UFC 302: Makhachev vs. Poirier Predictions

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UFC 302: Makhachev vs. Poirier Predictions

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UFC 302 takes place on Sunday (AEDT) at the Prudential Arena in Newark, New Jersey  and we’ve got our UFC predictions for all the fights below and you can place your bets with the best betting sites Australia has to offer!

UFC 302 Predictions

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Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier Prediction

Back-to-back victories over Alexander Volkanovski have not only cemented Islam Makhachev’s position at the top of the lightweight division, but also led him to the No.1 spot on the pound-for-pound list too. Now he’ll take on Dustin Poirier, who is coming off a big knockout victory over Benoit Saint Denis back in March that’s given the former interim title-holder one final chance to become champion.

It’s no secret that the 32-year-old Makhachev is a big favorite here and it’s not hard to see why as he’s been on a 13-fight winning streak and still seems to be getting better with every fight. Clearly his biggest advantage in this fight is on the mat as he’s a dominant wrestler who chains his takedown attempts very well and has strong control on top.  He doesn’t just look to lay-and-pray though, and instead will actively seek out ground-and-pound opportunities and attempts to finish via his very good submission game. Those set of skills alone would have been enough to take Makhachev far in the sport, but he’s also worked diligently on his striking ability too over the years and his precision and timing with punches and kicks at the highest level against the likes of Volkanovski and Charles Oliveira has been impressive.

Heading into this fight the 35-year-old Poirier has made it known that win or lose he may well hang up his gloves afterwards. That’s understandable given that he’s been competing at the highest level in the UFC for much of his 13-year run in the promotion and due to his star status late on in his career is already financially secure. Nevertheless, talk of retirement never inspires confidence heading into a fight, and especially one of this magnitude. Poirier is a consummate professional though, always well prepared and ready to push himself to his limit. On the feet he’s a technically sound volume-based striker with good power and footwork, shrewd shot selection and he’s always mindful of opportunities to land on the counter. He’s no slouch on the mat either and can scramble and has a fair number of submission finishes on his record, but he has a habit of jumping on guillotine choke attempts that don’t tend to pay off, while his takedown defense isn’t the strongest and his submission defense has been dismantled by skilled grapplers too.

Poirier’s last fight against BSD proved it’s never wise to count him out when the chips are down, but the fight as a whole also served as a reminder that he’s no longer in his prime. And truth be told, even at his peak this is just a very difficult stylistic match-up for him as Makhachev can be competitive on the feet and dominant on the mat. Poirier wasn’t able to stop Khabib Nurmagomedov from submitting him five years ago in his first title challenge, and while the current 155lb champ has some differences in his approach I think the same outcome is likely here as Makhachev outwrestles him and then applies a rear-naked choke finish in the 3rd round.

Prediction: Islam Makhachev to win by submission in Rd3.

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Sean Strickland vs. Paulo Costa  Prediction

Sean Strickland’s upset decision win over Israel Adesanya led to him unexpectedly becoming middleweight champion, but his title reign only lasted a matter of months before coming out on the wrong end of a split-decision verdict against Dricus du Plessis in January. Now he returns against Paulo Costa, who lost to Robert Whittaker earlier in the year, his third defeat in his last four fights.

These two are both primarily strikers, but their approaches to the stand-up game are distinctly different. The 33-year-old Strickland’s style is heavily boxing orientated, and even more-so than most others in the UFC since he adopts a ‘Philly Shell’ style of defense with shoulder rolls and parries. While that’s generally believed to be a flawed style in MMA, Strickland has made it work surprisingly well, and the fact that he’s mentally tough and durable helps too. Meanwhile, offensively he sticks to stripped-back fundamentals, working behind a cultured jab most of the time (aided by a 4″ reach advantage here) and only occasionally loading up a straight right behind it. As such he’s not generally known as a big power puncher, but he’s good at pushing the pace and staying persistent with his offense from start to finish, which can lead to his opponents wilting in the later rounds. Strickland can also wrestle, but he’s had knee issues in the past and prefers to stay upright these days.

By way of contrast, at his best the powerful, athletically built 33-year-old Costa can be a dynamic striker with devastating one-punch power and strong kicks, and that led to him running through his first four opponents in the UFC via TKO. At that stage Costa was brimming with confidence and looked like he could become an unstoppable force in the division, but it wasn’t long before his hype train started to derail and his mental game came into question. Israel Adesanya schooled him in their title fight in 2020 (a TKO loss that Costa later blamed on drinking wine to help him sleep the night before), while in his next fight he showed no interest in trying to make weight and lost to Marvin Vettori. He did beat Luke Rockhold on the scorecards next time out, but that was a bizarre, sloppy fight to say the least, while last time out there was thankfully no drama and he gave a more respectable account of himself against former champion Whittaker, but still lost by decision.

I think there’s potential for Costa to win inside the distance here with a blitz of power punches or an unexpected head kick, but it feels more likely that Strickland’s jab gets to work early to unsettle his opponent and that gradually takes more of a toll as the rounds go on as Costa becomes more tired and frustrated, leading to Strickland winning on the scorecards.

Prediction: Sean Strickland to win by decision.

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Kevin Holland vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk Prediction

Holland has gone 4-4 since dropping down from middleweight in 2022 and now returns to his former division against Michal Oleksiejczuk, who used to compete at light-heavyweight, but has gone 3-2 since going to 185lbs.

