UFC 266 Main Card Predictions: Volkanovski vs. Ortega

Last month saw a fun Fight Night card with many highlight reel finishes, and we return this weekend for September’s Pay-Per-View offering.

In the main event, the Featherweight championship is on the line between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega, who served as opposing g coaches on the last season of TUF. In the co-main, Valentina Shevchenko will defend her Flyweight crown against Lauren Murphy, while Nick Diaz makes his heralded return opposite Robbie Lawler.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega (FTW)

Alexander Volkanovski outstrikes Max Holloway to win UFC ...

Alexander Volkanovski (22-1, 9-0 UFC) surged to the top of the Featherweight division with a vicious knockout of Chad Mendes followed by a clinic over Jose Aldo in which “The Great” more than tripled up on his strike differential. After claiming the title in a decision against Max Holloway, Volk defended his belt once again against the Hawaiian, winning a controversial split decision. Volkanovski has a fantastic freestyle wrestling base, with damaging ground and pound and a fantastic ability to control where the fight takes place, whether that’s controlling his opponent from top position or scrambling back to his feet in an instant. He has become less reliant on his wrestling over his most recent fights, and it’s not hard to see why. Aside from going apart against great defensive grapplers, Volkanovski’s striking and work with the rising City Kickboxing team of Hooker and Adesanya has become the highlight of his game. He attacks with a furious pace, averaging more than six significant strikes a minute, while attacking both the legs and body, not only the head. It was the former of those that Volk utilized to secure the title in his last bout against Holloway, showing he has damaging ability in all elements of his striking game.

UFC 222 results from last night: Brian Ortega vs Frankie Edgar fight recap  - MMAmania.com

Brian Ortega (15-1, 7-1 UFC) made his return to the Octagon last October, where he claimed a dominant decision win over the Korean Zombie. He had not been in the cage for nearly two years prior to that, taking a long hiatus following his TKO loss to Max Holloway. “T-City” is a jiu-jitsu prodigy with a specialty off of his back, snatching up seven pro wins in submission. His boxing fundamentals  saw improvement over his UFC career, handing Frankie Edgar his first stoppage defeat prior to his Fight of the Night effort against Max. Ortega keeps up a good volume in his striking and manages distance well, but has proven to be quite hittable, especially against opponents with a reach on him. Ortega is a well-versed finishing threat, with potent offense in every avenue of the fight, though his defense has shown some holes.

This matchup has been teased for practically nine months now, and I am so excited to see this season’s TUF coaches battle it out after both going through some hefty layoffs. Both fighters have well-rounded styles, though Volkanovski holds quite a few advantages. Firstly, his range and movement are the bread and butter for his striking, working behind an educated jab. While the boxing of Ortega has certainly improved, his defense is nowhere near solid enough to avoid the timed exchanges of Volk. On the mat, Ortega has a slight edge with his submission threat and is definitely the more consistent finisher. However, his wrestling has never been elite, which Volkanovski can use to keep the fight on the feet. I see Volk picking apart the American for a clear decision nod.

My Pick: Alexander Volkanovski via Decision

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy (FLW)

Image result for valentina shevchenko ufc

Since capturing the Flyweight title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Valentina Shevchenko (21-3, 10-2 UFC) has been nothing short of dominant, defending her title four times and scoring two stoppages. “Bullet” is truly an incredible striker with punishing Muay Thai featuring battering kicks and punches. She manages range well and mixes her attack up to the body and head, with a high pace to go along with it. On top of that, she has adept offensive and defensive wrestling, which I imagine will be the difference maker here. She is immensely well-rounded as shown by her record, with has avenues to finish wherever the fight goes. Her 21 pro wins are evenly split between knockout, submission, and decision. Shevchenko is truly an elite and losing two incredibly close matches to Amanda Nunes is nothing to scoff at.

