Ahead of every championship fight, E. Spencer Kyte will sit down with some of the sharpest coaching minds in the sport to break down the action and provide UFC fans with insights into each championship pairing from the men that spend their days getting these elite athletes prepared to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.
For UFC 280, Kyte called upon independent striking coach Sean Madden and Glory MMA & Fitness head coach James Krause to provide their thoughts on four points heading into the lightweight championship main event between Charles Oliveira (33-8 MMA, 21-8 UFC) and Islam Makhachev (22-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC).
Best trait of each fighter
At a time in the sport where everyone is pretty solid everywhere, generally speaking, what is the one thing that each of these competitors do better than anyone else?
Krause: Oliveira's danger factor is incredible. On the feet now, he can knock you out, and if he wins this fight, I don't think it will be by submission; I think it will be by knockout. His danger factor – his ability to finish a fight in the blink of an eye – is his biggest asset, in my opinion.
Madden: For Charles right now, it has to be his confidence. What's his win streak now, 11? The guys he's put away recently, he's beating the top guys, and the performances have been fantastic, so I think his confidence is through the roof heading into this one.
The resurgence with his career, the timing of this fight – and I think timing is huge any time you're talking about matchups – I just feel like where he is, his confidence is through the roof and you need that to face a guy like Islam. If there is any doubt going into that fight, he's going to expose it, he's going to play on it, and he's going to beat you as a result of it.
Krause: Islam's best ability is to shut down offense.
I remember when I was a kid growing up, the Baltimore Ravens never had a really high-powered offense, but their f-cking defense would just shut down the offense, and I think with Makhachev, that's what you've got to deal with. It's not necessarily defense, but he shuts down offense.
He shuts you down, he gets you tired, and he makes you pay. He's very well-rounded, and he shuts down offense.
Madden: It's hard to say anything besides his wrestling and grappling, but I do think his pressure is another great trait.
Pressure for anyone is tough to deal with, but especially against an opponent like Charles, who is tall and lanky. Those guys need space to work, so having someone like Islam who has that pressure on the feet, on the fence, on the ground, and will continue to apply that pressure throughout the course of the fight, I think that's a really strong trait that he possesses.
Pressure breaks a lot of people. Pressure bursts pipes, so that'll be interesting to see if that applies in this fight, too.
Path to victory for each fighter
Everyone would love a 10-second knockout or a quick submission, but that's not often how these things go, especially not at the championship level. Instead, it's usually the competitor that has crafted the better game plan and did the better job of executing things inside the Octagon that comes away with their hand raised and the gold around their waist.
So, how does either man get it done on Saturday night?
Madden: I do believe Charles has more paths to victory than Islam. If he catches Islam on the feet, he can knock him out. He can catch Islam in a submission. If he wins, he's going to finish Islam.
I think Charles' path to victory is trying to keep the fight standing for as long as possible. We know Islam is going to want to wrestle, but really looking to catch him in the transitions with a submission is going to be – he has two options that he can threaten Islam with when Islam shoots: a knee up the center or a guillotine if he leaves his head outside.
And for Islam, the clearest path to victory is wrestling. That's not to say he can't hurt Charles on the feet – he's struggled figuring out the range, where the strikes were coming from, and Islam is left-handed, too, so I'm not saying Charles can't get hurt on the feet because we know Charles has a habit of taking damage.
That option is on the table for Islam, too, but I just think we know the clearest path to victory for him.
Krause: Call me crazy, but I think Oliveira needs to keep this fight standing. I think he needs to work that – Makhachev has been knocked out before, and Oliveira has shown toughness, but I think he's going to be in some real problems.
This is how I see it going down: I think Makhachev is going to get in on his body in Round 1 and won't even care if he gets him down; I think he's going to hold him on the fence, get him tired a little bit and settle into the fight. Second round, I think he's going to get a takedown and he's just gonna stall; he's going to play a disengagement, stalling game.
As they get into the third round, the championship rounds, I think you're going to see (Makhachev) grappling more, once they're all sweaty, and Oliveira is a little tired and that danger factor has worn down a little bit.
I think Makhachev is going to get the takedowns, and I think he's going to make it look easy. I think Oliveira's best shot is to keep this fight standing and knock him out.
If there were one thing that was going to significantly impact how this fight plays out – that swings it in one direction or the other – what would it be?
Krause: It's just if Oliveira can land something that hurts Makhachev or can find something to make him pay for any mistakes.
Madden: For Charles, I'm going back to his confidence and his winning streak; I really believe that's going to play a big factor in this fight. Regardless of where he is in the fight, he can get hurt badly, come back, and find a way to win the fight, and it feels to me like if the fight is ever not going the way they planned it, it never really affects Charles.
A lot of that comes from the mindset and his confidence.
With Islam, this isn't an "X factor," but something to look at is the step up in skill level for him. He's fought good guys, but he hasn't fought championship level opponents yet, so for him, being able to step up to this level, against someone like Charles — if he can hang, I think that experience level is a factor we have to pay attention to, for sure.
One coaching curiosity
Coaches see the sport differently and look at the sport differently than anyone else, picking up on different things and paying attention to movements, habits, or intangible pieces that others might not notice, but that could have a significant impact on the action inside the octagon.
Every matchup offers its own unique collection of elements that might pique a coach's interest and get them paying a little closer attention to once the fight gets underway.
So what is that one thing in this matchup?
Madden: If I'm looking for something from Charles in particular, I would love to see him stay just a little more disciplined. When you fight a guy like Islam, one mistake can cost you the fight, so I do want to see Charles a little bit more defensively responsible.
I know it's his style, but every fight, he's on his ass, he's taking these shots, and those are going to catch up to you some day. Getting dropped is not a requirement, so I'm hoping to see if they've changed that a little bit; see if he's a little more defensively responsible, a little more disciplined this fight.
Krause: I'm interested to see if Charles engages in the grappling or not. He seems to be confident that he is the best grappler in the UFC, and I think it would be a mistake on his part to really engage the grappling of Makhachev.
That's not to say that he can't grapple with him, but what I think might happen is that he gets tired sitting on his back, and once that power goes away on the feet, and once the sweat settles in, it's going to be difficult to submit Makhachev. And those guys can wrestle all f-cking day; they don't get tired!
So, for me, it's will Oliveira engage in the grappling, because I really think he should stuff the takedown and keep the fight standing, if he can. I don't think he can, but I really don't think you're going to see him try to, either.
Sean Madden is an independent striking coach who spent a number of years working with the Elevation Fight Team in Denver, Colorado. Most recently, he helped sharpen Lauren Murphy's striking ahead of her upset win over Miesha Tate.
James Krause is the head coach at Glory MMA & Fitness in Lee's Summit, Missouri, home of veteran UFC talents like Tim Elliott, Julian Marquez, Jeff Molina, and interim flyweight titleholder Brandon Moreno.
This story first published at UFC.com.