Islam Makhachev (@islam_makhachev/Instagram page)

UFC 302: Makhachev vs. Poirier Preview and Predictions

As summer fast approaches, the UFC will put on a pay-per-view with the lightweight belt on the line in the sport’s most talented division. Incumbent champion Islam Makhachev meets fan-favorite Dustin Poirier over five rounds with gold on the line. Should Makhachev hold onto his title, it would be his third title defense, and his first over someone other than Alexander Volkanovski, after he submitted Charles Oliveira to win the belt. If Poirier is able to pull off the upset, it could be the perfect capstone of his career, as he went from a fledgling featherweight to a beloved lightweight contender. To finally win undisputed gold would be a storybook ending to the career of “The Diamond,” should he decide to walk away from mixed martial arts.

In the co-main event, we will see former middleweight champion Sean Strickland look to get back in the win column after losing his title by controversial decision to Dricus du Plessis. Standing in his way is former title challenger Paulo Costa, who last won back in 2022 against now-retired former champion Luke Rockhold. This fight will also take place over five rounds, which is normally set aside for main events and title fights. With that added stipulation, it reasons to believe that whichever brash fighter emerges victorious he may see a title opportunity in his next fight.

Also on the main card is another middleweight contest – this one between Kevin Holland and Michal Oleksiejczuk – as both fighters look to gain momentum after each dropped his last outing. The first two main card bouts will be welterweight showdowns, with Niko Price taking on Alex Morono, and Randy Brown squaring off with Elizeu Zaleski.


The UFC 302 early prelims air live on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass starting at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the preliminary card on ESPN+ and ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET. The main card airs on ESPN+ pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.

This is likely Dustin Poirier’s last chance at winning an undisputed world title; can the Louisiana product pull off the upset and dethrone Islam Makhachev?

Kuhl: I have what is likely an unpopular opinion here, but I think Dustin Poirier can pull off the win, earning himself the undisputed UFC lightweight title. The mainstream prediction will be quite obvious. The champ, Islam Makhachev, does not land a high volume of strikes, and his bread and butter is his grappling game. He wins fights by taking his opponents down and either submitting them or pounding them out. He is the protege and fellow countryman of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and their styles are nearly identical. Poirier is a high-volume striker, who does his best work on his feet. Seems simple, right? Makhachev gets it to the mat, and he finishes Poirier before the midpoint of Round 3.

I’m not going with that. It seems too easy. The X factor here is that Poirier is a straight-up gangster. He is extremely durable and brings the fight to his opponents. Plus, he has no quit in him. The Louisiana native might have given up a submission to Nurmagomedov almost five years ago, and again to then-champ Charles Oliveira two-and-a-half years ago, but he is still a black belt in jiu-jitsu. He may not have the best takedown defense, but he has certainly been working the hell out of that skill, as well as what to do when it hits the mat.

I think this one is going to end in a surprise knockout. Poirier knows exactly what Makhachev’s game plan is. He will be ready to strike when the shot comes in, and I believe he will end this in the first two rounds to earn the undisputed lightweight title.

Petela: There are not many things that can put a damper on my day more than having to admit that Dan is correct. We are both in the minority here, but I also think that Dustin Poirier will come away with the win.

I might be stepping out even further on a limb here, but I think it finally happens; Dustin Poirier successfully jumps a guillotine choke and forces a submission. He can’t help himself, he has to go for it again and again whenever he sees the opportunity. Islam Makhachev is going to try and get this fight to the ground, as that’s where he will have the advantage. I think it will happen early in the fight while both men are fresh that Poirier will get wide eyed and see the chance to snatch up Makhachev’s neck and for the first and last time in his career he will get the job done and either put Makhachev to sleep or lock on so tight that he is forced to tap. Poirier by guillotine in round number one.

Sean Strickland’s reign as middleweight champion did not last long; how does the brash American fare against Paulo Costa?

Petela: First and foremost, after watching the fight several times I firmly believe that Sean Strickland should still be the champion. It was certainly a close contest but he should have gotten the nod over Dricus Du Plessis when the two met.

Anytime I am this confident about how a fight is going to turn out, I am wrong. So, take this with a grain of salt, but this one is pretty clear-cut. Strickland is going to shine defensively against the marauding Paulo Costa. The lumbering Costa swings for the fences with seemingly every strike, and it worked out well for him as he was making his way to the top of the middleweight division. Once he got there. though. things stalled out. The best of the best are too technically sound and defensively aware to get caught by a haymaker that they can see coming from a mile away. Strickland might actually have the best defense of any fighter in the middleweight division and he will put on a master class of how not to get hit over twenty-five minutes. Lopsided decision win for Strickland in a largely forgettable fight.

Kuhl: Styles make fights, and Sean Strickland is a bad match-up for Paulo Costa. As Matt said, Costa is going to come in throwing haymakers, and Strickland has some of the best striking defense in the entire UFC. Costa is getting picked apart in this one. He will burn his gas tank, and, eventually, lose this one by points after five bloody rounds.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 302?