Lauren Murphy Eyeing Another Finish In Houston | UFC

Though starting her Octagon career at a paltry 2-4, Lauren Murphy (15-4, 7-4 UFC) is now riding a five-fight win streak including a knockout of Mara Romero Borella. “Lucky” is a skilled striker with powerful hands and adept usage of eight-point striking. She strikes laterally and is incredibly precise when leading the dance, but has shown openings to be tagged when she strings together combos. Although Murphy showed poor defense to wrestling in her early Octagon career, she has been more offensive on the mat as of late. She has nine finishes on her resume, with eight of those wins coming via knockout. Her jiu-jitsu has shown the most improvement on the mat, with her first career submission coming in her fight last September opposite Lilya Shakirova.

There’s very little challenge to the dominance of Shevchenko, and I honestly can’t see many new weapons that Murphy brings to the table. She is at her best when utilizing her boxing, though she absorbs strikes at a higher rate than she lands, a bad sign against a striker the caliber of Shevchenko. While Murphy has certainly improved her skill on the mat and holds some fairly solid, takedown defense, the grappling transitions and timed trips of Shevchenko give her the edge there as well. I see Valentina dominating the fight on the feet before dragging the fight to the mat and scoring a finish.

My Pick: Valentina Shevchenko via Submission

Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler (WW)

Few Octagon returns have been as awaited as Nick Diaz (26-9, 7-6 UFC), who has not been inside the Octagon in over six years. His last appearance was opposite Anderson Silva, which was overturned to a No Contest following USADA violations from both Silva and Diaz. He has not found victory in the Octagon since 2011, where he claimed a decision over BJ Penn after returning to the UFC from Strikeforce. Diaz has a well-rounded style, with crisp boxing and a dangerous submission offense. Twenty one of his pro wins have come via stoppage, with thirteen by way of knockout. Diaz is notoriously durable, with just two stoppage losses on his record, both via knockout. This fight will be a tough test for Stockton’s First Son, returning after many, many years away from competition.

Former champion Robbie Lawler (28-15, 13-9 UFC) is now on a three fight skid, including a controversial loss to Ben Askren in a fight where I thought he put Askren to sleep. Every other loss on his current skid has come by decision, with his last outing opposite Neil Magny. Lawler is a power puncher who mainly utilizes his boxing, but can also fire up high kicks if he feels the opportunity. The striking of Lawler is on another level because of his advancing and ability to maximize his own range then dodge his opponent’s counters. Even though Lawler has just one win in his last five, all of those fights have been against truly elite competition and he has shown success in every one of those bouts.

Exactly 209 months have passed since the first meeting between these two athletes, which saw Diaz come away with a knockout victory in the second round. Now more than seventeen years removed, Diaz and Lawler will run it back, both at the tail end of their careers with ages of 38 and 39, respectively. This fight outcome comes down to what version of Diaz we see in the cage. It has been many years since we have seen him, so ring rust will almost certainly be a factor. While Lawler has been on a downhill skid as of late, all of those losses have come against dominant wrestlers capable of grounding and controlling the former champion. Diaz will likely be more interested in a striking battle, though he does have the skills on the mat to be a serious threat there. If this match stays on the feet, I think Lawler will walk away with a decision, though the ground attack of Diaz is more than enough to punish the veteran bruiser. It’s an immensely close fight with quote a few unknowns, but I like Diaz to score the submission win in his return.

My Pick: Nate Diaz via Submission

Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (HW)

