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UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega staff picks and predictions

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Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for UFC 266.

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The Bloody Elbow staff has made its picks for Saturday’s UFC 266 card in Las Vegas, and we are going with Alexander Volkanovski over Brian Ortega in the main event. No one is feeling adventurous enough to pick Lauren Murphy to unseat Valentina Shevchenko as women’s flyweight champion. Most of us are going with Robbie Lawler to get some revenge on Nick Diaz and spoil his highly anticipated comeback.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega

Anton Tabuena: Ortega has clearly improved his striking, but I don’t think it’s at the point that he will be able to outstrike someone like Volkanovski. It will also be hard for him to take the champion down and control him, so I expect this to be pretty straight forward. Ortega will strike with him for long stretches, and Volkanovski will slowly chip away and pick him apart. Not sure if he can finish, and he’ll need to be very careful and disciplined on clinch exchanges, but this is Volkanovski’s fight to lose, and I expect this to be pretty one sided for the majority of the contest. Alexander Volkanovski by decision.

Mookie Alexander: This is such a difficult fight to pick and really a wild card for me is any potential physical diminishing of Volkanovski after getting a pretty bad case of COVID-19. Pre-COVID, I remain in awe of how Volkanovski pretty much got Max Holloway to fight at his pace and totally prevented the rollercoaster of offense from ever taking off. I see Ortega as the more dangerous threat to abruptly finish a fight (whether through striking or grappling) and certainly he looked like a much improved defensive fighter against Chan Sung Jung last time out, but that’s still a one-fight sample size and Volkanovski is nothing like The Korean Zombie in terms of styles. It’s a gamble but I believe Volkanovski is capable of surviving Ortega’s submission hunting and he will use his leg kicks to impact Ortega’s movement and land the more powerful strikes up top. Ortega is going to have his moments but not enough of them in a back-and-forth thriller. Alexander Volkanovski by unanimous decision.

Ram Gilboa: Not complaining, just stating that it’s hard to predict MMA, and it’s borderline fortune-telling when the two fighters have been away from the ring for a year or so. And there was a global novel pandemic during that year, with one of the fighters catching it. But, that said, I sense an upset in this one. Volkanovski gets entangled in a late scramble and Ortega snatches his neck. We’ll see. Brian Ortega by submission, round 4.

Zane Simon: In some ways, Brian Ortega is an entirely new problem for Volkanovski to solve. Say what you will about the incredible technical skill of Max Holloway, or the power striking of Jose Aldo, but they’re fighters with very defined finishing threats. Let Aldo whip power shots at you and he can knock you out. Let Max Holloway build momentum, and he can drown you with volume on the way to a TKO. Ortega is something different. A fighter showing himself to be an increasingly dangerous, and somewhat unpredictable counterpunching threat, who is also an absolute submission wizard. Can Volkanovski stay controlled and safe? Can he win rounds while giving Ortega as few opportunities to snatch a win? I think so. Volkanovski’s career at the elite levels has been marked by his consistency and caution. He seems like exactly the fighter to nullify the most dangerous parts of Ortega’s game and put out enough volume to win the rounds. But he’ll be walking a tightrope all the way through it, and any one slip could spell disaster. Alexander Volkanovski by decision.

Staff picking Volkanovski: Anton, Stephie, Lewis, Zane
Staff picking Ortega: Dayne, Ram

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy

Anton Tabuena: I’m impressed at Murphy’s run and how she earned a well deserved title fight at 38-years-old. Unfortunately, since she’s up against someone like Shevchenko, I expect this one to be significantly more lopsided than the main event. Valentina Shevchenko by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: Glad that Lauren Murphy got her title shot. She’s had a lot of personal battles and career setbacks and persevered through both to get this opportunity. There is virtually no way she beats Valentina Shevchenko. The only question is whether or not she’ll be not torn to shreds like Jennifer Maia or completely destroyed like Jessica Eye or Jessica Andrade. I actually lean towards this fight being more close to what Shevchenko did vs. Maia. Valentina Shevchenko by unanimous decision.

