UFC 266 Main Event Predictions
By Cathal Geeney
Alex Volkanovski vs Brian Ortega
The UFC featherweight title is on the line this weekend as Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega prepare to do battle.
This will be only the second bout for Ortega in almost three years. Given the lack of activity of late, it is difficult to predict exactly how the title contender will look on the night. On top of that, some inconsistent displays will not make that task any easier.
Having challenged Max Holloway for the belt in December of 2018, T-City was comprehensively outclassed in the striking department. The LA native looked out of place and could not hang with the high-volume output of the Hawaiian. Yet when he last fought back in October 2020, Ortega put on a clinic against an accomplished striker in Chan Sung Jung. He took all five rounds on the judge’s scorecards.
The Rener Gracie trained fighter has also demonstrated knockout power in his stunning KO of former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, prior to his title challenge.
Despite relying on his striking of late, Ortega is mostly recognised for his grappling. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has seven submission wins of his fifteen career victories to date. The thirty-year old is extremely opportunistic with his submission attempts and Volkanovski will need to be very cautious in any grappling exchanges.
Given the BJJ skills of Ortega, Volkanovski will likely aim to keep this fight on the feet and rely on his striking. Volkanovski is a versatile striker and may feint his way in, look to his deceptively long jab or simply walk his opponent down while constantly targeting the legs of his opponent with kicks.
The former rugby league player is constantly moving, feinting, or striking. He is rarely caught flat footed and relies on constant pressure as well as a huge gas tank to find a way of getting his hand raised.
In addition to his striking, Volkanovski commenced wrestling well before his MMA career, having taken a national medal at age 12 in Greco-Roman style wrestling. And while Ortega is a masterful submission artist, I feel the reigning champ will have the edge in the wrestling stakes which will hurt Ortega’s chances of locking in a successful submission.
The 145-pound title-holder is not averse to overcoming unfavourable circumstances either. After losing the first two rounds across all three judges’ scorecards in his last outing against Holloway, as well as suffering successive knockdowns, Alex managed to win the next three rounds and retain his strap. Considering Holloway is considered by many as the greatest 145-pounder in UFC history, the level of grit and determination this required cannot be emphasised enough.
Prior to back-to-back victories over Holloway, the Australian finished Chad Mendes before defeating Jose Aldo In Rio De Janeiro. The current run of Volkanovski is up there with the greatest UFC runs in history and he is very much deserving of his moniker, ‘The Great.’
Another win for Volkanovski on Saturday and people will have to start considering the stocky Australian as the Pound for Pound kingpin in the game right now.
I believe the activity of Volkanovski will be too much for Ortega to handle. Volkanovski will be briming with confidence considering the success he enjoyed over Holloway, who in turn has laid the foundation in terms of how to outwork and be successful against Ortega.
The wrestling pedigree of Volkanovski should also play an important role in this one. I’m confident that Volkanovski should be able to fight off any takedown attempts and allow the fight to play out on the feet.
While Ortega is well capable of a submission, I’m taking Alexander ‘The Great’ to get the job done here and make it consecutive successful title defences.
Valentina Shevchenko vs Lauren Murphy
Valentina Shevchenko is looking to extend her UFC flyweight title defence streak to six as she locks horns with Lauren Murphy.
Shevchenko is one of the most talented athletes to compete in the history of women’s MMA. Her dominance in the 125-pound division is putting her in the category of elite fighters, along with the likes of Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones, who struggle to generate the hype of other divisions purely on their own dominance. She has looked so far ahead of her contemporaries that she is potentially a victim of her own success.
With an extensive kickboxing background, Valentina fires off crisp, straight punches, and powerful kicks. Holding a Muay Thai, southpaw stance, the Kyrgyzstani national controls the octagon. Shevchenko can push the pace or equally rely on her feints and speed to force her opposite number to throw first, and counter with volume and precision.
The Bullet has also developed a powerful ground game where she is comfortable landing takedowns, controlling top position and inflicting powerful ground and pound strikes. She made a point of showcasing this in her last fight where she dominated Jessica Andrade, an accomplished grappler in her own right.
It is no great surprise that Murphy will be entering the octagon as a huge underdog. Many will feel that she will be out of her depth come Saturday night. But with that being said, Murphy is here on merit having been successful in her last five fights.
The Alaskan-born fighter brings a lot of toughness to the division and relies on her come-forward attitude to inflict damage. The thirty-eight-year-old utilises her fists as her primary source of attack whilst also mixing in grappling effectively.
And while she will be written off coming into this fight, Murphy has overcome adversity before in both her personal and professional life. The former Invicta bantamweight champion has been open and honest in her struggles with substance abuse prior to fighting and is looking to use her platform as a top fighter to show others struggling there is hope. She also lost three of her first four UFC fights having made the move from Invicta.
Some may have been cut from the roster after a run like this, but ‘Lucky’ got another opportunity and persevered. Expect plenty more perseverance and determination on Saturday night in the toughest fight of her career to date.
If Lauren Murphy were to be victorious, it would be one of the most incredible stories In UFC history. However, this isn’t a fairy tale, and I just can’t see how Murphy could beat Shevchenko. Valentina is such a technical striker and I feel this will be a long night for the challenger. If Murphy can make this a gritty affair and clinch up, look to fight on the inside or fight for a takedown, she may have some success. But for me, Shevchenko wins this fight with relative ease.