Kuhl: Mark my words – and, if I’m wrong, I will be happy to eat crow – Dustin Poirier will win the lightweight title with a shocking knockout of Islam Makhachev to finally earn the undisputed UFC lightweight title. He may not hang onto it for long, but that win will be the sweetest of his career.

Petela: That’s the best answer, but to not continue parroting Dan, I’ll say Jailton Almeida. He was operating with a full head of steam until Curtis Blaydes shut off the lights when the two faced off in what would ultimately be a title eliminator fight of sorts. He has a tough fight ahead of him with Alexandr Romanov, who is one of the few heavyweights who can cause him problems in the grappling realm. A dominant performance over the Moldovan wrestler will be just what Almeida needs to get back some of his momentum.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 302?

Petela: Kevin Holland. It seems like a long time ago that Holland was on the cusp of becoming a middleweight contender. He has last two straight fights and looked puzzled his last time out when he dropped a decision to Michael “Venom” Page. Holland is at his best when he is able to use his range and get into a flow so he can talk trash while he’s fighting. That’s not going to fly against Oleksiejczuk. This fight is going to be fought in a phone booth as the Polish fighter will move forward and keep Holland from being able to circle away and stay at his preferred distance. This will be three losses in a row for “Trailblazer” and he’s going to start to become just another loudmouth fighter as opposed to an exciting loudmouth fighter who has a chance to steal the show anytime he fights.

Kuhl: Paulo Costa. He will be dominated by Sean Strickland through three rounds, will be handed his fourth loss in five fights, and he will lose his spot in the top 10, even if the UFC official rankings keep him there. There is nothing left to figure out, Costa will not ever get a future title shot, and he will be relegated to the UFC’s middleweight gatekeeper.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Kuhl: Niko Price has not won a fight in nearly three years, his record over the last five years is 2-5-1, and a loss to Alex Morono could get him the pink slip in the near future.

Petela: Mickey Gall, who had two losses in a row and three losses in his last four outings – not to mention, that he hasn’t fought in over two years. I can’t imagine that his spot on the roster will be there for him with a loss.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: Niko Price vs. Alex Morono. I am not sure exactly how this one is going to play out, but I am confident that it will be exciting. Price is a wildman, he goes for broke at all costs, and, sometimes, that costs him his consciousness. Morono is a savvy fighter, who, respectfully, outperforms his athletic ability time and time again. These two will put on a heck of a contest.

Kuhl: I usually try to make a different prediction here, but I have to agree with Matt. Ninko Price vs. Alex Morono should be a barnburner. One is fighting for his career, and the other is fighting for a ranking. These guys should both be bringing the heat on Saturday night.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Kuhl: Niko Price is fighting for his life and is badly in need of a win. Alex Morono has been chomping at the bit to crack into the top 15 in the rankings, and, in his last 17 fights, he has only been stopped once. These two already fought once over seven years ago, when Price won by knockout, but that was overturned when he popped positive for weed. Morono wants that one back, and these two are going to put on a Fight of the Night performance, which should earn them some extra pocket money for the ride home.

Petela: Grant Dawson. He is going to bounce back in a big way against Joe Solecki. This fight is going to be fast and violent. In a successful effort to prove that the loss to Bobby Green was a fluke, Dawson will steamroll Solecki and snag himself a post-fight bonus.

Pair this card with…

Petela: I’m picking Dustin Poirier to pick up the belt and ride off into the sunset as a champion. It has to be celebrated with some wings seasoned with Poirier’s Louisiana Style hot sauce.

Kuhl: I, too, pick Dustin Poirier to win the lightweight belt, and I, too, feel that his hot sauce is appropriate, considering he is going to put fire behind those punches. Since Matt is going wings, I will go with some deep-fried battered shrimp doused in Poirier’s Louisiana Style KO Edition hot sauce

Fight Kuhl’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
LW Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier Poirier Poirier
MW: Sean Strickland vs. Paulo Costa Strickland Strickland
MW: Kevin Holland vs. Michał Oleksiejczuk Holland Oleksiejczuk
WW: Niko Price vs. Alex Morono Morono Morono
WW: Randy Brown vs. Elizeu Zaleski Brown Brown
Preliminary Card (ESPN+/ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET)
MW: Roman Kopylov vs. Cesar Almeida Kopylov Kopylov
HW: Jailton Almeida vs. Alexandr Romanov Almeida Almeida
LW: Grant Dawson vs. Joe Solecki Dawson Dawson
WW: Phil Rowe vs. Jake Matthews Rowe Matthews
Early Prelims (ESPN+/UFC Fight Pass, 6 p.m. ET)
WW: Mickey Gall vs. Bassil Hafez Hafez Hafez
Women’s BW: Joselyne Edwards vs. Ailin Perez Perez Edwards
FlyW: Andre Lima vs. Mitch Raposo Lima Raposo