The 31-year-old Holland initially did well in the UFC up at middleweight thanks to his striking prowess, but was then exposed for having weak defensive wrestling. That’s unlikely to be an issue here though as Oleksiejczuk is primarily a striker, but on the other hand it’s worth noting that Holland can be a capable wrestler offensively and has a respectable submission game too. Back on the feet Holland will have a sizeable 3″ height and 7″ reach advantage over Oleksiejczuk and that’ll suit him as he operates well from distance with straight punches and good kicks, delivered with both speed and power, while also having creative flair too.

The 29-year-old Oleksiejczuk is an offensively-minded striker who likes to apply pressure and relies on a mixture of his active, heavy-handed boxing together with a durable chin to outgun his opponents. He can wrestle to an extent but generally chooses not to these days, while his takedown defense is weak and he’s been susceptible to submissions during his time in the UFC, accounting for four of his five losses in the Octagon.

On the feet this should be fairly competitive, but Holland has the size and range advantage and Oleksiejczuk’s tendency to eat more punches than he should could well prove to be problematic. And if Holland doesn’t get a finish via strikes early in the fight I think he may well fancy his chances of getting this fight to the mat in order to showcase his submission chops, and I’ll say that leads him to a 2nd round tapout victory.

Prediction: Kevin Holland to win by submission In Rd2.

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Jailton Almeida vs. Alexandr Romanov Prediction

Jailton Almeida’s six-fight unbeaten run in the UFC came to an end last time out via a KO loss to Curtis Blaydes. Now he’ll look to get back on track against Alexandr Romanov, who also started his time in the UFC brightly with five wins in a row before suffering back-to-back defeats, but returned to the win column last time out.

Clearly Almeida’s last fight was a setback, but there’s always that risk in heavyweight MMA and there was nothing to suggest that the 32-year-old doesn’t still have the ability to be a leading contender in the division. Almeida is an athletic heavyweight who will have an extra 2″ height and 4″ in reach over Romanov on Saturday night, but is about 25lbs lighter. Almeida’s striking isn’t his strongest suit, but he’s still fairly competent there as he’s light on his feet and does a good job of hitting without being hit in return. He really excels in other aspects of MMA though, starting with very good wrestling that enables him to frequently land takedowns and keep control on top. He can adopt a patient approach from there when required, but is also a talented grappler too with a very good submission record and has damaging ground-and-pound too.

The 33-year-old Romanov also likes to the get the fight to the mat, which is for the best as his striking ability being nothing to write home about. He’s less athletic than Almeida with a pudgy build, but he is strong and likes to use that to land powerful takedowns. The energy he expends doing so can wear on his already questionable cardio though. He’s heavy on top and can land mauling ground-and-pound, while he’s also a submission threat, but he doesn’t have the technical ability or finesse of his opponent here and instead has more of a brute-force approach that’s more suited to working against lower-level heavyweights.

Really it feels like this is favorable matchmaking for Almeida as he seems to have the advantage in most areas here, with his technical grappling superiority and better cardio being key elements that will help him on his way to a 2nd round submission victory.

Prediction: Jailton Almeida to win by submission in Rd2.

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Randy Brown vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos Prediction

Randy Brown is coming off back-to-back victories as he gets ready to fight Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, who has gone unbeaten in his last three fights (though the latest of those was a majority draw).

The 33-year-old Brown bounced between wins and losses early in his UFC run, but to his credit he’s actually gone 8-2 since 2019. He’s a tall, rangey welterweight and as such will have a 4″ height and 5″ reach advantage over Zaleski. He’s a good kickboxer with a nice selection of range-management tools, working in an assortment of kicks alongside a lengthy jab. He has respectable power in his hands and can threaten with knees at closer range. too He’s also not out of his element on the mat and has improved over time in that regard, enabling him to work for takedowns occasionally, or find opportunities to get back to his feet if taken down.

Zaleski is getting up there in years at 37, but has plenty of experience to draw on with his overall UFC record being a commendable 10-3-1. His nickname ‘Capoeira’ gives away the fact that he’s primarily a dynamic striker who even managed to pull of a spinning wheel kick KO of Sean Strickland back when the middleweight star was competing at 170lbs. He’ll pick his moments to utilize those flashier techniques alongside more conventional techniques like low kicks that could be a useful weapon against his lanky opponent here. He’s also not a complete fish-out-of-water on the mat, but will try to keep the action standing.

This should be a competitive fight, but the age and size difference is against Zaleski and Brown’s kickboxing from range together with the potential threat of a takedown at closer quarters should give him the edge here on his way to a decision victory.

Prediction: Randy Brown to win by decision.

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UFC 302 Prelims

(Predicted winners in bold)

Cesar Almeida vs. Roman Kopylov

Grant Dawson vs. Joe Solecki

Phil Rowe vs. Jake Matthews

Niko Price vs. Alex Morono

Mickey Gall vs. Bassil Hafez

Ailin Perez vs. Joselyne Edwards

Andre Lima vs. Mitch Raposo

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About Ross Cole

Ross Cole is one of the most prolific mixed martial arts writers in the world, having written more than 17,000 MMA news stories for MMA Insight, which he founded in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts, and reaching millions of die-hard MMA fans in the process. You can read more of Ross's work at MMAInsight.com.