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Guide to UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega

Getting prepared for UFC action this coming Saturday? Here is everything you need to know about the event with our Guide to UFC 266.


UFC 266
Date: September 25, 2021
Location: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card
Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN+ pay-per-view

UFC Featherweight Championship: Alexander Volkanovski (c) vs. Brian Ortega

Overall Records: Volkanovski 22-1, Ortega 15-1 1 NC
UFC Records: Volkanovski 9-0, Ortega 7-1 1 NC
Last Fight: Volkanovski def. Holloway (title fight)–SpDec–UFC 251 (7/11/20), Ortega def. Jung–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 38 (10/17/20)
Last Five Fights: Volkanovski 5-0, Ortega 4-1
Rankings: Volkanovski C, Ortega #2
Betting Odds: Volkanovski -175, Ortega +145
Preview: The main event of UFC 266 is a fight that has been in the makings for nearly a year, and one that was supposed to happen earlier this year, but it finally takes place here as UFC Featherweight Champion Volkanovski defends against top contender Ortega in what could be one of the best fights of the year. They were slated to fight in March, but Volkanovski came down with a serious case of COVID once he got to Las Vegas, one bad enough that it left him hospitalized for weeks, and he even admitted there were times he was fearing for his life. He was able to recover, fortunately, and after the two served as coaches on season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, we get the showdown we’ve been waiting for. Volkanovski hasn’t fought in over a year, but he’s coming off back-to-back wins over Max Holloway, one that saw him win the title and one that saw defend it. Overall, he’s won 19 straight fights, including nine straight to start his UFC career, all while becoming one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Ortega is fighting for the first time in nearly a year, as he got his title shot off an impressive and dominant win over Chan Sung Jung in Abu Dhabi in October. This will only be his second fight in the last three calendar years, but he’s remained one of the top fighters in the division. This will be his second shot at winning the UFC Featherweight Championship, as he fell short in challenging Holloway at UFC 231 in December 2018. That is the lone loss of his 17-fight career. The black belt in jiu-jitsu has scored ten of his fifteen wins by stoppage, with seven wins coming by submission.

Volkanovski’s game plan is always about pressure, as he comes forward with heavy combinations and excellent movement, and he likes to keep his opponents from establishing any form of rhythm. Ortega is generally more calm on the feet, tending to start off a little slow while building momentum over the course of a fight. He has solid power and mixes all of his strikes well. He can throw some flashy kicks, works the calf kick really well, and has some punishing elbows in close range. Ortega is also outstanding on the ground, but he’s not much of a takedown guy. He’s only scored six takedowns in his nine UFC bouts. However, on the mat, he’s going to be able to find the submission, as he’s a tremendous black belt in jiu-jitsu.

Volkanovski has excellent takedown defense and can keep the fight from going to the ground. While Volkanovski has some good takedowns, he also has an excellent team and coaching in his corner, and a very strong fight I.Q., so he’s likely to just decide to keep the fight on the feet. It’s going to come down to pressure for Volkanovski. If Ortega keeps at a distance and is able to wear down with the leg kicks, Volkanovski might be in some trouble. Volkanovski is also strong with his leg kicks, and his own may be a key factor in this fight. Ortega’s footwork is going to have to be smooth, and he has to be the one who pushes the pace in this fight.

It’s going to come down to pressure, leg kicks, and just who executes better on the feet. It is an extremely close fight, but I’m predicting the champion to keep his gold when all is said-and-done after a hard-fought decision on Saturday.

PICK: VOLKANOVSKI

UFC Women’s Flyweight Championship: Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Lauren Murphy