Ram Gilboa: The thing is, an MMA fight consists of so many conditions and variables – an inch, a second, a punch, a takedown can change the entire course and/or outcome – that a good match up is basically a constant die roll; a lot of different results can turn out. To the subject, Lauren Murphy is big for the weight class, and as tough as they come, and is the uncommon WMMA flyweight that on the feet warrants an instant concussion caution. That said, the overall physical and mostly skill gap between her and Shevchenko is just too wide to bridge with anything short of a divine intervention, and while those are an occurrence in Vegas, never bet on them. Valentina Shevchenko by TKO, round 5.

Zane Simon: Shevchenko is stronger, a more technical striker, and a better wrestler. There’s a chance for Murphy to have a Maia moment and take advantage of a busted takedown attempt to wind up on top where she’s got a fantastic lock-down grappling game. But even that only won Maia one round. Otherwise Murphy likely just doesn’t have the power to trade at range with Valentina or the pure wrestling chops to force her into consistently bad spots. Valentina Shevchenko via TKO, Round 3.

Staff picking Shevchenko: Anton, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Lewis, Ram, Zane
Staff picking Murphy:

Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler 2

Anton Tabuena: I would definitely love to be proven wrong here, but no matter how much of a fan I am of Diaz and what he’s done, I don’t think he can just return from years of mostly partying and drinking to suddenly get his first win in a decade. I’m happy he seems to have gone back to a much healthier lifestyle in recent months, but I’m not sure he should be back fighting again. It’s good that he’s facing a fellow vet in Lawler instead of just being sacrificed to a young rising star, but I think the outcome will be the same. I wish he proves me wrong, but five rounds isn’t going to benefit Diaz at all, and it probably just guarantees a worse beating if he survives early. Robbie Lawler by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: I’m going to be the grump here and say there’s a high chance this fight isn’t actually good. Lawler will thankfully not be dealing with a persistent takedown threat for the first time in ages, but even still I wonder how gunshy he’s become over the last couple of years. Diaz hasn’t actually been all that competitive or looked demonstrably impressive since the B.J. Penn beatdown, which was ten years ago. With a six-year layoff I just can’t envision us getting vintage Nick. I expect some classic Diaz brother antics in the cage but in terms of actual action I believe this is going to disappoint. Lawler will have more round-winning offense and win a lackluster decision. Robbie Lawler by unanimous decision.

Ram Gilboa: UFC 266 will actually feature the return of two old fan favorites in Vegas, the International Fight Week and Nick Diaz, for the one I’m afraid it’s still too early, and for the other that it is a little too late. An old Boxing adage is “They never come back”, which means that the fighter who makes a comeback is not the same fighter who retired from the ring. Now, 39 years old Robbie Lawler is 0-4 in the last 4 years, with the asterisk of the Askren fight, and arguably he hasn’t looked Ruthless since that fight, in March 2019. But he’s been fighting. 38 years old Diaz was last seen in the beginning of 2015 - that’s a very long time fighting, or not fighting. And I don’t know what’s the exact story with that promo shadow boxing video outtake that surfaced, but he did look there like he took a boxing seminar with Ronda Rousey, or unfortunately Jake Shields’ stand up rubbed off on him instead of the other way around. Anyway, all this – and a 5 rounds fight for some reason – doesn’t bode very well for him, or honestly, probably for anyone, really. Robbie Lawler by TKO, round 3

Zane Simon: I’m glad to see Diaz smiling and looking less shapeless on the scales than he did for fight week promos. But I can’t shake the feeling that the fire for a return to glory just isn’t there. Last time he fought, against Anderson Silva, it felt like a parody of the fighter who had been so feared in Strikeforce. The gesturing, the posturing, the attitude were all on display. But the ability to pull the trigger and really go through hell to get a win wasn’t. Lawler’s looked less at ease mixing it up in the pocket lately as well, letting Colby Covington jab him apart, and even shooting in on Neil Magny multiple times. But, I have to assume that he’s still in a better place to win this, even if they spend the bulk of the fight just daring one another to actually do something reckless. Robbie Lawler via decision.

