ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI VS. BRIAN ORTEGA
Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski defends his title for a second time, aiming to push his record inside the Octagon to 10-0 as he takes on recalibrated challenger Brian Ortega, who seeks to make his second attempt to claim UFC gold a successful venture.
Volkanovski is one of the most complete fighters on the roster — a former rugby man with sound, technical skills, bottomless cardio, an impressive ability to adjust on the fly, and unwavering confidence. He methodically marched his way into title contention, dethroned Max Holloway in a close, tactical battle, and then retained his belt last summer by edging out “Blessed” for a second time.
Like the champion, the challenger climbed the divisional ranks to land opposite Holloway in a highly anticipated title fight, only Ortega got picked apart by the Hawaiian titleholder, resulting in an extended layoff that included multiple surgical procedures and the rebuilding of his entire coaching staff. When Ortega returned last fall, he looked like a different fighter, and not just because he shaved his signature flowing locks just before the fight — his striking was crisper and his defense was sound as he pieced up “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung, over five rounds to get himself back into the win column and earn another championship opportunity.
From a tactical standpoint, this is such an intriguing fight, as Volkanovski has proven to capable of working as both a high-pressure aggressor and a deft counter-fighter, while making sure to constantly be touching his opponents with quick jabs and a steady stream of low kicks, while Ortega has always been best when acting first. His defensive improvements and better overall understanding of what’s transpiring in front of him should create more opportunities to be effective when he’s not going forward, and his nasty submission game is always a dangerous wild card tucked in his back pocket he can turn to whenever he sees an opening.
From a narrative perspective, this fight is crucial for both men — and the division — as well, as a victory for Volkanovski would force people to recognize the Australian champion’s overall excellence, while the crowning of a new champion would elevate Ortega to a place many always forecasted him to reach and likely set up a rematch with Holloway.
On top of that, the bout being postponed in March resulted in the combatants coaching opposite one another on Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, where tensions between the two increased and this weekend’s main event became a little more personal.
With all that said, this featherweight title clash shapes up to be a cat-and-mouse game between two highly skilled, highly motivated fighters at the absolute peak of their powers, and it should be all kinds of awesome.
VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO VS. LAUREN MURPHY
The women’s flyweight title is on the line in the co-main event of the evening, as reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko takes on streaking challenger “Lucky” Lauren Murphy.
Now in her fourth year competing in the 125-pound weight class, Shevchenko sports a 7-0 record with five consecutive successful title defenses, tied with Amanda Nunes for the most of any current champion. While there have been tactical efforts like her wins over Liz Carmouche and Jennifer Maia, Shevchenko has been an unstoppable juggernaut at times as well, including her most recent outing opposite Jessica Andrade, where she finished the powerful challenger with elbows from the crucifix position a little more than three minutes into the second round.
Murphy enters Saturday’s championship contest on a five-fight winning streak and brandishing a 6-1 record in the flyweight division. A pro since 2010, the 38-year-old has navigated a lack of results to start her UFC career and an early exit on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter to emerge one of the stalwarts in the division and finally earn the title shot she’s been chasing for a number of years.
It’s difficult at times to theorize about how each new Shevchenko appearance is going to play out because she can occupy so many different roles inside the Octagon, adeptly operating a counter-fighter or aggressive lead with similar dexterity and skill. Additionally, the challenger is a gritty, unrelenting battler entering with the intention of staying in Shevchenko’s face and making this one dirty, which obviously impacts what this one may look like as well.
This is the best fight to make in the flyweight division at the moment, with Shevchenko standing as a dominant champion and Murphy the deserving, driven challenger, and how it shakes out on Saturday night will not only impact the course of the flyweight division heading into 2022, but could potentially raise some questions about what comes next in the bantamweight division as well.
NICK DIAZ VS. ROBBIE LAWLER
More than 17 years after their first encounter at UFC 47, Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler will run it back inside the Octagon this weekend.