Overall Records: Shevchenko 21-3, Murphy 15-4
UFC Records: Shevchenko 10-2, Murphy 7-4
Last Fight: Shevchenko def. Andrade (title fight)–R2 TKO–UFC 261 (4/24/21), Murphy def. Calderwood–SpDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21)
Last Five Fights: Shevchenko 5-0, Murphy 5-0
Rankings: Shevchenko C, Murphy #3
Betting Odds: Shevchenko -1600, Murphy +850
Preview: One of the best female fighters in the world returns to action, looking to continue her reign of dominance over the flyweight division, as UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion Shevchenko battles the next one up in the line of contenders, as she defends against the streaking Murphy. Shevchenko will be looking to make a little bit of history here, as this will be her sixth title defense, and a win would set the record for most title defenses in a single division in UFC female history. She has won seven fights in a row, all of them coming since returning to 125 pounds, and the only two losses she’s suffered as a member of the UFC roster have come to Amanda Nunes. She’s almost cleaned out the flyweight division of all of the top contenders, having defeated half of the top eight contenders. She’s been completely dominant, with her only blemishes being losing one round to Joanna Jedrzejczyk when she won the title, and losing a round to Jennifer Maia in a recent title defense. This looks to be a fight for her to continue to add to her legacy.

Murphy has definitely earned her title shot, winning five fights in a row. That’s a feat that has been tough for anyone, other than Shevchenko, to accomplish. Murphy is actually 6-1 since making the move back down to 125 pounds, showing improvement in every fight she’s been in. She’s been calling for a title shot, and even though she’s had a couple of close calls in split decision, she gets her shot, even if people actually aren’t giving her a shot at winning, as she comes in as a huge +850 underdog.

I’m not sure if there’s ever going to come a day where someone is going to upset Shevchenko, and now doesn’t feel like the time it’s going to happen, but Murphy is as tough as they come and is a true game opponent. Murphy is a strong grappler and that is what she’s going to want to turn this fight into, so Shevchenko should just go with her most dangerous attack, which is the kickboxing. She has absolutely brutal kicks, and a speed that can’t be matched in the flyweight division. She’s also arguably the best pure athlete in the division. Murphy is strong and likes to press forward, which may hurt her as Shevchenko is a gifted counter-striker. Murphy is going to have to rush in and work in the clinch with some dirty boxing, but Shevchenko has shown she can slam her opponents to the mat, and Shevchenko is ruthless from the top.

I don’t want to give Murphy zero chance, because every fighter has a chance in every fight, but this seems to be another case of a lamb being led to slaughter. Shevchenko is one of the best in the world for many, many reasons, and Murphy just isn’t on that level. I expect another classic performance from Shevchenko as she remains one of the best pound-for-pound fighters, not just female but overall, in the world.

PICK: SHEVCHENKO

Middleweights: Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler

Overall Records: Diaz 26-9 2 NC, Lawler 28-15 1 NC
UFC Records: Diaz 7-6 1 NC, Lawler 13-9
Last Fight: Silva NC Diaz–UFC 183 (1/31/15), Magny def. Lawler–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 33 (8/29/20)
Last Five Fights: Diaz 2-2 1 NC, Lawler 1-4
Betting Odds: Diaz +120, Lawler -145
Preview: A rematch that is 17 years in the making, and completely unexpected, goes down here as polarizing fan favorite Diaz returns for the first time in over six-and-a-half years to fight Lawler in what is now a middleweight bout after a fight week change in weight class. They fought when Diaz was 20 and Lawler was 22, back at UFC 47 in April 2004, in a fight that saw Diaz knock Lawler out in the second round in a finish that has been replayed over-and-over-and-over on highlight reels over the last 17 years. Diaz has been talking over the last few days about not wanting to be there, not really wanting to fight, how he didn’t want this fight and how he should be fighting Kamaru Usman and no one else. It’s your typical Diaz stuff during fight week, as he is well-known for his anxiety issues, but he remains arguably the most interesting figure in mixed martial arts after all of these years; almost like the sport’s anti-hero.

Diaz hasn’t won a fight in almost ten years, last winning at UFC 137 in October 2011, when he defeated BJ Penn. He’s only fought three times since then, and after such a long layoff, it’s hard to know what to expect. When he regularly competed, he was one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Lawler will be fighting for the first time in over a year as he looks to end a four-fight losing skid. He’s long been one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, but it’s clear he’s entered the twilight of his career, and you never know when it could be his last fight. He’s just 1-5 over his last six, though the losses have come to top competition. He’s scored 21 of his 28 career wins by finish, with twenty wins coming by knockout.

