UFC Fight Night - PrelimsSep 24
Whew, where to start with this one?
Fight fans are set for a cracker on Saturday night as the UFC delivers an unbelievable bill at UFC 266 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The featherweight title will be on the line in the main event as Alexander Volkanovski defends his throne against TUF 29 rival coach Brian Ortega.
Valentina Shevchenko looks to embellish her legacy as one of the most dominant female champions in history as she defends her 125lb strap for the sixth time against Lauren Murphy.
And the Nick Diaz army will be out in force as the UFC legend returns to the Octagon after more than six years in the wilderness to face fellow fan favourite Robbie Lawler in a rematch of their UFC 47 meeting back in April 2004.
With all that - plus so much more - coming to your way on BT Sport 1HD on Saturday night, here are the main talking points ahead of UFC 266.
A fresh look for Volkanovski
Nobody will be more relieved than Alexander Volkanovski at the prospect of an exciting new match-up for the featherweight title this weekend.
Since May 2019, Volkanovski has endured an existence built around an obsession with beating one man: Max Holloway.
Over 10 hard-fought rounds, Volkanovski shocked Holloway to snatch the belt at UFC 245 before defending it on a razor-thin decision at UFC 251 a little over six months later.
Now freed from his bind with Holloway – at least temporarily – Volkanovski can look forward to the challenge of a new contender in the form of Brian Ortega this weekend.
And the 32-year-old is up for the challenge, telling ESPN earlier this month: “I’m looking to put hands on him and finish this fight.
I’m on another level right now
- Alexander Volkanovski
“That’s exactly what I want to do. Just winning isn’t enough. I want to go out there and finish this fight and put on a real good show for the fans. I want everyone leaving the arena to [think] ‘wow’.
“I’m on another level right now and I can’t wait to showcase my skills and put him away.”
Victory, however, could see Volkanovski reunited with an old foe sooner rather than later with Holloway likely just one win away from booking the trilogy fight after his memorable demolition job on Calvin Kattar earlier this year.
Holloway was set to face Yair Rodriguez in June before the bout was postponed until later this year when 'Blessed' was forced to withdraw through injury.
Despite both needing to win in order to set the trilogy up, Volkanovski already promised to demonstrate his dominance when the pair do clash for a third time, telling MMA reporter James Lynch: “I’m going to turn up the next fight 100 percent and I’m not going to give him any rounds just like the first fight. I’m going to start off stronger and I’m going to finish even stronger.
“But again, Max is a great fighter, hence why he is getting a third fight. He’s going out and taking out other guys and earning that No. 1 spot because he deserves to be right up there as well. So again, you gotta give credit where credit is due.
“It’s going to be a great fight, but I just think I’m going to be too much. By then, I’m going to be a whole different beast.”
There were never any doubts that Brian Ortega had the ability to become a UFC champion.
We saw enough of that on his blistering ascent through the lightweight ranks during his first run at the title back in 2018.
Pocketing three consecutive fight night bonuses on his way into a maiden UFC title fight, many believed Ortega would do the business against Max Holloway at UFC 231 to secure the gold.
But on the night, an exceptional Holloway exposed the one weakness in Ortega’s game, lighting up the California fighter on the feet during a mesmerising display of striking.
I think with what I have planned, I can take this man out
- Brian Ortega
Ortega subsequently took almost two years out of the game, partially enforced by injury, but returned against the Korean Zombie last October and produced an eye-catching performance, dominating the perennial contender with crisp, creative striking over five rounds.
It was a showing good enough to book Ortega back into a title fight at the first time of asking and ‘T-City’ has promised to make the most of his second opportunity at the belt.
Speaking in the build-up to UFC 266, a confident Ortega was full of praise for Volkanovski, saying: “He’s the champ, he has the belt for a reason; he beat Max twice. I take no credit from anyone. You have to look at their accomplishments and what they’re good at and what they’ve done. He’s got something that people don’t have, that the world has yet to catch up on.
“So I take nothing lightly, I look at everything and I see what I can look at and study from him. And say you know, 'this is why we fight'.
“You look at someone; you look at their skills and you study and you say ‘you know what, I think with what I have planned, I can take this man out’. That’s the game we’re in to entertain all these people with the fight.”
Can Ortega make good on his prediction?
One last dance for Diaz?
After a spell of almost six years out of the Octagon, many fans had given up hope of seeing Nick Diaz back in action under the UFC banner.
But on Saturday night, the 38-year-old cult hero will step onto the canvas in an unmissable comeback fight, taking on fellow legend Robbie Lawler in a rematch of their UFC 47 showdown.
Diaz took the spoils on that night, stopping Lawler during an impressive performance punctuated by the Stockton brawler's memorable trash-talking to establish himself as one of the top dogs.
Now, by his own admission, a much calmer man than the 20-year-old who faced Lawler back in 2004, Diaz has promised to let go of the ‘gangster’ image he portrayed during his previous run in the UFC, citing the influence of kids at his MMA gym on cooling him down.
“It’s hard to go back and keep it gangster or whatever,” Diaz told reporters this week.
“It’s not a good look. I don’t really want to push that ‘cause I want to teach… I like to teach the kids and they’re all grown up now. And putting in work with those kids, it’s really good for me ‘cause they go hard. I’m actually a way more dangerous fighter than I was when I fought Robbie Lawler the first time.
“I’m not going out there to call him names. I’m gonna be a lot more sportsmanlike out there. That’s not what won me the fight last time. That surprised him a little bit, but I would’ve won the fight, anyways.
“I’m gonna be really unstoppable, having made the right decision. So I’m gonna beat Robbie again.”
Whether this appearance on Saturday night is simply a swansong to one of the great combat careers or the start of a stunning comeback, we don’t know.
But there’s not a chance we’re going to miss it!
Who can stop Shevchenko?
One of the UFC’s most dominant champions returns in the co-main event at UFC 266 as Valentina ‘Bullet’ Shevchenko makes the sixth defence of her 125lb crown when she takes on Lauren Murphy this Saturday evening.
The odds look stacked against Murphy, 15-4, coming into this one, despite an impressive run of form that has seen her win five fights on the bounce.
That says more about the quality of her opponent than it does about Murphy; Shevchenko is truly a revelation in the women’s flyweight division.
Undefeated in the UFC against anyone not named Amanda Nunes, the Kyrgyzstani fighter is renowned as one of the most technical strikers on the entire UFC roster, coming into MMA as a multiple time Muay Thai and Kickboxing world champion.
And with stoppage wins in three of her five title defences so far, she’s become something of a crowd favourite too.
“Valentina Shevchenko, every time she gets out there she gets better,” Dan Hardy said on The War Room this week.
“The last time she was too much for her opponent so the next time around, what do we expect? She’s finding her groove and she’s making it easier each time.”
Will we see another masterclass from the champ - or can Murphy spring one of the greatest shocks in UFC title history?
Tune in to BT Sport 1HD from 1am on Saturday night to watch all the action from UFC 266.