UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega
UFC Fight Night: Volkanovski vs Ortega

The UFC is back with another 13 fight card headlined by a featherweight title between champion Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega.

The action gets started with early prelims on ESPN+ at 6pm EST, then more prelims on ESPNews at 8pm EST followed by the main card on ESPN+ PPV at 10pm EST.

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Alexander Volkanovski (–17) vs. Brian Ortega (+150)

In the main event, UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski defends his title for the second time against Brian Ortega.  These two were originally supposed to meet in March, but the fight was scrapped when Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19.

In his first title defense, Volkanovski retained the UFC featherweight title in a split decision over Max Holloway.  He won the title, upsetting Holloway by unanimous decision almost two years ago.  Volkanovski is 9-0 in the UFC and has won 19 fights in a row.  Six of his wins in the UFC have come by decision, with the other three by knockout.

Ortega is coming off a five round unanimous decision victory over Chan Sung Jung.  Prior to that, Ortega suffered the only loss of his career in his first crack at the featherweight title.  Ortega was beaten up by Holloway for four rounds before the fight was called off by the ringside doctor.  Ortega is 7-1 in the UFC with six of his wins coming inside the distance, split evenly between submission and knockout.

This is a fantastic fight between two of the best featherweights in the world. Volkanovski is a short and stocky powerhouse of a featherweight. He’s an active striker, especially with his kicks and a solid wrestler as well. He’s two inches shorter than Ortega, but he’ll enjoy a two and half inch reach advantage. Ortega has improved his striking as we saw in the Jung fight, but his bread and butter has always been his venomous grappling. He’s not much of a wrestler, though.

Volkanovski is the better pure striker and he’s far more defensively sound than Ortega, but Ortega just pressures forward knowing he has that ace in the hole with his grappling. He isn’t afraid of being taken down and his reckless approach is what him makes him so dangerous every second of the fight. Maybe Volkanovski neutralizes all the grappling and just beats up Ortega for the majority of the fight, but all it takes is that one opening. Something in my gut tells me Ortega finds that opening midway through the fight.

PREDICTION: Ortega by third round submission

Valentina Shevchenko (-1500) vs. Lauren Murphy (+850)

In the co-main event, UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko defends her title for the sixth time against Lauren Murphy.

Shevchenko successfully defended her title against Jessica Andrade with a second round stoppage via elbows from the crucifix position.  Shevchenko is undefeated at flyweight and 10-2 overall in the UFC.  Her lone losses are to the best female fighter of all time, Amanda Nunes.

Murphy is coming off a debatable split decision victory over Joanne Calderwood and has won five in a row.  Murphy is 7-4 overall in the UFC.  Four of Murphy’s wins are by decision, three by split.

Shevchenko wins this fight by however she wants. Murphy has barely squeaked by Calderwood and Andrea Lee during this winning streak. Maybe she can land a single takedown on Shevchenko. Maybe. Shevchenko is the far better striker, although her volume is an issue, but she’s been relying even more on her wrestling and grappling.

Nailing down an exact method of victory for Shevchenko fights isn’t easy. Maybe she nails Murphy with a headkick like Jessica Eye. Or she mauls Murphy on the ground like Andrade or Katlyn Chookagian. She can also win clear dominant decisions via striking or grappling like the Jennifer Maia and Liz Carmouche fights. Murphy is pretty tough so I’m leaning towards a dominant decision win for Shevchenko.

PREDICTION: Shevchenko by decision

Robbie Lawler (-145) vs. Nick Diaz (+125)

Our next fight between Robbie Lawler and Nick Diaz is a rematch 17 years in the making.  These two originally met at UFC 47 in 2004 with Diaz knocking out Lawler in the second round.  This fight will be five rounds even though it isn’t a title fight or main event.  Late this week the fight was changed from a welterweight fight to a middleweight fight at Diaz’s request.

Since being knocked out and losing the UFC welterweight title to Tyron Woodley, Lawler has one win in five fights.  He’s lost four fights in a row, three by unanimous decision.  The lone win in that stretch is a unanimous decision over Donald Cerrone.

