UFC 266: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega not only boasts two title fights, but it also features the return of one of the UFC’s biggest superstars in Nick Diaz.
With high-level clashes up and down this card, UFC 266 is undoubtedly a show that MMA fans cannot afford to miss.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC 266: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega.
#1. UFC featherweight title: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega
This one has been a seriously long time coming. Current UFC featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski was set to defend his title against Brian Ortega way back at UFC 260. However, the bout was canceled when 'Alexander the Great' tested positive for COVID-19.
Since then, the two men have acted as coaches for the 29th season of The Ultimate Fighter, delaying the contest until this weekend.
Will that stint as rival coaches affect the fight? It seems doubtful. Any rivalry developed between the two felt largely incidental and never truly personal. The champion was often critical of Ortega during the show and in interviews, but never hostile. Neither Volkanovski nor 'T-City' is going to come into this one overly angry.
Incredibly, these two fighters have just one loss between them. Ortega was beaten by Max Holloway at UFC 231 in his previous title shot. Volkanovski remains unbeaten after defeating Holloway in two straight bouts to win and retain his title.
Does that mean 'Alexander the Great' holds an advantage coming into this weekend's clash? Quite possibly, especially if the bout takes place on the feet.
While Ortega did have some success dealing with Holloway standing, he was outclassed for the most part.
Volkanovski, on the other hand, became basically the first featherweight in years to get the better of 'Blessed' on the feet in their two contests. He surprised the Hawaiian with his speed, kicking ability and striking accuracy.
Ortega appeared to have improved on the feet dramatically in his most recent outing – a largely one-sided decision win against Chan Sung Jung last October. But even then, only time will tell if he can hang with Volkanovski on the feet for five rounds.
That leads us to whether the fight will hit the ground. Brian Ortega should hold the advantage on the mat. 'T-City' is a high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt.
Unfortunately for Ortega, while Volkanovski isn't a collegiate wrestler, he does have a high takedown defense percentage of 72%. The only fighter to take him down with any real success was Chad Mendes, one of the best wrestlers to ever compete at featherweight.
So is this an unwinnable fight for Ortega? On the face of it, it looks like a bad matchup for him. Volkanovski is a slightly better striker from a technical standpoint and theoretically has good enough takedown defense to fend 'T-City' off.
But Ortega is probably the most dangerous finisher in the featherweight division. He's capable of turning a fight on its head at any time. The fact that of his seven UFC finishes, five came after the second round's halfway point is testament to that.
Essentially, Volkanovski can't afford to make a single slip up here. However, 'Alexander the Great' was able to do that across ten rounds with Holloway. It's unlikely he'll give Ortega enough openings here. With that in mind, Volkanovski via decision is the pick.
The Pick: Volkanovski via unanimous decision
#2. UFC flyweight title: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy
It can be argued that the UFC's two most dominant champions are female. Amanda Nunes has run roughshod over the UFC bantamweight division for half a decade, while Valentina Shevchenko looks practically untouchable at flyweight.
'Bullet' will be in action at UFC 266. She will defend her title against top contender Lauren Murphy. So does Murphy have any chance of dethroning Shevchenko?
If we're honest, the likely answer is no.
However, the UFC is always unpredictable, and there's always a chance that any fighter can cause an upset. Given that Murphy is on a five-fight win streak, she can't be counted out entirely.
However, nothing she's done across those five fights gives any suggestion that she could be Shevchenko's kryptonite.
'Lucky' is a decently-sized flyweight, has strong takedowns and ground control, and is a formidable enough striker. However, she's secured finishes in just two of those five wins.
Shevchenko, on the other hand, has outclassed every fighter she's ever faced in the UFC, save for Nunes.
'Bullet' is a ridiculously proficient technical striker – even picking apart Holly Holm when they fought. If she lands cleanly, she can knock anyone out.
More to the point, though, she's a terrifying fighter on the ground, too. She's capable of both submitting and beating her opponents up badly.
Essentially, there's not a single area in which Murphy is better than Shevchenko. Given her lack of KO finishes and Valentina's proven chin, you'd probably argue that 'Lucky' barely has a puncher's chance either.
This fight is likely to be business as usual for 'Bullet,' and the only question is how ruthless she's feeling. Her fights at 125lbs have followed a pattern of decision, finish, decision and finish. It's likely to change this time.
The Pick: Shevchenko via second round TKO
#3. UFC welterweight division: Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
Thankfully, rather than match him with one of the welterweight division’s current contenders, they’ve instead gone with former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler.
This is excellent matchmaking from several standpoints. Firstly, Diaz will suffer from ring rust given his layoff and his advanced age (38). Secondly, the two men have history in the form of a stone-cold classic that took place at UFC 47 way back in 2004.
Therefore, it doesn't matter that Lawler is past his best. The UFC can market the fight around Diaz and that initial meeting.
Will it live up to that first fight? It feels unlikely. But both men are responsible for some of the greatest UFC fights of all time, so you never know.
In terms of a winner, it's hard not to favor Diaz, even with the layoff considered. It's not like he's been injury-prone. His absence has basically been self-inflicted. He's also renowned for keeping himself in tremendous shape even when he isn't competing.
Lawler, on the other hand, is still in good physical shape. However, he's also taken a scary amount of damage over the years. Recently, that damage has appeared to be adding up.
'Ruthless' doesn't have a glass chin at this stage, but almost as worryingly, he looks painfully gun-shy. He seems more focused on protecting his chin rather than taking risks as he would've done previously.
A Robbie Lawler who doesn't carry the same threat offensively is far easier to beat. Colby Covington outstruck him with sheer volume, as did Rafael dos Anjos. He also looked thoroughly listless against Neil Magny in his most recent outing.
There's a chance Lawler will turn back the clock here and manage to show glimpses of his former self. Even then, though, his power-punching style is not a good match for Diaz. 'Diablo' is more than capable of using his volume and range to pick at Lawler before looking to land heavier blows when the time comes.
Overall then, Diaz ought to be favored here. But even if he looks in vintage form, it might be risky to match him any higher right away. This, however, is a fight he ought to win.
The Pick: Diaz via third round TKO
#4. UFC 266: The Main Card
Picks in bold
UFC heavyweight division: Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
UFC flyweight division: Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo
#5: UFC 266: The Prelims
Picks in bold
UFC bantamweight division: Marlon Moraes vs. Merab Dvalishvili
UFC lightweight division: Dan Hooker vs. Nasrat Haqparast
UFC heavyweight division: Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Chris Daukaus
UFC flyweight division: Manon Fiorot vs. Mayra Bueno Silva
UFC middleweight division: Karl Roberson vs. Nick Maximov
UFC welterweight division: Matthew Semelsberger vs. Martin Sano Jr.
UFC lightweight division: Jalin Turner vs. Uros Medic