We are two days away from UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega, which comes to you live from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. And it’s not a UFC PPV without some MMA News staff picks, and we’ve got you well covered on that front.
In the main event of the card, Alexander Volkanovski will defend his featherweight championship against Brian Ortega. After months of tension between the two developed on The Ultimate Fighter, both competitors will look to stake their claim as the world’s best featherweight within the five rounds they are allotted.
The co-main event will feature another world title fight when the seemingly unstoppable Valentina Shevchenko looks to make another effortless defense of her flyweight strap. Lauren Murphy will obviously look to spoil the expectations of the champion as well as all those counting her out.
And who can forget the return of Nick Diaz after a six-year absence? Diaz will attempt to defeat Robbie Lawler for the second time in his career in what will be a special five-round attraction bout.
You can check out the full UFC 266 main card below!
UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortaga Main Card
UFC Featherweight Championship Bout: Alexander Volkanovski (c) vs. Brain Ortega
UFC Flyweight Championship Bout: Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Lauren Murphy
Five-Round Feature Bout: Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Jéssica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo
UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega Staff Predictions
MMA News is the place to be for all the latest UFC 266 updates. Staff members Andrew Ravens, Ed Carbajal, Doug Murray, and Harvey Leonard have provided predictions for the card, which you can find below.
Jéssica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo
Andrew Ravens: Both fighters are top tier, and this should be a close matchup. I’m interested in seeing how Andrade bounces back after dropping her previous fight to Valentina Shevchenko. Calvillo is no easy task, but I think the fire inside of Andrade will lead her to a decision win. (Prediction: Jéssica Andrade)
Ed Carbajal: This matchup is a good opener for the pay-per-view since both women possess the skills to end the fight early. However, Andrade seems to have a significant power advantage in this one, and if Calvillo risks grappling with her or even trading strikes, it’s hard not to see Andrade coming out on top. (Prediction: Jéssica Andrade)
Doug Murray: This might be the toughest fight on the main card to call. Both are coming off losses, but Andrade is coming off a brutal defeat to Shevchenko. While Calvillo has looked solid in the new weight class, I believe she has a long way to go before catching up to Andrade’s striking. I anticipate her looking uncomfortable during heated exchanges, and see Andrade running away with the fight. Calvillo is sturdy, and I think she makes it to the judge’s scorecards. (Prediction: Jéssica Andrade)
Harvey Leonard: This should be an interesting bout to open the main card. Calvillo is extremely talented on the mat, but she’s had a tendency to stand and strike with opposition more than she needs to. That’s not a mistake she can make against a hard hitter like Andrade. With a likely higher volume, as well as a power advantage, the Brazilian will be happy to keep the fight on the feet and in the clinch.
Calvillo’s road to victory will involve dragging the fight to the ground. But whether it’s because Calvillo doesn’t fight to her strengths or because she’s not allowed to by Andrade, I think the former strawweight champ gets it done. (Prediction: Jéssica Andrade)
Consensus: 4-0 Andrade
Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Andrew Ravens: A very close fight and an intriguing one of who can implement their game plan on the other. I think Blaydes is such a great wrestler and will be able to hold down Rozenstruik en route to yet another lackluster but effective decision win. (Prediction: Curtis Blaydes)
Ed Carbajal: Folks might not see it, but this is a striker versus grappler match. Blaydes likely has the edge in wrestling and Rozenstruik in striking. One has to nullify the other, unless someone goes off script like Neiman Gracie did at Bellator 266. Something tells me Rozenstruik will fire off something that could end this early. (Prediction: Jairzinho Rozenstruik)
Doug Murray: This is a big chance for Blaydes to get back into the running at heavyweight. After suffering a setback to the former title challenger Derrick Lewis, the heavyweight’s four-fight win streak since 2019 shattered. This looks like a classic grappler vs. striker matchup. The timidity Rozenstruick showed in his fight in Feb. against Ciryl Gane is enough reason for me to stay away from picking him. The workman-like style of Blaydes is more reliable in terms of showing up to the big nights. (Prediction: Curtis Blaydes)
Harvey Leonard: I hope I’m wrong, but I sense a Blaydes vs. Volkov 2.0 on Saturday night. With any luck, the atmosphere and the stage of a sold-out T-Mobile Arena will prevent that from happening. But given the devastating fashion in which he lost to Derrick Lewis last time out, I’m not sure Blaydes will mind 15 minutes of control and a comfortable decision. If Rozenstruik connects clean, it’s over. But will Blaydes change levels as carelessly as he did last time out and get caught? I don’t think so. (Prediction: Curtis Blaydes)
Consensus: 3-1 Blaydes
Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
Andrew Ravens: A perfect fight for Diaz to make his return as Lawler is an aging gunfighter who has lost his last four fights. However, I think this is a pick-’em. Lawler has been more active while Diaz hasn’t fought in 2015. I have Lawler edging out Diaz via unanimous decision. (Prediction: Robbie Lawler)