Diaz hasn’t fought in six years and hasn’t won a fight in nearly ten years, a unanimous decision over BJ Penn.  His last appearance in the Octagon was a five round decision “loss” to Anderson Silva, but the result was later overturned to a no contest when Silva tested positive for PEDs.

I have no idea what to expect from Diaz in this fight. Honestly, no one can. In his prime, Diaz had very good boxing skills, was extremely durable and had great skills on the ground. His wrestling has always been weak, but that’s an area Lawler is unlikely to exploit. Lawler prefers to strike like Diaz. He isn’t as active, but he packs more power and has at least been fairly active as a fighter in general.

Lawler is on a clear decline as well, but I have more confidence in his current skills. The striking exchanges will be close, but Lawler does have the power edge and Diaz does not wear damage well. With very little confidence, I’ll pick Lawler by decision with a slight chance of Diaz getting cut up and the doctor having to stop the fight late.

PREDICTION: Lawler by decision

Curtis Blaydes (-335) vs. Jair Rozenstruik (+260)

Curtis Blaydes is looking to get back in the win column after being knocked out in the second round by Derrick Lewis.  Prior to that, Blaydes had won four in a row.  Blaydes is 9-3 overall with five wins by knockout and four by decision.  All three of his losses have come by knockout, twice to Francis Ngannou.

Jair Rozenstruik is coming off a first round knockout of Augusto Sakai and is 2-2 in his last four fights after winning four straight to start his UFC career.  All six of his wins inside the Octagon have come by knockout.

This is your classic striker versus grappler match. Blaydes wants to impose his will on the ground because Rozenstruik is the far more dangerous striker and Blaydes has some durability concerns. Blaydes’ training partner Alistair Overeem had success taking Rozenstruik down and Blaydes is a far better wrestler. Blaydes actually has solid striking skills and is a more active striker than Rozenstruik, but he’s not looking to engage in a kickboxing match. I’d be surprised if Rozenstruik is able to stop Blaydes’ takedowns and Blaydes has nasty ground and pound. I’m expecting Blaydes to score takedowns early and finish Rozenstruik on the ground inside the first two rounds.

PREDICTION: Blaydes by second round knockout

Jessica Andrade (-260) vs. Cynthia Calvillo (+210)

Kicking off the main card, Jessica Andrade and Cynthia Calvillo will meet in a women’s flyweight bout. 

Andrade is looking to bounce back after an unsuccessful bid to unseat Shevchenko as women’s flyweight champion.  Andrade was a former UFC strawweight champion, but after back to back losses to Weili Zhang and Rose Namajunas, she decided to try her hand at flyweight.  In her flyweight debut, she knocked out Katlyn Chookagian in the first round and that earned her a title shot. 

Calvillo is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Chookagian.   Prior to that, she won her flyweight debut with a dominant five round unanimous decision over Jessica Eye.  Calvillo is 6-2-1 in the UFC with three wins by submission and three by decision.

Andrade looked like an absolute beast in her flyweight debut, but was no match for Shevchenko. However, no one is so there’s no shame in that. Andrade is not the most technical fighter. She’s just extremely powerful and physical, throwing big bombs on the feet and slamming her opponents. Calvillo is a strong grappler and a more technical striker than Andrade. It will be interesting to see if she’ll even look to wrestle with Andrade. If not, Andrade will land with more volume on the feet and land the more convincing blows.

PREDICTION: Andrade by decision

Merab Dvalishvili (-260) vs. Marlon Moraes (+210)

In the featured prelim of the night, Merab Dvalishvili meets Marlon Moraes in the bantamweight division. 

Since losing two straight to start his UFC his career, Dvalishvili has won six straight fights, all by unanimous decision.  Most recently, he defeated Cody Stamman.

Moraes has lost two straight fights and three of his last four, getting knocked out in all three losses.  Most recently, he was brutally knocked out in the first round by Rob Font. His lone win in that stretch was a debatable split decision over Jose Aldo.

Dvalishvili is a relentless wrestler with insane cardio. He’s a solid striker as well and does a good job at limiting damage. Moraes is the more experienced and technical striker, but he’s low volume and far less dangerous the longer a fight goes. If he can’t hurt Dvalishvili early, he’s just going to get outworked on the feet and on the mat.

