Rivalries ran a little hot on Thursday evening ahead of this weekend’s UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi, with Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira going back and forward on the mics at Etihad Arena, and Petr Yan shoving Sean O’Malley.
The official press conference, taking place at the same venue as Saturday night’s highly anticipated event, set the scene well for the UFC’s return to the capital, where Oliveira and Makhachev headline for the vacant lightweight crown.
Oliveira, who turned 33 on Monday, bids to reclaim the title after he was stripped of the belt for missing weight ahead of his defence against Justin Gaethje in May.
Makhachev, the No-4-ranked lightweight contender, contests his first championship bout. Oliveira’s win streak sits currently at 11, while Makhachev has won 10 consecutive fights.
On Thursday, Makhachev bit back at Oliveira’s comments the previous day, when he claimed his opponent was given a title shot only because of his close connection with long-time friend, and teammate, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“One thing: when he fought for the title, who had he beat before?” Makhachev said. “Or who he fight for the title? Michael Chandler? You guys talk about who deserve or who doesn’t, but who did he beat before the title fight? Let me know please.”
Asked why he said on Wednesday that he would finish Oliveira, who holds the record for finishes in the promotion, Makhachev replied: “I want to take this record. Because I finish all my last opponents. That’s why I always look for the finish.
“And I know I’m going to finish him. Because he always gives up. And I’m going to do this again.”
The answer elicited cries of “Islam, Islam, Islam” from the partisan crowd. Makhachev, from Dagestan, enjoys significant support in Abu Dhabi and throughout the region. He has won twice already in the capital.
In contrast, Oliveira was roundly booed when he doubled down on his prediction that he would knock out Makhachev in the opening round on Saturday.
On whether it bothered him that it feels almost like he is fighting in Makhachev’s home country, Oliveira responded: “I’m home. I like to be in places like this. I always invite them to come to my house. They never come to my house, so I knock on people’s doors and go to theirs.”
That sparked an argument between the two, with Makhachev claiming he asked the UFC “many times” to make the bout in Brazil.
“Let’s go,” Makhachev said. “It doesn’t matter where. We’re almost here. You tried to avoid this fight how many months? You never say my name. UFC told you [to fight me].”
Oliveira countered: “It doesn’t matter any more. I’m here. Stay calm. In no moment did you ever want this fight to be in Brazil. You never mentioned Brazil.
“Don’t worry, daddy’s here. It’s going to be a pleasure to fight you. We’re making history. Let’s make this happen.”
Turing his attention to the crowd, Oliveira said: “At the end of the day, you’re all going to be clapping and giving a standing ovation. Listen to me.
“He deserves all the respect in the world. It’s another day in the office; we’re professionals. We came here to fight and that’s what we’re going to do Saturday night.”
When a member of the media asked Oliveira how he would perform against a peak Nurmagomedov, who retired unbeaten and as undisputed lightweight champion in Abu Dhabi in 2020, the Brazilian nodded to the Hall of Famer who was sitting nearby.
“I mean, we’re only going to know if the man over there comes back and fights again,” Oliveira said. “He deserves all the respect in the world. He deserves the respect for everything he’s done for the sport.
“But the only way we’ll ever find out is if he came back and fought again.”
Also at Thursday's conference, bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and former belt-holder TJ Dillashaw traded verbal blows, as did Yan and O’Malley, ahead of their respective bouts in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
When all the main-card fighters faced-off at the end of the conference, Yan pushed O’Malley, perhaps annoyed by the American’s jibes moments earlier regarding the Russian's perceived lack of height.