UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega Preview

We are just days away from the latest UFC PPV instalment with a stacked undercard propping up two headline title fights at the UFC Apex. Alexander Volkanovski will defend his featherweight title against Brian Ortega and Lauren Murphy will look to dethrone flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko. It will also be the long awaited return on Nick Diaz as he goes up against Robbie Lawlor in the middleweight division.

Alexander Volkanovski is undefeated in his last nineteen fights and I don’t feel like the featherweight champion gets the respect he deserves. I’ve been guilty of it myself, the reaction surrounding that razor close decision against Max Holloway kind of overshadowed his previous acxhements. Going on a long run is not easy in Mixed Martial Arts, picking up wins over Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo and Max Holloway makes the feat all that more impressive. I like the Australian’s quirky personality, what I like even more is what he can do when the cage door closes.

Volkanovski does the simple things right when he decides to strike with his opponents. A former rugby player, the City Kickboxing standout is strong in the clinch and has solid takedown defence. Cardio doesn’t seem to be an issue for the 145-pound champ either so the question remains. How does Brian Ortega stand any chance on Saturday night? I would say that the challenger does indeed have a chance but I do feel it’s only going to be a very small chance.

We know all about the BJJ credentials of Brian Ortega who is a wizard on the mat with 7 submission victories under his black belt. All the talk recently has been has been the progression of the striking of “T-City” and that was on show when he took on “The Korean Zombie” in his last encounter. In 2018, when Max Holloway was champion Ortega took a savage beating from the Hawaiian and the doctor called a halt to the fight in round four. That was not enjoyable to watch and it must of really opened the eyes of Ortega and his team. Two years later Ortega came back and looked like he had massively levelled up in the striking department enroute to outstriking Chan Sung Jung.

It was super impressive performance by Ortega in his last outing but there is one problem. Zombie is known for his forward movement and he does get hit quite often in fights. Volkanovski is a far more sophisticated striker, one that manages distance quite well and he is not easy to hit. Ortega will be dangerous early on in this main event, the champion will need to fight a patient fight. Ortega will be looking for grappling exchanges when both fighters are relatively dry at the start of this fight and one slip of concentration could see all of Volkonovski’s hard work go up in smoke. I feel the Alex will start slow and methodical and turn up the heat as the fight progresses. It’s a fascinating battle and who knows, Ortega could coming in there and surprise us all. What a story that would be.

I’m delighted to see Lauren Murphy get the title shot that she deserves after racking up a five-fight win-streak in the flyweight division. Murphy is donned with the task of dethroning flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko and it will not be an easy task in the slightest. The challenger started her title run with a super knockout over Mara Borella, two decisions wins over Andrea Lee and Roxanne Modafferi followed. Last year Murphy picked up her first submission of her career when she choked out Liliya Shakirova in the second round. “Lucky” sealed her title shot earlier this year with a decision win over Jo Jo Calderwood.

This will be the sixth title defence for Valentina Shevchenko and the champion has looked unflappable in each of those defences. Her head kick knockout victory over Jessica Eye will be shown for many years to come. “The Bullet” is so well rounded and has shown no weakness on the feet or on the mat for the majority of her UFC tenure. Shevchenko gave double champion Amanda Nunes her biggest challenge to date but fell short. Any other fighter that has crossed her path inside the octagon has been dealt with with relative ease. This fight can be looked at as somewhat of a mission impossible for Murphy and I struggle to find a way she can get her hand raised in this fight. Shevchenko, in my opinion, can win this whatever way she wants. Murphy has not been finished in her career as of yet and that is something that the champion can use for motivation. It will be interesting to see if Murphy does have any answers for Shevchenko, she is tough as nails but that will only get you so far in a fight with Valentina.

The long awaited return of Stockton’s finest is right around the corner as Nick Diaz is set to return for a rematch with Robbie Lawlor which is 17 years in the making. For me the Strikeforce run that Diaz put together was one of my favourite parts of his storied career. Time has passed, we have not seen Nick compete sine 2015 and we have not seen him win inside the octagon since 2011. In that time Robbie Lawler has returned to the UFC and become a very successful champion in the welterweight division. This fight has been changed to 185 pounds just days before the fight. It’s a move that I feel will benefit Diaz more than his rival and that’s down to not having to partake in a weight cut. That being said I’m sure Robbie Lawlor is happy not to have to cut and it will make it a better fight.

I do feel this will be a super hard task for Diaz as Lawlor has been active over the years. “Ruthless” will be hungry for the win having lost all four of his last fights. Diaz will stand and bang all day and that will suit Lawler as he won’t be worrying about the takedown. The fact that this is a five round fight, you would think that would favour Diaz, but I do feel as this fight moves into the later rounds it will actually benefit Robbie. All-in-all, I can not wait to watch this fight as an old school fan, there is a real sense of nostalgia around this fight. I hope it lives up to expectations.