PREDICTION: Dvalishvili by decision

Dan Hooker (-150) vs. Nasrat Haqparast (+130)

Dan Hooker has lost two straight fights and was most recently knocked out in the first round by Michael Chandler.  Prior to his losing skid, Hooker had won three straight and seven of his last eight fights.  Hooker has ten wins in the UFC with eight finishes, six by knockout.  In his five losses, he’s lost three decisions and been knocked out twice.

Since losing his UFC debut, Nasrat Haqparast has won five of his last six fights, most recently defeating Rafa Garcia by unanimous decision.  Four of his five wins in the UFC are by unanimous decision.

First off, there’s plenty of narrative to this fight. Both Hooker and Haqparast have dealt with visa issues so weight cutting could definitely be an issue for both. Haqparast also recently lost his mother so he’s fighting with a heavy heart.

Now let’s talk fighting. Both fighters are primarily strikers. They both land at a high rate, but Haqparast has better defensive metrics. Hooker has also been fighting the likes of Chandler, Dustin Poirier and Paul Felder, while Haqparast has been fighting Garcia and Alex Munoz.

The amount of damage Hooker has absorbed over his last few fights is a big concern. Add in the better defensive metrics for Haqparast and right now I’m leaning his way.

PREDICTION: Haqparast by decision

Chris Daukaus (-200) vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov (+170)

Hopefully the third time is the charm as this fight between Chris Daukaus and Shamil Abdurakhimov was booked and cancelled twice this summer.

Daukaus is 3-0 since joining the UFC with three first round knockouts.  Most recently, he stopped Aleksei Oleinik with knees and punches in just under two minutes.  Ten of his eleven career wins have come by knockout, eight in the first round.

Abdurakhimov hasn’t fought in over two years and is coming off a second round knockout loss via ground and pound to Curtis Blaydes.  Since that fight, Abdurakhimov has had five fights fall through.  He’s 5-3 overall in the UFC with three wins by decision and two by knockout.  All three of those losses have come by knockout.

Can Daukaus extend his first round knockout streak to four? He’s a better boxer and more active on the feet than Abdurakhimov, but can he fight hard past the first round? If he can, he’ll outwork Abdurakhimov and possibly even knock him out. With Abdurakhimov’s long layoff, if Daukaus comes out aggressive I think he can get the early finish.

PREDICTION: Daukaus by first round knockout

Taila Santos (-435) vs. Roxanne Modafferi (+330)

Since losing her UFC debut, Taila Santos has picked up two straight unanimous decisions over Molly McCann and Gillian Robertson.  Santos is 17-1 overall with twelve wins coming inside the distance, ten by knockout.

Roxanne Modafferi has lost two of her last three fights and is just 4-5 in the UFC.  She faced Nicco Montano for the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight title, but lost by unanimous decision.  The biggest win of her career came when she upset hyped prospect Maycee Barber by unanimous decision.  Three of her four wins have come by decision, while all five of her losses are by unanimous decision.

It amazes me that Modafferi has been as successful in the UFC as she has. She’s a savvy veteran and a solid grappler, but is quite lacking in athleticism. Santos has a big athletic advantage over Modafferi. She should be able to physically overpower Modafferi, but could be in trouble if Modafferi is able to land takedowns of her own. Santos showed weakness in her grappling in her UFC debut and that’s an area Modafferi could exploit. Still, I can’t pick Modafferi when she is outgunned so much physically.

PREDICTION: Santos by decision

Uros Medic (-120) vs. Jalin Turner (+100)

Uros Medic earned his UFC contract on the Contender Series with a first round knockout of Mikey Gonzalez.  In his UFC debut, Medic knocked out Aalon Cruz in the first round with a flying knee followed up by punches on the ground.  Medic is undefeated at 7-0 with all of his wins coming inside the distance, five by knockout.  Six of his wins have come inside the first round.