Staff picking Diaz: Dayne, Lewis
Staff picking Lawler: Anton, Mookie, Stephie, Ram, Zane

Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Anton Tabuena: Wrestling. Curtis Blaydes by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: Every bit the chance Rozenstruik just bombs out Blaydes and at that point I don’t really know what else to say for Curtis’ title hopes. But beyond that he ought to be taking this with a lot of wrestling and monstrous ground-and-pound. Curtis Blaydes by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I’m always going to worry a bit about Blaydes against huge punchers, just because I think there’s a real deep seated indecisiveness about how he wants to fight in the Octagon. He’s clearly put lots of work into his boxing, but a smooth transition to takedowns from punches has never quite materialized. If he makes himself predictable, Rozenstruik can absolutely crack him with something. But, ‘Bigi Boy’ also stands remarkably flat footed and has really poor takedown defending reactions, so he should absolutely be primed for Blaydes’ shot, even if he can see it coming. Curtis Blaydes via decision.

Staff picking Blaydes: Anton, Dayne, Stephie, Ram, Zane
Staff picking Rozenstruik: Lewis

Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo

Mookie Alexander: Calvillo doesn’t have enough overall skill to offset Andrade’s strength advantage and isn’t powerful or a good enough striker to avoid eating heavier shots if/when she attempts to wrestle. Basically this boils down to whether or not Andrade will get caught in a sub. That seems unlikely. Jessica Andrade by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Between the two, Andrade is just much more likely to be the aggressor standing, and she’s the only one that finds consistent ways to finish bouts. There’s a chance Andrade throws herself into trouble taking Calvillo to the mat, but even then, I trust Andrade to make it back to her feet and not repeat the mistake. Jessica Andrade via decision.

Staff picking Andrade: Anton, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Lewis, Ram, Zane
Staff picking Calvillo:

Marlon Moraes vs. Merab Dvalishvili

Mookie Alexander: If Moraes can keep this standing he’s got a good chance given he still is a super dangerous offense fighter. However, I don’t trust his cardio to hold up and Dvalishvili can seemingly fight forever at that insane pace while spamming takedowns behind pressure kickboxing. Merab Dvalishvili by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: There really is a test of skill here for Dvalishvili, who is putting more time and energy into his boxing game and finding that as a greater path to victory against top tier talent who are hard to control on the mat. And, for all his recent woes, Moraes has rarely been a fighter to just get taken down and controlled. Is Dvalishvili really a good enough striker to hang with Moraes if he can’t take him down? Maybe not. But the fact that pace and pressure were such a breaking point for Moraes against Cejudo, coupled with the recent feeling that any one bomb that lands starts a landslide against him, and the prevailing fear of another Moraes loss is just a bit too thick in the air to pick him. Dvalishvili has never been KO’d, he’s absolutely tireless. And even if he can’t control Moraes, that’s not to say he can’t just shoot takedowns for 15 minutes straight. Merab Dvalishvili via TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Moraes:
Staff picking Dvalishvili: Anton, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Ram, Zane

Dan Hooker vs. Nasrat Haqparast

Anton Tabuena: I’m not sure how either man looks after their weight cuts are likely going to be affected by visa issues, but just looking at the match up, Hooker should have the edge. Dan Hooker by Decision.

Mookie Alexander: Honestly both men should get bonus money for making weight without issue given the visa problems they both had. Love watching Haqparast fight but short of him catching Hooker the way Michael Chandler did, Dan is more technical and he’s going to pick Nasrat apart and stop him late. Dan Hooker by TKO, round 3.

Zane Simon: I’m shocked they both made the fight. I’m shocked they both made weight. I’m kinda just shocked the whole thing is going ahead as planned. That said, given their equally disastrous fight weeks, I gotta consider them to be on pretty equal footing in terms of X factors. Which means I’m still picking Hooker as the more dangerous, creative striker in the cage. There’s a chance for Haqparast to go out and just smoke him, but he likes to start slow and build momentum. Give Hooker time, and he’ll usually find ways to hurt you. Dan Hooker via TKO, round 3.