Curtis Blaydes (14-3, 9-3 UFC) has shown himself to be the full package, after joining the UFC in 2016 as a hyped prospect. After a second round doctor stoppage to Francis Ngannou in his UFC debut (not bad, right), Blaydes went on to win five fights straight under the UFC banner, with three of those being knockouts. He was stopped inside of a minute by Ngannou again, but then rattled off four straight victories, including two straight by knockout. A meeting with Derrick Lewis proved less fruitful, as Lewis flattened him in the second round for one of the highlight reel knockouts of this year. Blaydes is a wrester by trade, who is masterful on controlling position while inflicting damage with his hammerfists and elbows. Prior to his recent fight against JDS, I thought that JDS would deny all Blaydes’ takedowns and then use his boxing to clinic Curtis. I was right in one sense, as they did not touch the mat, but Blaydes finished the Brazilian striker in the second round, adding feints and head movement into his striking arsenal.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik (12-2, 6-2 UFC) quickly made a name for himself in the UFC after joining the promotion in 2019, scoring four stunning knockouts in the calendar year. A UFC 249 meeting with Francis Ngannou ended in tragedy, but he rebounded by another knockout victory over Junior Dos Santos last August. A five-round showcase opposite Cyril Gane ended in a twenty minute affair in technical kickboxing that Rozenstruik was sorely on the wrong end of, though his power still presented itself. He got back on track in his most recent outing, knocking out Augusto Sakai in the last second of the round. “Bigi Boy” is a former kickboxer who prefers to keep the fight standing, not yet attempting a single takedown in the UFC to date. He primarily does his work with his hands and snapping leg kicks, primarily headhunting as he has the KO power to end the fight at any second. Rozenstruik’s advantages often come from his power and speed, but he did show a lapse in defense against Alistair Overeem, both in his striking defense and limited offensive effort off of his back. The knockout power of Big Boy is something to behold, as he put Allen Crowder down with a jab just seconds into their bout.

This is a fairly binary fight in the sense that Blaydes will either dominate the fight with his wrestling or get caught with a big shot and get knocked out. Rozenstruik has an 80% takedown defense rate, but has also shown to have little options off of his back if secured there. The repetitive takedown threat of Blaydes is enough to breach that, both Gane and Overeem were able to do. Rozenstruik definitely has the chance to catch Blaydes with a power shot and close the show, but Blaydes has an especially high striking defense rate, though he has shown defensive lapses as of late. While I do believe Blaydes is way too much of a favorite, I see him working takedowns and top control for a dominant decision.

My Pick: Curtis Blaydes via Decision

Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo (FLW)

Jessica Andrade (21-9, 11-7 UFC) made a successful Flyweight debut, knocking out Katlyn Chookagian with a ferocious body shot. She was unable to get past Valentina Shevchenko in her 125 pound title bid, losing via third round TKO. Although standing at a mere 5’1, she was a feared contender even at Bantamweight, but since her move to Strawweight she has torn through almost everyone, going 5-3 with her only losses to former champions. The 28-year-old Brazilian has one punch KO power, uncommon for the lighter weight classes and a talented BJJ background which she built her striking off of. Her greatest struggle has been volume strikers who can piece her up from distance, as we saw with both Joanna and Thug Rose in the match Andrade finished with a killer slam, pictured right. She is primarily a threat when able to close range with her hooks and takedown attempts.

Cynthia Calvillo (9-2-1, 6-2-1 UFC) made her Flyweight debut after two weight misses at Strawweight, winning a decision over Jessica Eye. Calvillo has been up against UFC competition since her second professional bout where she defeated Gillian Robertson. She is a grappling technician with aggressive control and little space given to her opponents, as well as three RNC finishes in the UFC. She lost a decision to Katlyn Chookagian in her last outing, unable to get her top control flowing. Calivllo’s striking is developing, but certainly not elite, as it primarily exists as a function to bring the fight to the mat.

This is a fun clash at the top of the Flyweight division that will put someone back in line for the title. I give Andrade this advantage striking, with a clear power advantage along with the superior work rate. Both fighters are potent threats on the mat, with Calvillo being the superior wrestler and Andrade taking home the jiu-jitsu edge. This fight will come down to how Calvillo can deal with the bull rushes of Andrade, as if she cannot manage range well enough, she will most certainly get caught. I see Andrade bullying her way into the pocket and throwing down for a fun decision nod.

My Pick: Jessica Andrade via Decision

Nine fights will lead up to this stellar main card, with the prelims and early prelims kicking off at 6 PM and 8 PM EST, respectively.

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