Takedown machine Merab Dvalishvili will face the toughest challenge of his career as he headlines the prelims section of the card with Marlon Moraes. The Georgian has won each of his last 6 fights and has looked very impressive in recent wins over John Dodson and Cody Stamann. If Marab is the one to get his hand raised he would put himself right into the title conversation. Moreas on the other hand is coming off two bad knockout losses and is in desperate need of a win. Moreas does pack a punch and will be looking to catch Dvalishvili coming in and I wouldn’t rule out a spectacular knockout from the Brazilian. Moreas, who is a former title challenger, tends to slow down and that will play into the hands of his opponent. I really like this fight, think Dvalishvili will overcome a few scares and win a decision.

Dan Hooker and Nasrat Haqparast will clash in the lightweight division. Both fighters got their visa issues sorted and hopefully both the weight cuts go to plan. Hooker and Haqparast plan to cut weight on their flight to Vegas. Massive credit goes to both warriors for pursuing this fight. Dan Hooker is always in exciting fights, win or lose. The last time we seen the New Zealander was when he was finished by Mike Chandler at UFC 257. Haqparast has bounced back well from his knockout loss by the hands of Drew Dober by picking up two impressive decision wins over Alex Munoz and Rafa García. This fight will be a banger.

Danestani heavyweight Shamil Abdurakhimov and Chris Daukaus will be fighting for top ten status when they clash at 265-pounds. Abdurakhimov, who fights out of Russia, was defeated by Curtis Blaydes in his last fight, he be be eager to get back into the win column. Daukaus has been rapidly rising through the ranks and is currently undefeated under the UFC banner. Taila Santos will also look to move into the top-10 of the women’s flyweight division but first she needs to get her hand raised against Roxanne Modafferi. Santos has been beaten only once in 18 fights and has recently picked up victories over Molly McCann and Gillian Robertson. Modafferi, who is a veteran of the game, was left disappointed in her last trip to the octagon, she was defeated by Viviane Araujo by unanimous decision. At 39-years old Roxy is coming towards the end of her career but still will provide Santos with a stern test.

Undefeated Serbian prospect Uroš Medić will take on Jalin Turner in the lightweight division. Medic impressed on his UFC debut Aalon Cruz when he landed a devastating flying knee and followed up with some ground and pound for the win. Turner is 3-2 inside the octagon and picked up a nice submission win over Brok Weaver in his last outing. Both of these lightweights match up really well and this should be an intriguing contest. Undefeated American prospect Nick Maximov will make his UFC debut against fellow UFC debutant Cody Brundage in the middleweight division. Welterweight: Matthew Semelsberger will battle it out with Martin Sano Jr. in the 170-pound division. Opening up the card is a featherweight tussle as Jonathan Pearce squares off against Omar Morales.

Check out the official fight card and broadcast details below.

Main Card (BT Sports / ESPN+ PPV, 10pm ET)

Featherweight: Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) vs. Brian Ortega (15-1)

Women’s Flyweight: Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) vs. Lauren Murphy (15-4)

Middleweight: Nick Diaz (26-9) vs. Robbie Lawler (28-15)

Heavyweight: Curtis Blaydes (14-3) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (12-2)

Women’s Flyweight: Jéssica Andrade (21-9) vs. Cynthia Calvillo (9-2-1)

Preliminary Card (BT Sports / ESPN+, 8pm)

Bantamweight: Marlon Moraes (23-8-1) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (13-4)

Lightweight: Dan Hooker (20-10) vs. Nasrat Haqparast (13-3)

Heavyweight: Shamil Abdurakhimov (20-5) vs. Chris Daukaus (11-3)

Women’s Flyweight: Roxanne Modafferi (25-18) vs. Taila Santos (17-1)

Early preliminary card (UFC Fight Pass, 6pm ET)

Lightweight: Uroš Medić (7-0) vs. Jalin Turner (10-5)

Middleweight: Cody Brundage (6-1) vs. Nick Maximov (6-0)

Welterweight: Matthew Semelsberger (8-3) vs. Martin Sano Jr. (4-2-1)

Featherweight: Jonathan Pearce (10-4) vs. Omar Morales (11-1)

Ian O'Neill is the host of the SevereMMA UFC Preview show and one of the co-hosts of The Auld Triangle - Irish MMA podcast. You can find more of Ian's work on the SevereMMA Patreon where he co-hosts The Chasing Pack and The Contender. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram @ioneillmma

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