The UFC’s return to Abu Dhabi is shaping up to be one of the standout cards of the year, with a second title fight and another two marquee match-ups either booked or in the works for the October event.
UFC 280, which takes place at Etihad Arena on October 22 and is headlined by the vacant lightweight title clash between Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev, will include bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling’s rescheduled defence against and former belt-holder TJ Dillashaw. Another bantamweight bout is slated for the capital: a highlight clash between star Sean O’Malley and ex-champion Petr Yan.
The UFC is understood to also be finalising a lightweight encounter between No 6-ranked contender Beneil Dariush and No 9 challenger Mateusz Gamrot. More details are expected to be confirmed on Thursday.
Alongside Oliveira-Makhachev, UFC 280 already features a clash between rising welterweights Belal Muhammad and Sean Brady. That bout was made official on Wednesday.
The addition of Sterling-Dillashaw adds considerable weight to the UFC’s return to Abu Dhabi after one year away, with the fight originally booked for UFC 279 in September.
Sterling makes the second defence of his bantamweight crown after capturing the belt in controversial fashion in March last year, when then-champion Yan was disqualified for an illegal knee. Sterling won the rematch, in April, by split decision. His professional mixed martial arts record stands at 21-3.
Dillashaw, meanwhile, will be seeking to reclaim the title he relinquished in January 2019, when he was handed a two-year suspension having tested positive for a banned substance.
The American, 17-4 as a pro, returned to the octagon in July last year, defeating Cory Sandhagen by split decision. Dillashaw has been kept on the sidelines since through injury.
One of the most intriguing bouts at UFC 280 - should it be finalised - will without doubt be O’Malley’s step up in opposition against Yan. The American, among the sport’s most talented prospects, is 15-1 in the UFC with one no contest after this month’s encounter with Pedro Munhoz ended after an accidental eye poke.
Speaking to ESPN’s Ryan Clark on Wednesday night, O’Malley said: "I'm getting the fight that I wanted and the fight that the people want. In my eyes, Petr is the No 1 contender right now. He's pretty much 1-1 against [Sterling], he could be considered the champion.
"Going in there and stepping up against a guy like Petr is exciting. It's motivating and it's the biggest fight in the bantamweight division right now."
Yan, officially the division’s No 2-ranked contender, is 16-3 as a pro.
The other bout in process for UFC 280 marks Dariush's return from an ankle injury to take on the in-form Gamrot (21-1). Dariush (21-4-1) rides a seven-fight win streak, while Gamrot has won his past four.
As of Thursday, the UFC has made official only Oliveira-Makhachev and Muhammad-Brady. UFC 280 represents the promotion’s first event in the capital since October last year. It marks the conclusion to Abu Dhabi Showdown Week.