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After months and months of buildup, Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega will finally get their hands on each other in the main event of UFC 266 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Volkanovski and Ortega were originally scheduled to lock horns in March. However, a positive COVID-19 test for the champion delayed the bout. Then the two signed on to coach opposite one another on the return of The Ultimate Fighter.
Of course, the reality TV competition is a breeding ground for hate and drama. So the buildup has been even more fierce than usual for a fight that has essentially been in the offing since the spring.
The two featherweights with bad blood aren’t the only ones fighting for a title. The card also features the latest defense from dominant women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, who will see Lauren Murphy in the co-main event.
We’ll also the return of Nick Diaz and multiple close matchups on paper. Here’s a look at the whole card, the latest odds and predictions for the biggest fights.
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Main Card (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV)
- Alexander Volkanovski (c) (-180; bet $180 to win $100) vs. Brian Ortega (+155; $100 bet wins $155)
- Valentina Shevchenko (c) (-1600) vs. Lauren Murphy (+900)
- Nick Diaz (+140) vs. Robbie Lawler (-160)
- Curtis Blaydes (-335) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (+260)
- Jessica Andrade (-225) vs. Cynthia Calvillo (+185)
Prelims (ESPN News/ESPN+)
- Marlon Moraes (+205) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (-255)
- Dan Hooker (-150) vs. Nasrat Haqparast (+130)
- Shamil Abdurakhimov (+175) vs. Chris Daukaus (-210)
- Roxanne Modafferi (+340) vs. Taila Santos (-450)
Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass)
- Uros Medic (-125) vs. Jalin Turner (+105)
- Cody Brundage (+110) vs. Nick Maximov (-130)
- Matthew Semelsberger (-550) vs. Martin Sano (+400)
- Jonathan Pearce (+125) vs. Omar Antonio Morales Ferrer (-145)
Odds via DraftKings Sportbook
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Ortega is no stranger to fighting for the title. T-City’s only loss came to Max Holloway after a fourth-round TKO.
In that fight, Ortega’s striking was exposed. In the past, the submission specialist was able to win some fights where he was getting beat in the stand up because of his submission game. For instance, both Cub Swanson and Renato Moicano were beating Ortega with their striking before ultimately succumbing to a guillotine choke.
Ortega wasn’t fortunate enough to find a tap from the former champion, and Holloway outstruck him 290-110.
The loss led Ortega to take an extended absence from the sport in which he has tried to up his striking game.
His return fight against Chan Sung Jung showcased that somewhat, but his ground game still played a major role. That’s always going to be the case, but the question remains whether Ortega has the weapons to keep Volkanovski at bay when the fight isn’t on the ground.
The answer to that question is probably no, and short of latching on to a surprise submission, Volkanovski is the pick here.
Prediction: Volkanovski via decision
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At this point, Shevcehnko’s biggest opponent is boredom. As in, fight fans are struggling to come up with intrigue in her fights. She’s clearly the most dominant fighter in her division, yet she already has two losses to Amanda Nunes, so moving up 135 pounds isn’t all that appealing.
It isn’t her fault, but it does set up a dynamic where she has kind of hit her ceiling.
As for this matchup, there aren’t many avenues by which you can see Murphy winning. Shevchenko is an all-around great fighter with few weaknesses.
If she wants to keep the fight at kickboxing distance, she will pick Murphy apart with her quickness and power. If Murphy chooses to grapple, Shevchenko will counter with a strong clinch game and slowly pulverize her.
Murphy is a great story. She has continued to get better and has definitely made the most of her physical abilities. But nice stories don’t win championships.
Shevchenko should roll here, and the only thing that could keep it from ending early is Murphy’s toughness.
Prediction: Shevchenko via decision
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The return of Nick Diaz is one of the major storylines of UFC 266. Reuniting him with Robbie Lawler more than 15 years after they fought the first time is sure to bring some nostalgia.
But Diaz was on a three-fight winless streak when he walked away from the sport. Lawler hasn’t won a fight in four tries. At this point, both are this high on the card from name recognition.
The third biggest fight on the card in terms of stakes is Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the heavyweight division.
The bout puts Blaydes’ dominant wrestling game against the knockout power of Rozenstruik. It’s a matchup that Blaydes has seen plenty of times. He holds wins over Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, Junior dos Santos and Alexander Volkov.
Granted, his losses have come to Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis, but fighting a formidable striker isn’t new for Blaydes.
Rozenstruik hasn’t seen many elite wrestlers, though. His biggest wins have come against the likes of Andrei Arlovski, Overeem, Dos Santos and Augusto Sakai—none of which are takedown artists.
It’s hard to pick what you haven’t seen, and there are too many unknowns about Rozenstruik’s takedown defense to go with him here.
Prediction: Blaydes via second-round TKO
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