It is impossible to know what Diaz is going to look like. After his comments during fight week, it leaves you with more questions as to whether he really even wants to do this. They’ve been all over the place, and the late change in weight classes at the request of Diaz adds even more questions. At his best, Diaz was one of the best in the world. He pushed a relentless pace backed up by tremendous conditioning, with great boxing and jiu-jitsu and outstanding toughness. His body shots, especially when he pushed opponents near the fence, were what made him stand out much more than others. Lawler has always been known as a violent fighter who will hit you as hard as he can with every single punch he throws, and he has some absolute gritty toughness. As he’s gotten older and gone through his skid, he has often come out looking not ready to pull the trigger on his punches. Lawler hasn’t dealt well with pressure, and when Diaz was at his peak, pressure was the name of his game.

Again, this is a really tough fight to figure out, and it is solely due to the amount of time Diaz has been out. That layoff, coupled with all of Diaz’ comments, makes it easy for the pick to be Lawler. However, we just don’t know what is going to happen. I’m still going to go with Lawler in this one, but with the hope that Diaz surprises me and we see more of him in the future. I have no confidence in this pick either way.

PICK: LAWLER

Heavyweights: Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Overall Records: Blaydes 14-3 1 NC, Rozenstruik 12-2
UFC Records: Blaydes 9-3 1 NC, Rozenstruik 6-2
Last Fight: Lewis def. Blaydes–R2 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 43 (2/20/21), Rozenstruik def. Sakai–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21)
Last Five Fights: Blaydes 4-1, Rozenstruik 3-2
Rankings: Blaydes #4, Rozenstruik #6
Betting Odds: Blaydes -300, Rozenstruik +250
Preview: A heavyweight bout featuring two men trying to stay in the title picture takes place here as Blaydes and Rozenstruik battle in what could be an interesting bout. Blaydes might be coming into his last fight on his UFC contract in this one. It was known in advance that it would be, and there’s been no word if he’s signed a new deal, which puts a huge wrinkle in this fight and really puts him in a must-win situation if he plans on testing the market. He’s coming off of being knocked out by Derrick Lewis in February, and going into free agency with two straight losses wouldn’t be good. The only other losses Blaydes has suffered in his career have both come to Francis Ngannou, and he had won four straight prior to the loss to Lewis. A win here, and if he were to sign a new deal with the UFC, would put him right back into title contention.

Rozenstruik is trying to keep himself in title contention, and he’s going to need a win here to stay in the mix after having some mixed results over the past 16 months. He started his career with a 10-0 record, with nine wins coming by knockout, and seven coming in the first round. He has gone just 2-2 in four fights since, though the losses have been to Francis Ngannou, the UFC Heavyweight Champion, and Ciryl Gane, the Interim UFC Heavyweight Champion. He won in his last fight, getting back to his first-round finishing ways, knocking out Augusto Sakai in June.

Blaydes is far-and-away the best wrestler in the heavyweight division, but his improved striking should not be overlooked. He was actually beating Lewis on the feet, to the point of really battering him, until an ill-timed takedown attempt left him open for an uppercut that put his lights out. It is entirely possible a same finishing sequence could happen in this one. Rozenstruik has some solid takedown defense, and his power is practically equal to the power of Lewis. Rozenstruik should look to really work the jab in this one to keep Blaydes away from being able to constantly spam with takedown attempts. Rozenstruik does struggle against opponents who are perceived better than him. Blaydes should look for constant pressure up and against the fence.

I don’t think Rozenstruik is going to be able to stop the takedowns of Blaydes, but it will be a matter of if he’s able to find the right shot to put Blaydes out like Lewis did. Rozenstruik is a solid underdog, so there is potential to make money on a bet on him, because anything could happen in this heavyweight slobberknocker. I think Blaydes has a chip on his shoulder, and I expect a big performance from him as the questions as to what comes next for him loom in the future.

