The big one is finally here, folks! The global mixed martial arts leader is serving up one of the best cards of the year this Saturday. UFC 280’s co-main event sees Aljamain Sterling defending his bantamweight title against former champion T.J. Dillashaw.
UFC 280 kicks off at a special start time of 10 a.m. ET (7 a.m. PT) from Abu Dhabi on ESPN+ before transitioning to the pay-per-view portion at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT), also available on ESPN+ (for $74.99).
Sterling looks to add a second title defense to his record after he silenced the doubters when he unified the titles against Petr Yan back in April.
Dillashaw is hoping to secure the bantamweight title for the third time in his career and reclaim his spot at the top of the division.
Will Sterling defend his title successfully? Or will Dillashaw pull off the upset and reclaim the title he was stripped of?
Read on to find out how these fighters match up and how we can squeeze some money out of this one.
For years now, Sterling has been demanding the respect he deserves by beating everyone the UFC has put in front of him. It seemed for a long time the UFC did not want to reward him with a title shot.
But after he swiftly submitted Cory Sandhagen back in June 2020, it became undeniable that he deserved the next shot. Unfortunately, his initial fight with Yan was marred by controversy due to an illegal knee that resulted in Sterling winning the title via disqualification. Luckily, Sterling got his shot to prove himself in April and grinded out a victory over Yan.
Sterling has long been revered as one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu threats in the UFC. It has been on full display during this seven-fight winning streak. He is one of the hardest fighters to deal with when he has your back, which was a key component of his last championship effort.
The striking of Sterling incorporates a lot of movement, kicks and remaining at range. You don’t often see combination striking from him because his ultimate goal is to get you in a position where he can implement his grappling. That is where he does his best work.
Dillashaw, meanwhile, is a two-time bantamweight champion with a total of three successful title defenses. In January 2019, he decided to go down in weight to try to become a two-division champion, even if it meant putting his career on the line. Unfortunately, he was disposed of by Henry Cejudo within 32 seconds. The anguish did not stop there, though, as two months later it was revealed that he failed a drug test after testing positive for EPO. The UFC stripped Dillashaw of his bantamweight title, and he was slapped with a two-year suspension.
Apparently, Dillashaw used that time to have surgery and let his body recover from the years of wear and tear he put it through. He eventually returned in July 2021, when he defeated Cory Sandhagen. To show off how badly he wanted to win, he battled through an injury to his knee that he suffered in the first round of the fight.
At his best, Dillashaw utilizes his footwork to set traps, create angles, and stay safe defensively. His title-clinching performance against Renan Barao back in 2014 is one of the greatest upsets in UFC history, but he really looked like a man possessed with how he handled a seemingly unbeatable Barao. He utilized that same game plan to win his next seven of nine trips to the UFC octagon.
The big question in this fight is whether Dillashaw, at the age of 35, can still compete against the top of the division. His performance against Sandhagen – controversial scoring aside – gave us a good enough account of him to believe that. However, this is a different puzzle than what he went up against with Sandhagen.
It’s bizarre the number of people who are saying, “If Yan could wrestle, he would have beaten Sterling.” Yan is a high-level wrestler who doesn’t show it off often; we just need to give Sterling more credit for putting Yan in positions from which he could capitalize and take his back.
What do I think the issue was? Yan’s movement was not present enough to keep Sterling from being able to get in on his hips.
Dillashaw is a master at movement, and his ability to pivot off on angles, never be a static target, and return fire with combinations will allow him to remain upright and at distance, where he will have the advantage. Mix in Dillashaw’s wrestling background and 86% takedown defense, and I think he will be a big problem for Sterling.
I think we’ll see a clinic from Dillashaw on the feet while stuffing takedowns. This could result in a late finish for Dillashaw or a decision, but thankfully he is at an underdog price, so we really don’t need to go the props route here. I’d bet Dillashaw to +110.
The Pick: T.J. Dillashaw (+150 at DraftKings)
The must-have app for UFC bettors
The best UFC betting scoreboard
Free picks from proven pros
Live win probabilities for your betsDOWNLOAD NOW