Saturday marks Diaz’s first appearance in over six years, as the now 38-year-old Stockton native last fought at UFC 183. The perpetually popular anti-hero has come away from his last three outings without a victory, dropping decisions to Carlos Condit and Georges St-Pierre before his defeat at the hands of Anderson Silva last time out was ruled a no contest when both men failed their post-fight drug screening for different substances.
Lawler has been active while Diaz has been on the sidelines, but as of late, the results haven’t been there, as the former champion enters on a four-fight slide and owning just a single victory in his last six appearances.
But this is one of those matchups where records, recent form, and anything else don’t really matter as the draw is seeing Diaz return to the cage against someone from his past, someone he upset back when they were young pups on the come-up, and will look to beat again now that he’s ready to step back into the Octagon again. Despite his struggles, Lawler remains a powerful striker with weaponry to ruin Diaz’s return, and while he’s said all the right things about not seeking revenge on Saturday night, there is surely a little piece of the former welterweight titleholder that would like to even things up with Diaz this weekend.
Whenever talk of a Diaz return bubbled up, this was always near the top of the list of fights to make, and now we’re only a few more sleeps away from seeing it happen.
CURTIS BLAYDES VS. JAIRZINHO ROZENSTRUIK
Heavyweights looking to solidify their standing in the jumbled divisional hierarchy go head-to-head on Saturday’s main card as Curtis Blaydes squares off with Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
Entering this year, Blaydes was undefeated against everyone not named Francis Ngannou, but that changed in February when he ate a Derrick Lewis uppercut less than 90 seconds into the second round of their main event clash at the UFC APEX. Now the Elevation Fight Team member looks to regroup and regain the form that produced dominant wins over Alistair Overeem, Junior Dos Santos, and Alexander Volkov in the past.
“Bigi Boy” had a similar designation as Blaydes to start 2021 and his also changed in February, as current interim champ Ciryl Gane outworked the former kickboxer in a five-round bout where Rozenstruik seemed hesitant to throw. He started slowly in his next fight opposite Augusto Sakai as well, but late in the opening stanza, the fighter from Suriname let loose with his hands and felled the Brazilian, getting himself back into the win column.
Currently positioned at No. 4 and No. 6 in the divisional rankings, respectively, this is a battle to determine which man heads towards next year stationed inside the Top 5 and with an inside track towards getting back into the title hunt quickly, and it should be exciting for as long as it lasts.
Brian Ortega's Sweet Ride | UFC Connected
Brian Ortega's Sweet Ride | UFC Connected
JESSICA ANDRADE VS. CYNTHIA CALVILLO
The main card gets underway with an intriguing clash in the flyweight division as recent title challenger Jessica Andrade returns against fellow Top 5 talent Cynthia Calvillo.
Andrade needed just one fight to make it clear she was a potential force in the 125-pound weight class, running through perennial contender Katlyn Chookagian just under a year ago in her divisional debut. Expected to push champion Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 261, the Brazilian got overwhelmed, with “Bullet” controlling things from the outset and securing a second-round finish.
Calvillo moved up to flyweight last summer and registered a victory over Jessica Eye in her divisional debut but landed on the wrong side of the results five months later in a clash with Chookagian. Brandishing a 9-2-1 record overall, the 34-year-old has been largely successful, but each of those setbacks came against top contenders, so it will be interesting to see if the now Las Vegas-based fighter can clear that hurdle this time around.
This is a competitive matchup at a critical time for both women, as Andrade has just a single victory in her last four appearances and Calvillo is still looking for that one win that truly establishes her as a title contender. Determining who that is should be entertaining to watch this weekend.
MARLON MORAES VS. MERAB DVALISHVILI
Bantamweights clash in the final preliminary card matchup as the evening, as former title challenger Marlon Moraes squares off with surging Georgian Merab “The Machine” Dvalishvili.
