Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight talents Drew Dober and Islam Makhachev will square off this weekend (Sat., March 6, 2021) at UFC 259 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I don’t believe anyone who watched Dober’s early UFC fights from 2013-2015 would have predicted him to remain in the roster to 2021. Instead, steady improvement has seen Dober grow in all aspects, and he’s now riding a three-fight win streak that includes two knockout wins over top prospects. Meanwhile, Makhachev is riding a six-fight win streak, but he’s one of those frustrating situations where he’s failed to gain much forward momentum. Some of that is due to highly ranked opponents being unwilling or unable to fight the Russian, but this is a step up for Makhachev, and a chance to make his argument as a suitable replacement for Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Record: 23-9 (1)
Key Wins: Nasrat Haqparast (UFC 246), Alexander Hernandez (UFC Fight Night 171), Marco Polo Reyes (UFC on ESPN 3), Frank Camacho (UFC on FOX 27)
Key Losses: Beneil Dariush (UFC Fight Night 146), Olivier Aubin-Mercier (UFC 206)
Keys to Victory: There was a time where Dober wasn’t really great at anything, but he’s come a tremendously long way. Nowadays, the Southpaw Muay Thai fighter punches with very real power, and he throws great combinations. In addition, his defensive wrestling and general scrambling abilities have leveled up significantly.
The latter is going to be hugely important opposite Makhachev, who excels at pinning opponents on the mat. Given his foe’s credentials and passed bouts, it’s almost a given that Makhachev will score some takedowns. For Dober, the vital thing is to keep scrambling afterward, never accept bottom position, and force his foe to work constantly.
Dober understands the concept — it’s what he did so effectively opposite Alexander Hernandez. It is simply more difficult to take down and wrangle a foe multiple times than it is to stand back up. It’s a bad energy trade for Makhachev, and with Dober’s combination of physical strength and combination punching, he only needs small moments of fatigue to really turn the momentum to his corner.
Key Wins: Arman Tsarukyan (UFC Fight Night 149), Gleison Tibau (UFC 220), Nik Lentz (UFC 208), Davi Ramos (UFC 242)
Key Losses: Adriano Martins (UFC 192)
Keys to Victory: In addition to a whole bunch of accomplishments in Combat Sambo, Makhachev has the distinction of absorbing the least significant strikes per minute of any UFC fighter — that’s a great record to own! The 29-year-old Russian simply shuts down opponents, trapping them in his game with scary ease.
As explained above, this bout will really be a battle between Makhachev’s ability to lock in dominant positions and Dober’s scrambling.
For Makhachev, it’s important the veteran grappler doesn’t rush the stand up exchanges. He’s a very competent counter puncher, and it’s not like Dober is such an explosive, dynamic hitter that Makhachev has to be terrified of exchanges. If Makhachev is patient in finding his opportunities to shoot, he’s more likely to fully complete takedowns and land in better positions.
Otherwise, the goal is to slow down Dober. Makhachev specializes in triangling the legs and tying up the two-on-one behind the back, perfect strategies to keep Dober frustrated. It may take some doing, but if Makhachev continually hangs on his foe, he can work to demoralize the striker.
One of these fringe contenders will take a step toward the Top 10.
This is something of an equal opportunity for either man. For Dober, he faces a ranked opponent, so this is a chance to replace his foe at that No. 14 spot. Given Dober’s long period of continual work and improvement, that would be a pretty incredible milestone for the Nebraskan. At the same time, Dober’s name has more value than arguably all of Makhachev’s past victories. Even as the ranked man facing an unranked foe, there is still ground to be gained for Makhachev, who can demonstrate just how effective his game is opposite a proven talent.
Plus, seven wins in a row really should earn him that Top 10 opponent he’s been chasing.
Lightweight is not the division to lose a win streak. If Dober comes up short, it’s another example of ranked competition proving too much for him, further establishing his ceiling. Alternatively, Makhachev has been forced to scratch and crawl his way up to the main card, yet a single defeat likely sends him back to the middle for multiple fights.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 259 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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At UFC 259, Islam Makhachev and Drew Dober will duel. Which man will earn the victory?