UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega Preview
A preview of Saturday’s stacked UFC 266 card, which features two title fights.
By Stone Lexington
Updated: Sept. 23, 2021 • 9:25 AM ET
Brian Ortega - Wikimedia Commons
Featuring two title fights at the top of the card, UFC 266 will take place this Saturday. Below is a preview of the five fights from the loaded main card.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega
On a stacked UFC 266 card, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will defend the title against No. 2 ranked Brian Ortega in the main event on Saturday.
Volkanovski (22-1) has fought nine times in the UFC and has yet to taste defeat. With wins on his resume over Darren Elkins, Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo and Max Holloway (twice), Volkanovski is attempting to solidify his place as one of the greatest featherweights of all time.
He defeated Holloway in December 2019 by unanimous decision to win the featherweight championship and secured another victory over Holloway via a controversial split decision last July in his only title defense. Volkanovski was scheduled to make his second title defense against Ortega earlier this year, but he tested positive for COVID-19. The long-awaited bout will finally happen this weekend, and Ortega is a worthy challenger.
Ortega (15-1) has also had nine fights in the UFC, losing only once to Holloway in 2018. He has notable victories over Cub Swanson, Frankie Edgar and Chan Sung Jung, but Volkanovski may be his toughest test to date. Ortega is a submission specialist with three victories via submission in the UFC, and he could be looking to submit the champion on Saturday. In contrast, six of Volkanovski’s nine UFC wins have come by decision, while the other three have come via TKO.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy
Valentina Shevchenko has dominated the women’s flyweight division since 2018, winning her last seven fights impressively. She has only lost twice in her UFC career, both coming to current women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes. One of those losses came in only her second fight in the promotion in 2016, while the other loss came a little more than a year later via a controversial split decision. No other woman has come close to competing with Shevchenko.
Lauren Murphy (15-4) will get her shot at Shevchenko and the flyweight title on Saturday after winning her last five fights. During her five-fight winning streak, Murphy defeated Mara Romero Borella, Andrea Lee, Roxanne Modafferi, Liliya Shakirova and Joanne Calderwood. Murphy, however, has never faced an opponent as talented as Shevchenko.
Shevchenko (21-3) won the flyweight title with her victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2018, but the win over Jedrzejczyk isn’t the only impressive victory on her resume. Shevchenko has dominant victories over Jessica Eye, Liz Carmouche, Katlyn Chookagain, Jennifer Maia and most recently Jessica Andrade. If Shevchenko produces another spectacular performance against Murphy on Saturday, UFC fans may finally get what they’ve clamored for — a third fight against Nunes, who will be favored to get past Juliana Pena in December.
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Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
Nick Diaz will return to the Octagon for the first time in six years when he faces veteran Robbie Lawler this weekend. His hiatus from the Octagon came due to a five-year suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission because of multiple failed drug tests. The suspension, reportedly for marijuana use, still seems harsh.
Saturday’s fight against Lawler was originally expected to be contested at welterweight, but Diaz’s camp requested that the fight be moved to middleweight. Lawler, who agreed to the change in weight class, is no stranger to facing Diaz.
Lawler and Diaz have met in the Octagon before, fighting 17 years ago at UFC 47. Diaz knocked out Lawler in the second round, one of only two times Lawler has been knocked out in his 43-fight career. In his career, Diaz (26-9) also has impressive victories over Gleison TIbau, Frank Shamrock and B.J. Penn.
Diaz has fought in numerous organizations, including the UFC, PRIDE, Strikeforce, EliteXC, WEC, DREAM and Shooto. He’s a former Strikeforce and WEC champion, and he’s universally respected in the MMA community.
Lawler (28-15) has also competed in several organizations, including EliteXC, Strikeforce, PRIDE and the IFL. He’s a former UFC welterweight champion and EliteXC middleweight champion, and he could find himself in the UFC Hall of Fame one day. He’s the only fighter to have won three consecutive “Fight of the Year” awards from Sherdog and MMA Fighting for his bouts with Johny Hendricks (2014), Rory MacDonald (2015) and Carlos Condit (2016).
In his career, Lawler has notable victories over Josh Koscheck, MacDonald (twice), Jake Ellenberger, Matt Brown, Hendricks, Condit and Donald Cerrone. He has, however, lost five of his last six fights, including four straight. If he suffers another loss on Saturday, it’s reasonable to question whether his career will continue.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstriuk
Two heavyweights ranked in the top-six will meet in the Octagon on Saturday when the cage door closes on Curtis Blades and Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
The No. 4 ranked Blaydes (14-3) is coming off a devastating knockout loss to Derrick Lewis in February, which ended his four-fight winning streak. The only other losses in his career have come to current heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. Rozenstriuk, ranked No. 6 in the heavyweight division, also has an impressive resume.
Rozenstriuk has only lost twice in his professional career (12-2), the first coming in May 2020 to Ngannou and the other coming in February to interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane. After the loss to Gane, Rozenstriuk rebounded with a first-round TKO win over Augusto Sakai. Blaydes will be looking for the same sort of rebound this weekend after the surprising manner in which he lost to Lewis.
In his UFC career, Blaydes has notable wins over Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem, Shamil Abdurakhimov, Junior dos Santos and Alexander Volkov. Rozenstruik has impressive victories over Andrei Arlovski, Overeem and Dos Santos, but a win on Saturday could set him up for a title eliminator fight.
The winner of this fight could be one bout away from competing for the title.
Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo
Both coming off devastating losses, top-five flyweights Jessica Andrade and Cynthia Calvillo will meet in the opening bout of Saturday’s main card.
Andrade (21-9) challenged Shevchenko for the flyweight title in April, but she didn’t make it past the second round, losing by TKO to the dominant champion. It was her third loss in her last four fights, but the other two losses came to strawweight champion Rose Namajunas and No. 1 ranked strawweight Weili Zhang. Andrade does own a previous victory over Namajunas from May 2019, probably the most impressive win in her career.
Andrade has other notable victories over Jessica Penne, Joanne Calderwood, Angela Hill, Claudia Gadelha, Tecia Torres, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Katlyn Chookagain. However, even though she’s ranked No. 1 in the flyweight division, it’s difficult to imagine Andrade getting another shot at Shevchenko and the title with a victory on Saturday.
Calvillo (9-2-1), ranked No. 5 in the flyweight division, is coming off a loss to Chookagain last November. A win over Andrade this weekend would be the biggest of her career.
• Start time/how to watch: The main card can be seen on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. this Saturday.
Prelims on ESPNews and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. EST
Bantamweight bout - No. 6 Marlon Moraes vs. No. 11 Merab Dvalishvili
Lightweight bout - No. 8 Dan Hooker vs. Nasrat Haqparast
Heavyweight bout - No. 7 Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. No. 10 Chris Daukaus
Women’s flyweight bout - No. 9 Roxanne Modafferi vs. No. 12 Taila Santos
Early Prelims on UFC Fight Pass at 6 p.m. EST
Lightweight bout - Uros Medic vs. Jalin Turner
Middleweight bout - Cody Brundage vs. Nick Maximov
Welterweight bout - Matthew Semelsberger vs. Martin Sano
Featherweight bout - Jonathan Pearce vs. Omar Antonio Morales Ferrer