Moraes feels a long way removed from facing Henry Cejudo for the vacant bantamweight title at UFC 238, as he enters Saturday’s bout with Dvalishvili having been stopped in back-to-back contests. After rattling off three straight Performance of the Night bonuses and four consecutive victories to reach title contention, Moraes’ lone triumph came at UFC 245 when he edged out countryman Jose Aldo by split decision in a fight that in no way feels like it took place less than two years ago.
While Moraes is struggling, Dvalishvili is thriving, arriving in Las Vegas on a six-fight winning streak and on the cusp of cracking the Top 10 in the talent-rich bantamweight division. A takedown machine from the Serra-Longo Fight Team, the 30-year-old has learned to weaponize his conditioning and relentless pace, pairing it with his dominant grappling to wear out fighters like Casey Kenney, John Dodson, and Cody Stamann during his current hot streak.
Lauren Murphy 'Dreamed Of Beating The Best' | UFC 266
Lauren Murphy 'Dreamed Of Beating The Best' | UFC 266
DAN HOOKER VS. NASRAT HAQPARAST
Divisional stalwart Dan Hooker looks to get things moving in the right direction again following consecutive losses as he ventures to Las Vegas for a lightweight showdown with emerging prospect Nasrat Haqparast.
New Zealand’s Hooker has been an all-action fighter throughout his career and a dangerous threat in the 155-pound weight class since returning to the weight class in 2017. But after going 7-1 in his first eight lightweight outings in the UFC, “The Hangman” suffered back-to-back defeats for just the second time in his career, landing on the wrong side of the scores opposite Dustin Poirier last summer before getting clipped and finished by Michael Chandler in January.
IF YOU MISSED IT: Carlos Condit Announces His Retirement From MMA
One of the most talked about up-and-comers in the division, the 26-year-old Haqparast enters the Octagon on a two-fight winning streak, looking to garner the biggest victory of his career. Unfortunately, he also enters with a heavy heart, as his mother, Parwin, lost her battle to cancer recently.
SHAMIL ABDURAKHIMOV VS. CHRIS DAUKAUS
Top 10 heavyweights Shamil Abdurakhimov and Chris Daukaus share the Octagon this weekend, each man entering with designs on taking another step towards the top of the division with a victory on Saturday night.
Returning for the first time since September 2019, Abdurakhimov is 5-3 inside the Octagon and 3-2 over his last five appearances, bookending a three-fight run of success highlighted by a technical knockout win over Marcin Tybura with stoppage losses to Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes. A bear of a man with solid power and strong grappling skills, the 39-year-old from Dagestan will need to shake off the rust and be at his best if he wants to hold off the hard-charging Daukaus this weekend.
If Daukaus were a baseball player, he’d be the guy that had a tremendous late-season run after getting called up from the minors, registering first-round stoppage wins over Parker Porter and Rodrigo Nascimento in August and October to establish himself as one to watch in the big boy ranks. Then in February, the Philadelphia police officer and Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt made it three-for-three in the UFC with another first-round finish, this time against veteran stalwart Aleksei Oleinik.
The top end of the heavyweight division may be in the process of getting sorted out, but things below the championship tier are wide open, making this a seriously significant pairing for both competitors and everyone else in the Top 15.
ROXANNE MODAFFERI VS. TAILA SANTOS
Roxanne Modafferi and Taila Santos reconnect in a matchup that was initially scheduled for earlier this year that carries significant rankings implications in the flyweight division.
Modafferi has alternated results throughout her second UFC run, beginning with her title loss to Nicco Montano nearly four years ago, heading into this one off a loss to Viviane Araujo in January. She was originally slated to face Santos in May, but had to withdraw due to a knee injury, with the Brazilian tagging in here when TUF 23 winner Tatiana Suarez was forced out with a knee injury of her own.
