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UFC 302 predictions — Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier: Fight card, odds, preview, prelims, expert picks

UFC 302 goes down on Saturday from Newark, New Jersey and a huge lightweight championship bout sits atop the card. Champion Islam Makhachev continues his run to prove he’s the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport when he defends his title against fan-favorite Dustin Poirier.

Poirier is looking to finally add a world championship reign to his legendary career after failing in his previous two attempts to capture the lightweight title. Poirier did have a run as interim champion but the asterisk of never capturing a world title will forever remain a mark against him in debates on his place on lists of all-time great fighters.

Makhachev has shown dominance reminiscent of friend and trainer Khabib Nurmagomedov since suffering a shocking 2015 knockout loss. He is now riding a 13-fight winning streak and coming off back-to-back title defenses over fellow pound-for-pound elite Alexander Volkanovski.

In addition to that big main event, former middleweight champion Sean Strickland returns to action for the first time since losing the title when he faces former title contender Paulo Costa.

With so much happening on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.

UFC 302 fight card, odds

  • Islam Makhachev (c) -625 vs. Dustin Poirier +450, lightweight title
  • *Sean Strickland -250 vs. Paulo Costa +205, middleweights
  • Kevin Holland -290 vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk +235, middleweights
  • Alex Morono -265 vs. Niko Price +215, welterweights
  • Randy Brown -180 vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos +155, welterweights
  • Cesar Almeida -120 vs. Roman Kopylov +100, middleweights
  • Grant Dawson -500 vs. Joe Solecki +380, lightweights
  • Jake Matthews -155 vs. Phil Rowe +130, welterweights
  • Jailton Almeida -320 vs. Alexandr Romanov +250, heavyweights
  • Bassil Hafez -400 vs. Mickey Gall +310, welterweights
  • Ailin Perez -180 vs. Joselyne Edwards +155, women’s bantamweights
  • Andre Lima -270 vs. Mitch Raposo +220, flyweights

With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer), Shakiel Mahjouri (writer), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).

UFC 302 picks, predictions

Campbell Brookhouse Mahjouri Mormile Wise
Makhachev vs. Poirier Makhachev Makhachev Makhachev Makhachev Makhachev
Strickland vs. Costa Costa Strickland Costa Strickland Costa
Holland vs. Oleksiejczuk Holland Holland Holland Holland Olesiejczuk
Price vs. Morono Price Morono Morono Morono Morono
Brown vs. dos Santos Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown

Makhachev vs. Poirier

Campbell: For as good as the potential feel-good story of Poirier scoring a title upset already feels, Makhachev remains a terrible style matchup for the veteran striker. Poirier was dominated on the ground in both of his previous title defeats, each of which came via submission to former champions Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira. Makhachev, who will see the return of Nurmagomedov to his corner this weekend, is just as good (if not better) at using his striking to set up efficient submission attempts. Even though Poirier has promised a knockout, Makhachev is operating at a level that is far more complete than his more famous foe. 

Brookhouse: In Best Bets this week, I suggested running with Poirier as a good call. I do think there’s value in him with how wide the line is. But finding value in lines and exploiting those over time, with wins offsetting losses, is very different than picking a fight head-to-head. Poirier is a great fighter, but he’s a great fighter with a lot of miles on his body and for whom a fighter like Makhachev is simply a bad matchup. Poirier doesn’t do a great job defending the takedown so when the fight is on the feet, he needs to be scoring and scoring big. Makhachev has become a dangerous striker but isn’t quite as dynamic as Poirier. But Makhachev should be able to score takedowns more or less at will. On the ground, Poirier has gotten overwhelmed by men with great top games and that’s who Makhachev is. While the majority of viewers will be pulling for Poirier and the fairy tale ending, this seems like Makhachev’s fight to lose.

Mahjouri: There is a reason many consider Makhachev the best pound-for-pound fighter alive. His grappling is extremely potent and he’s very responsible defensively. Even more terrifying are his striking improvements. There’s a lot to unpack in his knockout win over Alexander Volkanovski, a fight the latter took on 11 days’ notice, but it was impressive nonetheless. Makhachev’s coach believes the champion is a better pure striker than Poirier. That’s a claim we can properly examine on Sunday morning. Either way, Makhachev’s mauling wrestling, submission skills and striking defense match extremely well against Poirier, a striker with a history of defensive grappling lapses. That’s what makes a Poirier upset so exciting, but I don’t think it’ll come to fruition. Makhachev via submission.

Strickland vs. Costa

Campbell: Despite having lost three of his last four fights coming in (against elite competition), Costa has been quietly evolving his skills and now fights in a much more patient and focused attack. He’ll need all of those improvements as the betting underdog against Strickland, who would still be middleweight champion if not for a disputed loss via split decision to Dricus du Plessis in January. While Strickland is far more skilled than his opponent, he tends to get caught up in slugfests at times due to his pressure style. Look for Costa to put this current streak behind him by scoring the type of breakthrough knockout that sends a fighter like Strickland from the true title elite and back to regular contender status. 

Brookhouse: Strickland does a good job employing a simple offensive boxing approach that works in tandem with a tight defensive shell to make landing clean shots on him a chore. Costa has good power but we haven’t seen it produce a finish for him in nearly six years. Strickland is durable and better at controlling the action than Costa, leaving little reason to think Costa is going to be fighting the kind of fight he would most like. If Strickland is on his game, this feels like a drawn out, patient beatdown for the former champ.

Mahjouri: Strickland’s approach is very defensively oriented for a fighter who preaches violence. Costa lives up to “The Eraser” nickname. Strickland’s team hopes to keep the former champion off the fence and take control of the fight down the stretch. Strickland is vastly more experienced in a five-round fight, going 25 minutes on six occasions. Costa’s only five-round decision was a loss to Marvin Vettori. Costa’s reputation arguably improved in a decision loss to Robert Whittaker in February. Costa badly hurt Whittaker at the end of Round 1 and put a lot of pain on him over 15 minutes. Costa lost to the technically superior fighter but seems to be settling on an effective balance between power, pressure and shot selection. It’s unlikely Costa wins on the scorecards, but I think a lack of respect for Strickland’s power will encourage Costa to find the KO within three rounds.

Holland vs. Oleksiejczuk

Campbell: What a rollercoaster ride the career of Holland continues to be. Even after seemingly finding a new home at 170 pounds, Holland can’t seem to avoid juggling multiple wins with as many losses, as he constantly accepts big-fight offers regardless of the time off in between. A fight against Oleksiejczuk might be the perfect elixir for Holland to start a fresh run. The native of Poland can certainly hit hard but Holland’s advantage on the ground should serve him well in wearing Oleksiejczuk down just enough to set up a late stoppage. 

Brookhouse: Oleksiejczuk has plenty of power in his fists but he’s fighting against a man with significant height and reach advantages. When Holland fights smart, he utilizes those tools to grind down opponents while also dealing psychic damage through a constant barrage of trash talk. Oleksiejczuk feels like an ideal “get-right fight” for Holland barring Oleksiejczuk being able to get inside and land a fight-changing punch.

Who wins UFC 302: Makhachev vs. Poirier, and how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on UFC 302, all from the MMA expert who profited more than $1,500 on his UFC main-card picks, and find out. 

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