now he’ll attempt to put that in the rear-view mirror as he faces Alexandr Romanov, who had a strong start to his time in the Octagon too with five wins before suffering back-to-back losses, but did claim a victory last time out.

The 32-year-old Almeida was performing well against Blaydes before getting caught, which is always a risk at heavyweight, so by itself that’s not enough to suggest that he still can’t become a future title contender in the division.  Almeida has an athletic build by heavyweight standards and that’ll see him come in around 25lbs trimmer than Romanov on the scales, but with a 2″ height and 4″ reach advantage to work with.  Almeida moves well on the feet and doesn’t take too much damage, but while he’s capable striking isn’t his A-game.  Instead, Almeida comes into his own with strong wrestling ability, which leads to convincing takedowns and good control on top.  He’s the kind of fighter that’s willing to grind out a win from their when necessary, but he’s also a talented grappler with a proven submission record and has punishing ground-and-pound too.

The 33-year-old Romanov is similar in so much as he likes to get the fight to the canvas, but he’s not got Almeida’s athleticism and tends to lean more on strength than clean technique.  That can lead him to some big power takedowns as he looks to stamp his authority on his fights, but can also sap his questionable cardio.  From there he’ll look to bully opponents by staying heavy on top, landing ground-and-pound and working for brute-force submissions, but doesn’t have much in the way of finesse.

This feels like a good match-up for Almeida to get back to winning ways as he seems to have the edge in most areas here and I think that will lead him to a 2nd round stoppage via submission.

Pick: Jailton Almeida wins by submission in Rd2.

Randy Brown vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos

Randy Brown will be looking to build on back-to-back wins when he goes up against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, who fought to a majority draw last time, leaving him unbeaten in his last three fights.

Brown has a fighter who can be inconsistent, particularly early in his career when he shifted between frequent wins and losses, but the 33-year-old has done well to shift that more in his favor over time, having gone 8-2 in the past five years or so.  He’s tall and lanky for a 170lber and that’ll give him 4″ in height and 5″ in reach over Zaleski on Saturday night.  And he will take full advantage of that, using his kickboxing to manage the range with his long jab and kicks up the middle, while he can bring knees into play too at closer range.  Brown’s ground game has improved somewhat over time, so he can work for a takedown or two and also has a chance to work back to his feet if he’s the one being taken down.

The 37-year-old Zaleski is an experienced campaigner who has put together a solid 10-3-1 run in the UFC.  Zaleski can live up to his ‘Capoeira’ nickname with acrobatic, dynamic striking that has delivered tangible results in the Octagon, even KO’ing Sean Strickland at 170lbs several years ago with a spinning wheel kick.  He can use more conventional techniques too though, with good leg kicks being a weapon that he’s likely to use against the lanky Brown this weekend.

This should be a competitive battle, but with Zaleski getting up there in years and Brown having that size advantage to try to keep him at bay along with the threat of a takedown I’ll say that it’s ‘Rude Boy’ who emerges with his hand raised when the judges decision is announced.

Prediction: Randy Brown wins by decision.

Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)

Cesar Almeida vs. Roman Kopylov
Grant Dawson vs. Joe Solecki
Phil Rowe vs. Jake Matthews
Niko Price vs. Alex Morono
Mickey Gall vs. Bassil Hafez
Ailin Perez vs. Joselyne Edwards
Andre Lima vs. Mitch Raposo

Ross launched MMA Insight (previously FightOfTheNight.com) in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts. He's since penned countless news stories and live fight reports along with dozens of feature articles as the lead writer for the site, reaching millions of fans in the process.