The 28-year-old Santos has earned back-to-back victories over Molly McCann and Gillian Robertson to land a number next to her name and establish herself as one of the more intriguing emerging talents in the 125-pound weight class. Boasting a 17-1 record overall, Modafferi is easily the most experienced and savvy fighter she’s faced to date, so it will be interesting to see how she responds on Saturday.
With all eyes on the division thanks to this weekend’s championship clash, this contest is an opportunity for each woman to make their case for maintaining a place in the Top 10 and securing a date with another ranked opponent next time out. Will Modafferi bounce back and keep to her pattern, or can Santos collect the biggest win of her career and climb into the top tier of talent in the division?
Fighter Timeline: Nick Diaz
Fighter Timeline: Nick Diaz
UROS MEDIC VS. JALIN TURNER
A potential barnburner in the lightweight division takes place on the prelims as proven finishers Uros Medic and Jalin Turner collide in a battle of intriguing emerging talents.
It has taken Medic exactly two appearances — one on Dana White’s Contender Series, the other his promotional debut — to make it clear he’s someone to watch in the 155-pound ranks. After blasting through Mikey Gonzalez to earn his spot on the roster, “The Doctor” did the same to Aalon Cruz in March, running his record to 7-0 while collecting his seventh consecutive stoppage.
Still just 26 years old, Turner is five fights into his UFC run and 15 fights deep into his career, and while the results haven’t always been there, “The Tarantula” has repeatedly shown flashes of being a future problem in the lightweight ranks. He went 2-0 in 2020, posting a pair of second-round stoppage wins over Joshua Culibao and Brok Weaver, and profiles as someone on the cusp of making a run and making some waves in 2021 and beyond.
Medic and Turner have 17 combined victories in their career, and not a one of them has come on the scorecards, so make sure you’re locked in and paying attention as soon as this one gets underway because the action is going to be hot and heavy and someone is most likely going to get stopped.
Robbie Lawler | Fighter Timeline
Robbie Lawler | Fighter Timeline
MATTHEW SEMELSBERGER VS. MARTIN SANO
Maryland native Matthew Semelsberger makes his fourth trip into the Octagon on Saturday night, squaring off with newcomer Martin Sano in a welterweight preliminary card clash.
A former collegiate football player, “Semi the Jedi” earned victories over Carlton Minus and Jason Witt in his first two forays into the UFC cage before landing on the unhappy side of a unanimous decision verdict in his fight with Khaos Williams last time out. Making a speedy return and motivated by his first UFC setback, the 28-year-old Semelsberger aims to get back to his winning ways as he welcomes Sano back to competition.
Saturday will be Sano’s first official bout since February 2017 and the 4-2-1 debuting fighter will be looking for his first victory since an April 2014 triumph over Clint Roberts. The main training partner for Nick Diaz over the last several years, many are curious to see what Sano will bring to the table when he crosses the threshold into the UFC cage for the first time this weekend.
JONATHAN PEARCE VS. OMAR MORALES
Members of the Class of 2019 on Dana White’s Contender Series get the action underway on Saturday night in Las Vegas as Jonathan Pearce and Omar Morales lock horns in a quality featherweight clash.
After getting thrown to the wolves in his promotional debut with a lightweight assignment against Joe Lauzon on Boston, “JSP” returned to the 145-pound ranks last time out and registered a second-round stoppage win over Kai Kamaka III, pushing his record to 10-4 in the process. Representing the Fight Ready crew, Pearce is a well-rounded, technical fighter with a bright future, through making hay in the featherweight division is always a challenge.
Morales began his career with 10 straight wins as a lightweight, including his second-round stoppage over Harvey Park to earn his UFC contract, and each of his first two UFC victories. He then dropped down to featherweight and ran into Giga Chikadze, but has since rebounded with a unanimous decision win over Shane Young in March to get him moving in the right direction again.
Each of these men appear capable of stringing together strong performances and making some moves in the talent-rich 145-pound weight class, but only one of them will take another step forward on Saturday night.