PICK: BLAYDES

Women’s Flyweights: Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo

Overall Records: Andrade 21-9, Calvillo 9-2-1
UFC Records: Andrade 12-7, Calvillo 6-2-1
Last Fight: Shevchenko def. Andrade (title fight)–R2 TKO–UFC 261 (4/24/21), Chookagian def. Calvillo–UDec–UFC 255 (11/21/20)
Last Five Fights: Andrade 2-3, Calvillo 3-1-1
Rankings: Andrade #1, Calvillo #5
Betting Odds: Andrade -275, Calvillo +210
Preview: Two flyweights looking to stay in the mix in the division kick off the main card as Andrade looks to bounce back from a title fight loss against Calvillo, who is also looking to rebound from a loss. This will be Andrade’s third fight as a flyweight. The former UFC Strawweight Champion scored a first-round knockout of Katlyn Chookagian in her divisional debut, which got her a title shot at Valentina Shevchenko. Unfortunately, she ended up being dominated by Shevchenko, getting finished by elbows in the second round in April. She is just 1-3 over her last four fights, and if she’s going to stay in the title picture, this is a must-win fight for her. You could say the same for Calvillo, who looked well on her way to being a potential title challenger for Shevchenko until she dropped her last fight. She moved up to 125 pounds two fights ago, scoring a decision win in a main event over Jessica Eye in June 2020. However, she dropped her next fight, losing a decision to Chookagian in November, in a fight where a win might’ve gotten her a title shot. She’s still ranked inside the top five of the division, and a win here keeps her in the mix, but a loss puts a potential title fight that further in the distance.

Andrade is an aggressive striker with knockout power, and she has a good grappling game as well. Also, as we saw when she won the UFC Strawweight Championship, she can unleash some vicious slams. She may be small, but she is a powerhouse. She lands just over six significant strikes per minute, and she’s very accurate on the feet. Calvillo isn’t that outstanding on the feet. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not bad, and she has good defense, but she won’t be able to compare to Andrade, so she needs to go to what has always worked best for her, and that is the takedown and top control game. The one thing that might help her on the feet is that Andrade tends to be wild with her swinging punches, which can allow holes to open for Calvillo to get body control and turn it into a grind.

Calvillo should try and avoid clinching for long lengths of time, as Andrade does excellent work in the clinch, with brutal body shots and knees. This feels like a fight where Andrade wins, but she does come up short at times, and Calvillo’s takedown game could be a big X-factor in this one. I still like Andrade to win, but it might not be an easy win.

PICK: ANDRADE


Preliminary Card
Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET, 5:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN News & ESPN+

Bantamweights: Marlon Moraes vs. Merab Dvalishvili

Overall Records: Moraes 23-8-1, Dvalishvili 13-4
UFC Records: Moraes 5-4, Dvalishvili 6-2
Last Fight: Font def. Moraes–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 41 (12/19/20), Dvalishvili def. Stamann–UDec–UFC On ESPN 23 (5/1/21)
Last Five Fights: Moraes 2-3, Dvalishvili 5-0
Rankings: Moraes #6, Dvalishvili #11
Betting Odds: Moraes +210, Dvalishvili -275
Preview: A bantamweight bout highlights the preliminary card as former title challenger Moraes looks to get back on track after recent struggles when he battles the surging Dvalishvili in a pivotal bout. Moraes’ UFC career has been a real mixed bag. He started it off with a split decision loss to Raphael Assuncao in June 2017, but just about everyone thought he won that fight. He then won four straight fights, including a win over current champion Aljamain Sterling and and submitting Assuncao in a rematch, which led to him fighting for the title. He came up short in his bantamweight title fight, being finished by Henry Cejudo. He’s since gone 1-2, with the lone win being a split decision win over Jose Aldo that many thought he lost. He’s dropped two straight, and has been finished in both, with the losses coming to Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font.

Dvalishvili comes into this fight riding a six-fight win streak, which has put him near the top-ten in the bantamweight rankings and has made him one of those fighters no one wants to fight. It’s been a sharp turnaround from his early UFC career, when he lost his first two bouts inside the octagon. All of his wins have seen Dvalishvili be dominant with his wrestling, scoring 42 takedowns over the six wins, and he has 59 takedowns already in his UFC career, with 46 officially coming in the bantamweight division, which is already a UFC record. He has yet to score a finish in the UFC, something he will be looking to do here.

