Any two-title pay-per-view pay-per-view will grab the sport’s attention, but on Saturday night at UFC 266, it’s the third fight on the map that most fight fans are talking about. Nick Diaz will go to the Octagon for his first fight since 2015 to face Robbie Lawler in a rematch 17 years in the making. What can we expect when he returns?
In the main event of UFC 266, Alexander Volkanovski defends the featherweight title against Brian Ortega. The two spent a lot of time together during the final season of The Ultimate Fighter, but will that experience affect the outcome? Ortega’s last title fight wasn’t like this – will it be different this time?
The other champion on the map Valentina ShevchenkoShe hopes that nothing will change in her upcoming battle against anything Lauren Murphy while Curtis Blaydes may need to adjust his strategy Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Mike Coppinger, Jeff Wagenheim and Carlos Contreras Legaspi separate what is real and what is not in the pay-per-view on Saturday evening.
We’ll be impressed by Nick Diaz on his return
Okamoto: Look, the only answer to that – that real The answer to this is: “I have no idea.” Nobody does. Diaz wasn’t even that active when he was … active.
Prior to that fake marijuana suspension in 2015, which ultimately led to his six-year absence, Diaz had fought only once in 22 months. And when his career derailed through a – I’ll say again, fake – suspension, he turned hard into a civilian lifestyle.
Diaz hasn’t always led the life of a professional athlete in the past six years. He had a pretty tortured relationship with fighting in general. He doesn’t love it, but he knows that he is good at it and that it is his income. Trying to find out Diaz’s level of motivation, his reasons for the fight, or even his enthusiasm for making this return … it’s impossible. And I think that of course plays a big part in trying to guess what he’s going to look like on Saturday. Because if Diaz doesn’t really want to be here and he has reservations about being here, that will show.
And if that’s the case then no, we won’t be impressed. We’ll probably say he should never do that again.
I’m really excited and curious about Diaz’s return, but I’m going in with no expectations. This has an equal chance of doing really well or really bad.
Brian Ortega will make the most of his second title fight and win
Raimondi: When Brian Ortega first fought for the UFC featherweight title, against Max Holloway at UFC 231 on December 8, 2018, he was 27 years old and has already been named the UFC’s next golden boy. Ortega hung out with actor Robert Downey Jr., received advertising deals with high profile companies like Body Armor, and seemed poised to be the promotion’s newest crossover star with his good looks, charisma, and exciting fighting style.
It all hit a speed bump when Holloway defeated Ortega by TKO in the fourth round. Holloway hit him with everything he had, but Ortega kept going until the doctor pulled the plug before the fifth round. Ortega showed a lot of heart, but he also showed that he wasn’t quite ready to become champion just yet. And maybe these high expectations were too early, too big.
It’s not too early for Ortega anymore, that’s why I say “Real” to this statement. He is 30 years old and is going into the next title challenge, against Alexander Volkanovski on Saturday at UFC 266 in Las Vegas, like a new man. He has changed his coaching staff. His hitting game has improved dramatically. Ortega really showed significant growth in his unanimous win over rival Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung last october. It was arguably the best performance of his career, a fight he controlled from the opening bell.
In four consecutive fights from 2015 to 2017, Ortega finished his opponents in the third round. In almost all of these fights, Ortega either lost on the cards as he deserved the hiatus, or at least lost part of the fight. The performance against “Zombie” was a complete – and actually the only fight that led to the decision of his UFC run. Things were never out of Ortega’s hands then. Young should be the better striker, Ortega the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist. But Ortega confused Jung with a new southpaw stance and sophisticated techniques and tactics.
Assuming he brings the same style against Volkanovski – combined with his innate finishing ability – we could finally talk about Ortega as the UFC champion, almost three years after he was perhaps prematurely crowned 145 pound king.
Valentina Shevchenko will finish Lauren Murphy
Valentina Shevchenko dominated the £ 125 division, won the vacant belt from Joanna Jedrzejczyk and knocked out Jessica Eye in highlight reel fashion. Order UFC 247 here on ESPN + https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.
Wagenheim: Shevchenko is a 14-to-1 favorite so it’s a good bet that she will beat Murphy. But finish them off? Let’s look at the recent history of Shevchenko.
The champion has won seven bouts in a row and dominated each of those bouts but switched between finishes and decisions. The three youngest opponents who played all five rounds with Shevchenko – Jennifer Maia, Liz Carmouche and Joanna Jedrzejczyk – are all robust and resilient. Murphy too. She never finished in 19 career fights. On the other hand, Murphy has never been locked in a cage with Valentina Shevchenko.
Murphy has won five straight wins and has been in a number of competitive matches. Half of their most recent wins have come from split decision-making. I don’t expect her to fight hard against Shevchenko, but she can survive.
If I were a bettor I would hate to spend 25 minutes holding my breath while hoping Shevchenko’s opponent would only make it to the last horn so I could redeem a ticket. But there is my money. The above statement is not really.
The main event won’t be the most exciting fight of the night
Legaspi: Anyone who still thinks Ortega has only one chance to beat Volkanovski is to subjugate him is wrong. The rivalry between these two fighters has been growing for almost a year, and the fact that it has been postponed and their time on The Ultimate Fighter only gave fuel for that fire.
Ortega has an impressive test against one of the best in the division – and was brave enough to try the same in his first title fight against the UFC’s self-proclaimed best boxer. Max Holloway. Let’s not forget that he was also the first to knock out Frankie Edgar. Ortega probably has the best jiu-jitsu in the top of the featherweight division, but he barely tries to beat his opponents.
This fight could certainly develop into a long stand-up confrontation, because Volkanovski does not want to risk it on the spot. For me, this fight is likely to cause a lot of excitement, and that’s why I’m going to say it is “not really.” I can’t deny that fans will freak out if Diaz steps into the Octagon after being fired, but it’s really hard to say how competitive this rematch will be 17 years later.
However, there are plenty of other fights that look promising. if Dan Hooker makes it for this week’s matchup against Nasrat Haqparast After days of visa problems, he will regain his place among the title contenders, provided he does a great job. There are also Merab Dvalishviliwho will try to make a statement by beating an opponent for the first time in the UFC. He has to do this against someone who loves to interact Marlon Moraes.
Curtis Blaydes must take Jairzinho Rozenstruik down to win
Copper: A takedown (or 10) would certainly help Blaydes’ efforts. After all, the NCAA wrestler is a far better grappler than his opponent. If Blaydes can control Rozenstruik on the ground – and along the cage – he can neutralize his enemy’s incredible power and avoid the kind of shot that flattened him in his last defeat Derrick Lewis.
But Blaydes’ end of Junior Dos Santos was a stand-up affair too, so Blaydes doesn’t need to have relying on their wrestling game to win. So at least for this fight I say: “not really.”
If Rozenstruik is to cause a stir, he must certainly avoid being dominated on the ground. His takedown defense has proven to be impressive, with Rozenstruik avoiding 80% of the attempts.
Rozenstruik, a former kickboxer, is the more dangerous striker and loves to keep the fight on his feet. In fact, he has never taken a takedown in his eight fights in the Octagon. All of his wins came via KO / TKO, his two losses came against the two best heavyweights in the world (Ciryl Gane and Nganou).