Staff picking Hooker: Anton, Dayne, Stephie, Lewis, Zane
Staff picking Haqparast: Ram

Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Chris Daukaus

Zane Simon: Abdurakhimov definitely has the skill to be the first setback of Daukaus’ UFC career. But there’s something about the Philly native that makes me think his run doesn’t end here. In part, that’s because Abdurakhimov is now 40 and coming off 2 years on the sidelines. In part it’s also just because heavyweight has a habit of rewarding fighters that can regularly shock their opponents, and Abdurakhimov isn’t the most durable guy the division has ever seen. Either way, I’m taking a flyer on Daukaus. Chris Daukaus via TKO, round 1.

Staff picking Abdurakhimov: Anton, Dayne, Ram
Staff picking Daukaus: Mookie, Stephie, Zane

Roxanne Modafferi vs. Taila Santos

Zane Simon: Modafferi is a lot more consistent and confident in knowing what fight she wants to have in the cage, so there’s a real opportunity for her to out-work Santos while Santos tries to get comfortable. But there are also just a lot of athletic realities at play here, all of which are in the Brazilian’s favor. She hits hard, and if she can get top position, she looks like a very capable, controlling grappler on the mat. Would love to see Modafferi work the razor’s edge for another win, but I’m taking Taila Santos by decision.

Staff picking Modafferi: Anton
Staff picking Santos: Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Ram, Zane

Uros Medic vs. Jalin Turner

Zane Simon: I have a lot more faith in the well-roundedness of Turner’s game if he can get this fight outside the first round. That said, the first round might be pretty wild and violent. And I love the fluidity and confidence Medic has in his arsenal. Jalin Turner via TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Medic: Anton, Dayne
Staff picking Turner: Mookie, Stephie, Ram, Zane

Nick Maximov vs. Cody Brundage

Zane Simon: This feels like a much more winnable fight for Maximov against another wrestler who’s not that confident trading bombs standing. Still, I won’t lie, Maximov’s can crushing record on his way to the UFC doesn’t inspire confidence (and his Contender Series win didn’t either). Nick Maximov via decision.

Staff picking Maximov: Anton, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Ram, Zane
Staff picking Brundage:

Matt Semelsberger vs. Martin Sano

Anton Tabuena: I’m guessing Sano made it to the UFC off two losses mostly because he is Diaz’s training partner? Matt Semelsberger by decision.

Ram Gilboa: In addition to what Tabuena said, if one or both of the fighters are obscure, go with the guy with the more unusual or complicated last name. Matt Semelsberger by KO, round 1.

Zane Simon: Yeah, until I saw pics of him hanging out with Diaz, Sano’s signing was a complete mystery to me. He didn’t look good on Bellator prelims, and I don’t have much in the way of expectations here. Matthew Semelsberger via TKO, round 1.

Staff picking Semelsberger: Anton, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Ram, Zane
Staff picking Sano:

Omar Morales vs. Jonathan Pearce

Zane Simon: Pearce may be tall and long, but I haven’t seen much in the way of range striking out of him. Instead he tends to lunge through open space into the pocket, where he can trade short hooks and force grappling exchanges. To that end, I think Morales is just too big and strong for Pearce to get to the mat easily, and is too deft working outside for Pearce to hang around with and try to charge at. Omar Morales via decision.

Staff picking Morales: Anton, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Pearce: Dayne, Stephie

Poll

Who wins the two title fights?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Volkanovski and Shevchenko
    (501 votes)
  • 1%
    Volkanovski and Murphy
    (11 votes)
  • 32%
    Ortega and Shevchenko
    (257 votes)
  • 2%
    Ortega and Murphy
    (16 votes)
785 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who wins?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Nick Diaz
    (167 votes)
  • 70%
    Robbie Lawler
    (391 votes)
558 votes total Vote Now