In Moraes’ last fight against Font, he took on a wrestling-heavy approach, scoring two early takedowns. It didn’t work against Font, but we all know that Dvalishvili is going to be relentless with his takedown approach. Dvalishvili also has a ridiculous gas tank and an insane amount of pressure, but Moraes could find plenty of openings on the feet, especially in between takedown attempts from Dvalishvili. Moraes does defend 66% of takedowns attempted against him. Both are good at defending strikes on the feet, but Moraes is the better offensive striker, and he has slightly more power. It is going to come down to whether Moraes can keep himself from being taken down. The more Dvalishvili gets the fight to the mat, the more his path to victory becomes clear. This is a winnable fight for both men, but Moraes is in a rough stretch, and it is hard to doubt Dvalishvili right now.

PICK: DVALISHVILI

Lightweights: Dan Hooker vs. Nasrat Haqparast

Overall Records: Hooker 20-10, Haqparast 13-3
UFC Records: Hooker 10-6, Haqparast 5-2
Last Fight: Chandler def. Hooker–R1 TKO–UFC 257 (1/23/21), Haqparast def. Garcia–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 45 (3/13/21)
Last Five Fights: Hooker 3-2, Haqparast 4-1
Rankings: Hooker #8
Betting Odds: Hooker -150, Haqparast +125
Preview: A fight that has been in territory of “will it even happen?” this week is currently still on the books as exciting lightweights Hooker and Haqparast square off. There has been a myriad of issues for both as they get ready for this fight. It was put together roughly five weeks ago, as both were looking for a fight, and everything looked good to go. For Hooker, it took him way longer than anticipated to secure his visa, and it might not have even happened on time if it weren’t for the power of social media. He got approved early in fight week, but didn’t even arrive to Las Vegas until Thursday. For Haqparast, everything was set to go for him, as he’d been training here in North America. However, tragedy struck when his mother passed away, so he went home to Germany to mourn, and has had trouble getting back into the United States since then, as he needed another visa. It appeared the issues had been resolved as of Wednesday, with him also not planning to get into Las Vegas until Thursday. Both men don’t need to cut weight for the fight, as it should just be turned into a catchweight bout, but they both have planned on doing so.

Hooker is trying to rebound from two straight losses, which came to Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler, but he’s taking a step back into fighting un-ranked opposition against Haqparast. Haqparast is the winner of two straight and five of his last six fights, but he’s looking to score just his second UFC finish after all of his regional circuit wins saw him finish his opponent. It looks like the fight is going to happen, and it will be interesting to see if all of the issues and then the weight cut takes anything out of either man.

If they are at their best, this is a very interesting striking battle. Haqparast is a solid boxer who throws and lands combinations well. Hooker is better at mixing everything. Hooker also has excellent durability, but he’s also taken an extraordinary amount of damage during his UFC career. He’s the best opponent that Haqparast has fought, but it’s also a big step up in competition for Haqparast. Hooker sometimes doesn’t have the best defense on the feet, and Haqparast’s speed and technique could catch him. Hooker has the better grappling and submission game if it goes down to the ground. Both men have gone through the ringer to make it to this fight, so who knows what kind of mental state either will be in. This fight will show how much Hooker has left as a top guy. I see him getting the win, but Haqparast is going to make it a tough one for him.

PICK: HOOKER

Heavyweights: Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Chris Daukaus

Overall Records: Abdurakhimov 20-5, Daukaus 11-3
UFC Records: Abdurakhimov 5-3, Daukaus 3-0
Last Fight: Blaydes def. Abdurakhimov–R2 TKO–UFC 242 (9/7/19), Daukaus def. Oleinik–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 43 (2/20/21)
Last Five Fights: Abdurakhimov 3-2, Daukaus 4-1
Rankings: Abdurakhimov #7, Daukaus #10
Betting Odds: Abdurakhimov +175, Daukaus -225
Preview: A battle of ranked heavyweights both looking to break into the upper tier of the heavyweight division battle here as Abdurakhimov and Daukaus square off a week later than originally intended. They were supposed to fight on two separate occasions in July, but COVID protocols pushed it back to this card. Abdurakhimov will be fighting for the first time in two years, as he’s been out of action since a September 2019 loss to Curtis Blaydes. He’s had a bunch of fights fall through for various reasons, but he’s looking to get back into the win column, as he was on a three-fight win streak prior to the loss to Blaydes. Despite not fighting in two years, he has somehow remained ranked inside the top-ten at heavyweight. Daukaus has taken the heavyweight division by storm, winning his first three UFC bouts during his current four-fight win streak. All three of his UFC wins have come via a first-round knockout, and ten of his eleven overall wins have been by knockout, with eight inside the first round.

