UFC fans, rejoice: We finally have a card worth watching this weekend. UFC 266 is coming in hot this Saturday with two title fights and one awesome rematch 17 years in the making. Last week’s card was hard to watch: Anthony Smith (35-16) submitted Ryan Spann (21-6) in the main event of an otherwise unspectacular Fight Night. The Saturday before boasted a rare week off for the UFC.
UFC 266 is a pretty worthwhile pay-per-view. Headlined by featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) and No. 2 ranked Brian Ortega (15-1), this card has some strong scraps in store for the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
These two 145ers enter this bout after competing as coaches on season 29 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Previously, they were scheduled to duke it out in March at UFC 260, but a positive COVID-19 case put Volkanovski on the shelf.
Volkanovski enters the bout as the man who beat featherweight mainstay and former champion Max Holloway (22-6) twice. Volk took the belt at UFC 245 in an upset unanimous decision back in December of 2019. He then faced Holloway in a rematch at UFC 251 in July 2020 and battled to an extremely contentious split decision.
It’s a dead argument at this point, but Volkanovski vs. Holloway 2 may go down as the biggest judges bungle in the history of MMA. All the same, Volk is defending against Ortega this time, not Max, so let’s talk about T-City.
Ortega is a well-rounded striker and jiu-jitsu practitioner. He has wins over names like Chan Sung Jung, Cub Swanson, Renato Moicano and Clay Guida, and he has challenged for the belt once before. His last bout, a unanimous decision victory over Jung, proves he should have no issue going five rounds with “The Great.”
How Volkanovski can win
If his last two fights have shown us anything, it’s how successful Volk can be at starting slow. In both of his fights with Max, Volk lost rounds one and two but then rallied back and owned four and five, round three being the toss-up. Volk should continue to hammer leg kicks and be ready to test Ortega’s cardio deep in the fight.
How Ortega can win
Be eccentric. Volkanovski has just spent the better part of the last three years preparing to fight some of the best strikers in the division (Jose Aldo, Holloway twice). Ortega is a legitimate submission threat. Should he break through Volk’s wrestling, he could have a real advantage on the ground. Presumably, Volk will prepare for this, so Ortega should keep those nasty elbows and kicks in his back pocket.
Charlie’s Prediction: Ortega wins by decision
Peter’s Prediction: Volkanovski wins by decision
Added tidbit: It is worth noting that these two men have a combined 37-2 record, and only one of those losses (an Ortega 2018 doctor stoppage to then-champ Holloway) has come inside the UFC promotion. This fight is going to be really good.
The co-main event of this fight is a foregone conclusion between flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) and who again? Oh yeah, Lauren Murphy (15-4). There’s no point in breaking this down: Shevchenko is going to win. Set it and forget it. Although her nickname is “Lucky,” Murphy is going to need a lot more than luck when locked in the cage with Val.
Other fights to watch
Diaz vs. Lawler 2: A lot of buzz has formed around the return of Nick Diaz (26-9) when he will face Robbie Lawler (28-15) in a rematch. These two first fought 17 years ago at UFC 47 in 2004. For context, the writer of this column was 2 years old when Diaz knocked Lawler out in round two.
Blaydes vs. Rozenstruik: Classic heavyweight matchup: striker vs. grappler. Curtis Blaydes (14-3) will likely win this battle of top 10 heavyweights, but I still get excited every time the 265ers make the walk. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (12-2) has unreal power, and we have no idea how bad Blaydes’ chin is after he was knocked out clean by Derrick Lewis (25-8) in February.
Moraes vs. Dvalishvili: It’s criminal that this is on the prelims. Marlon Moraes (23-8-1) and Merab Dvalishvili (13-4) are two high-octane bantamweights pining for a higher spot in the division’s pecking order. Moraes has lost his last two bouts and is desperate to get back in the win column. Merab, on the other hand, needs a high-profile win to crack the top 10. Moraes seems to be the perfect name to do that with.
Be sure to follow @RedCornerDFP on Twitter for picks, predictions and live fight results this Saturday.