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Oliveira vs. Makhachev: Key questions and analysis on who will wear the UFC's lightweight crown

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Volkanovski or Oliveira? DC and Poirier weigh in on the best male fighter (1:26)

Dustin Poirier and Daniel Cormier give their picks for the UFC's best male fighter of the year. (1:26)

In October, the UFC lightweight championship is officially up for grabs in Abu Dhabi.

The vacant 155-pound title will have former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira fighting Islam Makhachev for the strap.

Oliveira, who recently earned the ESPY for MMA fighter of the year, has won 11 consecutive bouts, including the past 10 by way of finish.

Meanwhile, Makhachev boasts an impressive 22-1 record and carries a 10-fight winning streak of his own. The former teammate of UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov has similarly finished his opponents like "The Eagle," with four straight finishes for wins.

But questions linger now that this fight is official. Did any other lightweight contenders get snubbed? Should Alexander Volkanovski, the UFC featherweight champion, have dibs on the next shot at the lightweight crown? If Oliveira wins, does he deserve the top spot in the pound-for-pound rankings? What do the oddsmakers make of Makhachev's chances?

We tapped MMA insiders Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim, Reed Kuhn and Ian Parker for their answers to critical questions about his superstar matchup, and possible betting plays to consider.


Is this the best lightweight title fight the UFC could have made?

Brett Okamoto: This should be an easy question to answer. Oliveira is riding an 11-fight win streak, and Makhachev has won 10 in a row. Oliveira has cleared out the other top names in the division -- Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler. Makhachev was the obvious next contender.

The reason it's not an easy answer, however, is Alexander Volkanovski. Would a lightweight title fight between Oliveira and Volkanovski be even better than this? A big part of me wants to say yes. I have Volkanovski as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now, and I have Oliveira at No. 4. It doesn't get much better than that in terms of a matchup. I want to see Volkanovski move up and get a shot at a second belt at some point, but for now I will say this is the best fight the UFC could make. I favor rewarding contenders who richly deserve title shots, and Makhachev qualifies as that.


What challenges does Makhachev present to Oliveira? Oliveira to Makhachev?

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Takedown from Islam Makhachev leads to win over Bobby Green

This takedown from Islam Makhachev in the first round ends up being the difference-maker in a win vs. Bobby Green.

Marc Raimondi: Take note of a few sequences in Oliveira's fight with Gaethje at UFC 274 in May. Gaethje landed shots and Oliveira dropped to the canvas. Was Oliveira hurt, or was he trying to bait Gaethje into going down to the ground with him, to Oliveira's domain? If you believe Oliveira after the fight, it was more of the latter. In any case, Oliveira knows his biggest strength against just about anyone is in the grappling department. Makhachev, though, is not "just about anyone."

While Oliveira might be a more talented submission artist, Makhachev -- a longtime wrestler and world combat sambo champion from Dagestan -- might be the best grappler he has faced in the UFC. Oliveira's biggest advantage, maybe for the first time in a 14-year career, will be on the feet in this fight. Oliveira has recently rounded into a dangerous Muay Thai striker with power in his hands and underrated kicks and knees. Makhachev is proficient on the feet, as well. But Oliveira might be more apt to keep this one standing than his other bouts.

Makhachev has been a dominant grappler his entire career, and his best path to victory in most cases is takedowns followed by submission attempts and possibly ground and pound. Will he execute that game plan against Oliveira, the greatest submission artist in UFC history? It would be dangerous, but it is his bread and butter. If it comes to fruition, the mat battle between these two men will be one to watch.


Will the winner have a claim on pound-for-pound No. 1?

Jeff Wagenheim: Whoa, let's pump the brakes a little. A victory over the other would be a magnificent accomplishment for either man. This fight is a game-changer between two fighters on double-digit winning streaks. But No. 1 for the victor? Nah.

Oliveira got where he is -- tied with Israel Adesanya for No. 3 in the ESPN pound-for-pound Top 10 -- by finishing Chandler, Poirier and Gaethje in succession. That's a top-shelf run, as Poirier is in our P4P rankings and Gaethje has been there. But adding a win over the unranked Makhachev would likely not be enough to warrant our voting panel elevating Oliveira above Kamaru Usman, Alexander Volkanovski and "The Last Stylebender."

And while a Makhachev victory would inject him into the pound-for-pound rankings, maybe even into the top five, a jump to No. 1 would be too much, too soon. Still, it would be definitive evidence that his Dagestani countryman, training partner and biggest fan, former champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, has been correct all along in insisting that Makhachev is the future of the 155-pound division.


Early odds say the challenger is the favorite

Reed Kuhn: When Oliveira defeated Poirier for the lightweight title, he did so as a slight underdog. What was even more impressive, statistically speaking, is that he won despite suffering a knockdown in the first round. Only 20% of fighters on the receiving end of an early knockdown come back to win. Oliveira went on to pull off the same type of comeback in his very next fight.

According to the metrics, even if he's the new cardiac kid of MMA with a string of comeback finishes, Makhachev will be his toughest matchup yet. If early numbers hold, we could see Oliveira with the biggest underdog odds he's had in five years. And unfortunately for Oliveira, the stats seem to agree. Makhachev rates as a more unfavorable matchup than either of Oliveira's prior two title fight opponents.

Makhachev doesn't have many holes in his game based on performance metrics. His stand-up striking is technical, and he's young and relatively undamaged. On the mat, he's shown dominant wrestling, and he's already faced and stifled decorated grapplers such as Arman Tsarukyan and Nik Lentz. How bettable Makhachev is will depend on prices closer to fight time, but from a first look by the numbers, he's already a justifiable favorite.


The first bet: Makhachev + inside the distance

Ian Parker: There are already some intriguing spots to play for this fight. Makhachev is listed as an above 2-1 favorite over Oliveira, who has done nothing but dramatically finish his past three opponents. In his previous three bouts, Oliveira has been dropped in the first round but rallied to get a KO or submission finish to win.

We all know Oliveira as a submission machine, but what makes him so dominant of late is his improvement in striking. In his latest fight, Oliviera was dropped by Gaethje, but Gaethje was hesitant to follow him to the floor, thus giving Oliveira more time to recover. In his upcoming fight against Makhachev, I don't see that being the case. I believe Makhachev will be the better grappler and his top control will not only neutralize Oliveira but possibly lead to a finish of his own.

At the current odds, I would take Makhachev, but if he becomes more heavily favored, look toward adding him in a parlay or selecting the fight going under 2.5 rounds or not going the distance.