This should be a really interesting test for Daukaus as to whether he’s ready to move into that true elite of the heavyweight division. Abdurakhimov hasn’t fought in two years and is now 40, but he’s been a very solid fighter during his UFC tenure. He’s not afraid to make it a boring, grinding fight, but he’s good everywhere. Daukaus is going to have the power edge in his punches, but he’s going to need to be the aggressor in this one, as Abdurakhimov could turn it into a slow-paced kickboxing affair. Abdurakhimov is going to have the wrestling and grappling edge, and he does have some good cardio and has been into the later rounds in the octagon before. Daukaus has yet to be out of the first round in his three UFC bouts, so we don’t know the true measure of his conditioning.

Abdurakhimov is by far the best fighter Daukaus has fought in the UFC, and also brings the best stand-up. Daukaus is going to have the speed edge, and if he can avoid a bout that turns into a grinding affair, I see him scoring yet another knockout finish, maybe not in the first round, but definitely by the end of the second.

PICK: DAUKAUS

Women’s Flyweights: Roxanne Modafferi vs. Taila Santos

Overall Records: Modafferi 25-18, Santos 17-1
UFC Records: Modafferi 4-6, Santos 2-1
Last Fight: Araujo def. Modafferi–UDec–UFC On ESPN 20 (1/20/21), Santos def. Robertson–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 41 (12/19/20)
Last Five Fights: Modafferi 2-3, Santos 4-1
Rankings: Modafferi #9, Santos #12
Betting Odds: Modafferi +310, Santos -400
Preview: A fight that was originally slated to take place in May sees a re-booking here, though it wasn’t originally planned for this card, but Modafferi looks to get back in the win column when she takes on Santos here. Modafferi was originally scheduled to fight Tatiana Suarez in this bout, but Suarez was forced out due to injury, and Santos stepped in. Modafferi is fighting for the first time since suffering a decision loss to Viviane Araujo in January. Her UFC career has been inconsistent, and since her return to the promotion in 2017, she’s rotated losses-and-wins in her nine bouts. History says she’s due for a win, but doing so would mean handing Santos just her second loss in her career, which has seen her start 17-1. Santos is fighting for the first time in 2021, and she comes into looking to extend her two-fight win streak, which saw her score wins over Molly McCann in July 2020 and Gillian Robertson in December. Santos has scored twelve of her 17 career wins via stoppage, with ten coming by knockout.

When you look at this fight, it’s one of those bouts that you would expect, on paper at least, for Modafferi to lose, yet she somehow is able to use her veteran instincts to pull out a win. This is definitely the toughest test to date for Santos, and is a big step up in competition. This is also a little bit of a step down in competition for Modafferi, but is an important fight for her if she’s going to remain relevant in the division. Santos is the better fighter on the feet, but Modafferi is someone who never stops coming forward, and we haven’t seen Santos pressured like she will be here. Santos has good wrestling, but she isn’t the overall grappler or ground fighter that Modafferi is.

If Modafferi can keep the pressure up and make Santos make some defensive mistakes, this is a fight she could win. She’s due for a win due to her pattern of wins-and-losses, and these are the types of fights where Modafferi pulls the upset. Her betting odds are also good for an upset. Santos has all of the physical tools to win this fight, but this is a big leap in competition. I do think Santos is going to win this fight, but Modafferi pulling out the upset would not shock me one bit.