Jalin Turner also competed on the Contender Series, getting a first round win via doctor stoppage.  He made his UFC debut at welterweight against Vicente Luque and was knocked out in the first round.  He’s 2-1 in the UFC at lightweight with knockout wins over Callan Potter and Joshua Culibao.  His last fight was a year at a catchweight of 165 pounds, where he submitted Brok Weaver in the second round.  He’s 10-5 overall with all of his wins coming inside the distance, eight by knockout.  He’s been been knocked out in three of his five losses.

Medic is a large lightweight, but he’s giving up two inches of height and six inches of reach to Turner. Medic has proven to be a finisher, but he’s mostly faced less than stellar competition on the notoriously weak Alaskan regional scene. Early on, Medic is obviously dangerous, but can he fight hard late into the second and third rounds? The longer the fight goes, the more it favors Turner and he’s going to be the pick.

PREDICTION: Turner by second round knockout

Nick Maximov (-145) vs. Cody Brundage (+125)

Nick Maximov was originally scheduled to face Karl Roberson, but instead he’ll face fellow UFC debutante Cody Brundage after Roberson was forced to withdraw due to health issues.

Maximov competed on the Contender Series in 2020 and won a unanimous decision over Oscar Cota at heavyweight.  Maximov only weighed 209 pounds and was outweighed by 54.5 pounds.  He’s 6-0 with five wins coming inside the distance, three by submission. Maximov has primarily competed at light heavyweight, but this will be his middleweight debut.

Brundage is 6-1 overall with five wins coming inside the distance, three by knockout. His lone loss came on the Contender Series when he was finished in the first round by William Knight.

I’ve been looking forward to Maximov’s debut and was going to pick him to beat Roberson. Brundage is a stylistic change, but I still like Maximov here. His striking skills are still unknown, but I believe he’s a stronger grappler than Brundage. Brundage comes from a good camp in FactoryX, but Maximov trains with the Diaz brothers. Taking a short notice fight against a strong grappler is a tough task for Brundage. He wants to grapple as well, but I have to favor the fighter coming in with a full camp.

PREDICTION: Maximov by second round submission

Matt Semelsberger (-490) vs. Martin Sano (+360)

Matt Semelsberger is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Khaos Williams after winning his first two fights inside the Octagon, a 16 second knockout of Jason Witt and a unanimous decision over Carlton Minus in his UFC debut.  He’s 8-3 overall with six wins coming inside the distance, five by knockout.

Martin Sano hasn’t fought in almost five years, is on a two fight losing streak and hasn’t won a fight since April of 2014.  So why is he making his UFC debut? Well because he is a training partner of Nick Diaz and Diaz demanded he be on the card. Sano is 4-2-1 with all his wins by finish, three by submission. One of those wins is over UFC veteran Geoff Neal back in 2013.

Semelsberger’s last performance was disappointing, but he has skills on the feet and the ground and Sano just doesn’t deserve to be here. Semelsberger gets the finish inside the first two rounds.

PREDICTION: Semelsberger by first round knockout

Omar Morales (-155) vs. Jonathan Pearce (+135)

Kicking off the night is a featherweight matchup between Omar Morales and Jonathan Pearce.

Morales earned his UFC contract with a second round knockout of Harvey Park on the Contender Series and has won three of four since officially joining the UFC, all by unanimous decision. Most recently, he got back in the win column with a win over Shane Young after suffering his only pro loss to Giga Chikadze by unanimous decision. Morales is 11-1 overall with seven wins coming inside the distance, five by submission.

Pearce also earned his UFC contract on the Contender Series with a third round knockout of Jacob Rosales. He was dominated and finished in the first round in his UFC debut by Joe Lauzon, but bounced back with a second round ground and pound stoppage of Kai Kamaka. Pearce is 10-4 overall with nine wins coming inside the distance, eight by knockout. He’s been finished in three of his four losses, twice by submission.

Morales is a low volume striker, whereas Pearce is much more aggressive on the feet, but he’ll eat almost as many shots as he can dish out. If Morales can slow the pace down, it favors him, but I see Pearce coming forward and turning this into a dogfight and swaying the judges in his favor.

PREDICTION: Pearce by decision

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