Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight champions Aljamain Sterling and T.J. Dillashaw will collide this weekend (Sat., Oct. 22, 2022) at UFC 280 inside Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Sterling shut up a lot of people with his first title defense. The ending of the first Petr Yan fight left a bitter taste in the mouths of the wider mixed martial arts (MMA) world, and Sterling endured the brunt of that distaste. Then, he stormed out of the gate to showcase his expertise, wisely outwitting Yan to clearly establish himself as the best Bantamweight on the planet right now (even if it was still a narrow decision). Meanwhile, it’s hard to be overly confident in Dillashaw, who has won just a single — and controversial — fight since his return. Still, the former Bantamweight king did never lose his title in the ring, and if he’s still at the peak of his game, he’s got a real chance at becoming champion for a third time.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Petr Yan (UFC 273, UFC 259), Corey Sandhagen (UFC 250), Pedro Munhoz (UFC 238), Jimmie Rivera (UFC on ESPN 1), Renan Barao (UFC 214), Cody Stamann (UFC 238)
Key Losses: Marlon Moraes (UFC Fight Night 123), Raphael Assuncao (UFC on FOX 23), Bryan Caraway (UFC Fight Night 88)
Keys to Victory: Sterling is a complete and crafty mixed martial artist. The long-time wrestler has perfected the art of the backpack, proving both very dangerous from that position and nearly impossible to remove. On the feet, Sterling is high-volume and crafty, willing to throw all sorts of strikes.
I am of the opinion that taking down Dillashaw is not going to be a simple task (unless Dillashaw has slowed considerably). Sterling might be able to manage a takedown or two at some point, but Dillashaw has never been held down for more than a couple seconds. Presumably, he’s also well studied in avoiding the back take.
With that in mind, wrestling should be the secondary aspect of Sterling’s attack. He should still be actually shooting so that he can feint takedowns and keep Dillashaw honest, but Sterling’s range advantage could be more important and effective here. He’s got the long jab and varied kicking arsenal to give Dillashaw a lot of trouble, and if Dillashaw has to close that additional distance, that will make takedowns come more easily.
Forcing Dillashaw to fight at his range will help every aspect of his game.
Key Wins: Cody Garbrandt (UFC 227, UFC 217), Cory Sandhagen (UFC Vegas 32), Renan Barao (UFC on FOX 16, UFC 173), Raphael Assuncao (UFC 200), John Lineker (UFC 207)
Key Losses: Henry Cejudo (UFC on ESPN+ 1), Dominick Cruz (UFC Fight Night 81), Raphael Assuncao (UFC Fight Night 29)
Keys to Victory: A collegiate wrestler-turned one of the division’s best kickboxers, Dillashaw is a really physical force inside the Octagon. He breaks down opponents with strikes and takedowns alike, usually growing more and more dangerous as fights wear on.
In this match up, I’d like to see Dillashaw take a page from Yan’s playbook. Sure, “No Mercy” is technically winless (0-2) against Sterling, but even the most devoted “Funkmaster” fans would admit Yan found success in both fights. Really, if Dillashaw can apply that same strategy without allowing any takedowns — a D-1 wrestling background means quite a bit — he might just run away with this one.
In both fights, Yan’s pressure fatigued Sterling. The champion did a better job of managing it in the second match, but he still relied on early success and takedowns to win the day. If Dillashaw is able to pressure from both stances consistently and work up and down the body with combinations, he will wear Sterling out and set himself up for late success. At a certain point, he might be able to initiate his own takedowns too, as Bryan Caraway successfully out-hustled Sterling with takedowns many years ago.
This is a great, difficult-to-predict title fight.
Sterling is now firmly established as the Bantamweight champ. He’s taken out two members of the Top Five already, and another is his team mate who won’t fight him! Dispatching Dillashaw goes a long way in really securing his hold on the division, and it also bolsters Sterling’s place in the ranks of champions. Dillashaw may not be beloved, but he’s highly regarded, so a win over him really means something.
Dillashaw, meanwhile, is staking his claim for greatest Bantamweight of all time. His two-year layoff may have been self-inflicted, but for him to comeback after all this time and capture the belt for a third time would be pretty undeniably impressive. After all, Dillashaw won his first 135-pound title in 2014. Retaking that pedestal eight years later is almost unheard of, particularly at the lower weight classes.
At UFC 280, Aljamain Sterling and TJ Dillashaw will duel over 135-pound gold. Which man will earn the victory?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 280 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPNEWS/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard (also on ESPNEWS/ESPN+) at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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