PICK: SANTOS


Early Preliminary Card
Start Time: 6:00 p.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN+

Lightweights: Uros Medic vs. Jalin Turner

Overall Records: Medic 7-0, Turner 10-5
UFC Records: Medic 1-0, Turner 3-2
Last Fight: Medic def. Cruz–R1 TKO–UFC 259 (3/6/21), Turner def. Weaver–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 35 (9/12/20)
Last Five Fights: Medic 5-0, Turner 3-2
Betting Odds: Medic -125, Turner +105
Preview: A lightweight bout between a pair of exciting prospects takes place here as Medic looks to remain undefeated when he battles Turner in what could be an exciting bout. Medic comes in riding a huge wave of momentum, as he’s started his career out with no setbacks over his first seven fights. He got a contract with an impressive showing on the Contender Series in 2020, and followed it with an impressive knockout of Aalon Cruz in his UFC debut in March. He’s scored all seven of his wins via a finish, with six of those wins coming inside the first round. Turner will be making his sixth UFC appearance in this one, as he looks to extend a two-fight win streak. His UFC tenure got off to a rough start, as he was knocked out by Vicente Luque in his debut, but he’s won three of four since then. He hasn’t fought in a year, last seen submitting Brok Weaver last September. He’s scored all ten of his wins by stoppage, with eight wins by knockout and two by submission.

Turner is big for the division, and he’ll have a six-inch reach advantage over Medic. Medic is a fantastic striker who likes to overwhelm his opponents. He is very aggressive, and that is something that should play well into this fight, as Turner has struggled with opponents who pressure him. Turner has some good power in his hands, but his chin has been tested quite often, and failed, as he’s been knocked out three times. He won’t match the power of Medic, so he should look to mix it up and focus on trying to exploit the clear weakness that Medic has in the wrestling department. Medic has barely been out of the first round in his career, and if Turner can take him into the deep waters, it could turn into a very interesting bout. I don’t think Turner will be able to handle the pressure of Medic, who will blitz him quick and score yet another early and impressive finish.

PICK: MEDIC

Middleweights- Cody Brundage vs. Nick Maximov

Overall Records: Brundage 6-1, Maximov 6-0
UFC Records: Brundage 0-0, Maximov 0-0
Last Fight: Brundage def. Kropschot–R3 SUB–LFA 99 (2/12/21), Maximov def. Cota–UDec–Dana White’s Contender Series 36 (11/17/20)
Last Five Fights: Brundage 4-1, Maximov 5-0
Betting Odds: Brundage +130, Maximov -150
Preview: A middleweight bout that was put together on Wednesday sees a pair of fighters making their UFC debuts as Brundage takes on Maximov. Maximov was scheduled to fight Karl Roberson on this card, but Roberson was pulled due to non-COVID medical issues on Wednesday. Brundage, who was slated to compete here soon on the Contender Series, jumped at the opening to sign with the UFC and debut here. Brundage is looking to score his second straight win, and he’s won six of his seven career fights. He’s coming off a submission win in the LFA promotion in February, and five of his six wins have seen him finish his opponent. Maximov is a protégé of Nick Diaz and a member of the Diaz Academy, which makes it no surprise he’s fighting on this card. He’s deserving of being signed, as he’s stared his career 6-0, with five of his six wins coming via a finish. He’s done an extensive amount of grappling matches, and had he gotten a finish during his appearance on the Contender Series in November, he probably would’ve been signed. He ended up getting signed anyways, and he looks to make good on that signing.

Maximov’s win on the Contender Series was notable because he gave up 54 pounds in weight to Cota, as they fought at heavyweight. It was the first time Maximov hadn’t finished an opponent, and now he gets to fight someone his own size in Brundage. Maximov is going to have a four-inch reach advantage. Maximov is going to have the clear advantage in the grappling, as he has fantastic takedowns and great submissions. His striking is very minimal, and that might even be a compliment, and Brundage is going to have the clear edge in the striking department. Brundage is a high-volume striker with very good accuracy, but his defense on the feet has been poor. He’s got some good submissions as well, but the key thing is hopefully he’s in shape and ready to cut weight quickly. He was supposed to fight on the Contender Series in a couple of weeks, but this is a quick notice for a fight. Maximov has had a full and clear camp. I think Maximov will be able to get the fight to the mat and find the submission in this one.