Ed Carbajal: Whether it be middleweight or welterweight, do we honestly care? These two men have been revered by MMA fans longer than the UFC has been popular to casuals. Although time has passed, neither Lawler nor Diaz are the same since their first bout in 2004. Time off could either help or hinder Diaz, Lawler could be carrying wear and tear into this fight. Oddsmakers have them at even money at the time of writing this so, flip a coin. (Prediction: Robbie Lawler (via TKO due to cuts)
Doug Murray: A rematch seventeen years in the making. This fight could easily sell as a PPV headliner. The last time I remember seeing vintage “Ruthless” show up was against Ben Askren, though he admits this fight got him motivated. I think the time off will favor Nick Diaz, and not taking damage while Lawler has will only benefit the cult favorite. I don’t see him scoring the knockout, but playing it smart in a five-round stand-up fight seems realistic. And it’s not as if Lawler will be shooting in for takedowns. (Prediction: Nick Diaz)
Harvey Leonard: I see this being a slower and older version of Leon Edwards’ victory over Nate Diaz at UFC 263. Even with Lawler’s current losing streak, I can’t pick against someone facing a Nick Diaz who’s been out of action since 2015, hasn’t won since 2011, and has forced a late weight class change. Across five rounds, I expect we’ll see “Ruthless” outstrike Diaz, while the Stockton native maintains his reputation in defeat by bringing back the entertainment that made him a fan favorite. (Prediction: Robbie Lawler)
Consensus: 3-1 Lawler
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy
Andrew Ravens: Shevchenko will win this fight and do it with ease. Somehow, though, she will make it memorable like she always does. Props to Murphy for the winning streak to get to this point, but I find it hard to think anyone gives her a real chance. Shevchenko gets it done with a TKO win. (Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko)
Ed Carbajal: Murphy’s rise to this moment has been something that has been fun to watch. From being bullied by Eddie Alvarez on The Ultimate Fighter, she fought her way up to this moment at UFC 266. It would be really great if she won, I kind of hope she does, but Shevchenko has been so dominant as champion, it does not seem she will be toppled anytime soon. (Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko)
Doug Murray: The first title fight on the PPV and Shevchenko will be looking for her sixth title defense. She has held the belt since Dec. of 2018 and I don’t see that changing. “The Bullet” continues to make vast improvements each fight out. It is beginning to become difficult to decipher which offensive route she will take. Nonetheless, her ability to adapt in live situations will earn her the dominant victory against an opponent five years her elder in Murphy. Murphy is on a solid five-fight winning streak, but the speed and intensity of Shevchenko is a difficult puzzle to prepare for. (Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko)
Harvey Leonard: No fighter should ever be written off completely. However, if there was ever a fight I’d bet my house, car, and prized possessions on, it’s probably this one. Shevchenko’s dominance at flyweight has been as brutal as it’s been impressive. It’s hard to see what Murphy will bring that “Bullet” won’t be ready to deal with swiftly and destructively. The challenger is well-rounded and solid across the board, but Shevchenko is well-rounded and immaculate across the board. (Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko)
Consensus: 4-0 Shevchenko
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brain Ortega
Andrew Ravens: We’ve waited long enough to see this fight play out, and now it’s time. I find it hard to pick against Volkanovski in nearly any fight thinkable right now as he is truly in his prime. Ortega brings an intriguing challenge that will keep it close. However, I see Volkanovski pulling away down the stretch and walking away with the decision win. (Prediction: Alexander Volkanovski)
Ed Carbajal: The build-up to this match, I suppose, was their coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter. None of that will play into what happens in this fight. It’s hard to call, like many matches on this card. Ortega’s submissions could surprise Volkanovski in the early rounds, but if the fight goes longer, Volkanovski will likely dish out more damage. I see this going the distance. (Prediction: Alexander Volkanovski)
Doug Murray: The two coaches finally meet, and Vokanovski faces a different opponent after fighting/preparing for Max Holloway twice in a two-year timespan. The time away from the cage is a reason to pause, but Volkanovski’s skill inside the pocket has shown itself in his previous fights. “The Great” has only lost once, and it came by decision in 2013. If the champ was able to handle coronavirus restrictions a year ago, I trust he will come adequately prepared this weekend. However, after he admitted to coughing up blood and being hospitalized with COVID-19, I’ll be on the edge of my seat. (Prediction: Alexander Volkanovski)
Harvey Leonard: As many people have said, picking Volkanovski for this one would be a lot easier had we not seen Ortega’s performance against The Korean Zombie last year. His striking looked like it had progressed massively, and we know how talented he is on the ground. However, against Volkanovski’s relentless pace, power, and volume, I think the fight will run away from “T-City” as he slows in the later rounds. There’s a chance Ortega gets the better of the opening frames and utilizes his jiu-jitsu. But I can’t see him getting the finish. From there, I believe the Australian will grind out a decision like he did twice against Max Holloway. (Prediction: Alexander Volkanovski)
Consensus: 4-0 Volkanovski
UFC 266 Undercard
Marlon Moraes vs. Merab Dvalishvili
Dan Hooker vs. Nasrat Haqparast
Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Chris Daukaus
Roxanne Modafferi vs. Taila Santos
EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD
Jalin Turner vs. Uros Medic
Cody Brundage vs. Nick Maximov
Martin Sano vs. Matthew Semelsberger
Jonathan Pearce vs. Omar Morales