PICK: MAXIMOV

Welterweights: Matthew Semelsberger vs. Martin Sano

Overall Records: Semelsberger 8-3, Sano 4-2-1
UFC Records: Semelsberger 2-1, Sano 0-0
Last Fight: Williams def. Semelsberger–UDec–UFC On ESPN 25 (6/19/21), Sano DRAW Herzog–Bellator 172 (2/18/17)
Last Five Fights: Semelsberger 4-1, Sano 2-2-1
Betting Odds: Semelsberger -500, Sano +360
Preview: A welterweight bout that is a bit of strange matchmaking, but one happening due to very specific reasons, sees Semelsberger welcome Sano to the UFC. Semelsberger is fighting for the fourth time with the UFC, and he looks to bounce back from his lone UFC loss, which came to Khaos Williams in June. He had actually won five straight prior to that loss, and he has five knockout wins and one submission win on his résumé. Sano is making his UFC debut, and when you look at everything on the surface, it is a big head-scratcher as to why he was even signed. He’s won just four of his seven career fights, is winless in his last three bouts, and hasn’t fought since February 2017. He does hold a 2013 win over current ranked welterweight Geoff Neal. Sano has scored all four of his wins by stoppage, with three coming by submission. As to the reason for his signing, well, he is the main training partner for Nick Diaz, so that likely has to be the sole reason he was signed, because there are lots of younger prospects who would love to be in the UFC but aren’t.

Like I noted, we know the reason this fight is happening, and unless Sano has improved tremendously in four-and-a-half years off, this could be a slaughter. Semelsberger is far from the best welterweight in the UFC, but he’s beaten opponents who are better now than Sano was when he last fought. Semelsberger is a high-volume striker, and he’s a strong welterweight. He can overwhelm people with his size and power. In the past, Sano has been a slugger who has good grappling and is with a good gas tank, but, again, it’s a long layoff. I don’t think there’s much to preview here, and Semelsberger is the second-biggest favorite on the card, and there’s many reasons why. I think Semelsberger makes quick work of Sano and beats him up on the feet.

PICK: SEMELSBERGER

Featherweights: Jonathan Pearce vs. Omar Morales

Overall Records: Pearce 10-4, Morales 11-1
UFC Records: Pearce 1-1, Morales 3-1
Last Fight: Pearce def. Kamaka–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN 18 (11/28/20), Morales def. Young–UDec–UFC 260 (3/27/21)
Last Five Fights: Pearce 4-1, Morales 4-1
Betting Odds: Pearce +130, Morales -155
Preview: A featherweight bout between two underrated guys in the division kicks off the card as Pearce and Morales both look for their second straight win. Pearce is fighting for the first time since November, as he’s looking to build on a second-round knockout of Kai Kamaka. He was signed from the Contender Series in July 2019, but has just two fights over the past two years, which saw him lose to Joe Lauzon in his debut in October 2019. He’s scored nine of his ten wins by stoppage, with eight coming by knockout. Morales recently signed a new deal with the UFC after flirting with the idea of switching to boxing, and he looks to build on a solid 11-1 record. The only blemish on his record is a decision loss to Giga Chikadze, which isn’t even a bad loss considering how great Chikadze has looked, and Morales is looking for his second straight win after scoring a decision over Shane Young in March. Morales has a 63% finish rate, with two knockout wins and five submission wins.

Pearce is a high-volume and high-activity fighter, but he also tends to get hit quite often. He averages nearly nine significant strikes landed per minute at a 55% accuracy rate, but also gets hit with nearly seven significant strikes per minute. Morales likes to utilize the leg kicks on the feet, and also mixes to the body as well. He has decent takedowns, though the grappling edge will go to Pearce, who scored five takedowns in his last fight during the two rounds it lasted. Morales should look to pressure Pearce on the feet and use his power, which he has the edge in, and keep Pearce from getting in takedown range. Both men are durable fighters, with the slight durability edge to Morales, and Morales has the better gas tank. This is a very solid fight to kick off the card, but I think Morales will be able to stop the takedowns and tear up the lead leg, and he’s the more well-rounded fighter. I like Morales to score a decision here.
PICK: MORALES

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