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UFC 294: Makhachev v Volkanovski 2 Predictions

Featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski steps up on short notice to take a second shot at becoming a double champion when he challenges Islam Makhachev for the lightweight title in the main event of UFC 294 at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night. 


Featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski steps up on short notice to take a second shot at becoming a double champion when he challenges Islam Makhachev for the lightweight title in the main event of UFC 294 at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The co-headliner also got a makeover with a second all-time great, Kamaru Usman, coming in on 10 days’ notice to battle the boogeyman of the UFC in Khamzat Chimaev, with the winner set to earn a shot at the middleweight title.

Plus, elite light heavyweights Magomed Ankalaev and Johnny Walker go to war, Ikram Aliskerov and Warlley Alves meet in a middleweight match-up and Said Nurmagomedov and Muin Gafurov go toe-to-toe at bantamweight.

MAIN CARD (from 8 PM Saturday SA time):

Islam Makhachev (1.35) v Alexander Volkanovski (3.30) (Lightweight Championship)

How quickly things change. Makhachev (24-1) had been preparing for a different rematch, against Charles Oliveira, the man he took the lightweight championship from with an arm triangle choke last October.

However, news broke last Wednesday that “Do Bronx” had been forced out of the fight with a deep cut he suffered during training and that Volkanovski (26-2) had signed on to step in on short notice.

“The Great” made Makhachev look mortal for the first time when they collided in the former’s home country Down Under in February, but the latter left Australia with his title following a hard-fought decision victory. It was the first loss of Volkanovski’s 13-fight UFC career and brought an end to his remarkable 22-fight win streak overall.

After his calls for an immediate rematch were denied, Volkanovski returned to his kingdom at 145 pounds, where he made a statement by smashing interim titleholder Yair Rodriguez in July to further cement himself as the greatest featherweight of all time and he now gets his wish to run it back with the 155-pound champion.

Volkanovski has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Come up short and he would’ve done so on less than two weeks’ notice and up a weight class. All the pressure is squarely on Makhachev, especially with the fight taking place in front of expectant fans at his home away from home. 

Volkanovski feels, and rightfully so, that he has the skillset to get the job done. His speed, high-level striking, Einstein-esque fight IQ and the surprisingly effective way his strength and wrestling translated up a weight class in their first fight make “Volk” Makhachev’s worst nightmare.

The 5’6″ Australian ace’s tactical prowess – knowing exactly when and how to strike and when and how to clinch and grapple – is as exceptional and key to his success as his world-class complete skills. Furthermore, he has a competitive fire that burns like a thousand suns and doesn’t have an ounce of quit in him, which famously saw him somehow survive two fully-synced-in chokes in his successful title defence against Brian Ortega back in 2021.

The question is, is all of that enough to dethrone Makhachev and become just the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold two titles simultaneously behind Conor McGregor (featherweight and lightweight), Daniel Cormier (light heavyweight and heavyweight), Amanda Nunes (bantamweight and featherweight) and Henry Cejudo (flyweight and bantamweight)?

Makhachev is such a monster wrestler and sambo savant that he’s dominated every lightweight he’s come across and controlled Volkanovski at times to escape with a razor-thin decision victory that stretched the 5’10” Russian’s winning streak to 12.

A smart fighter in his own right, he would’ve taken a lot of lessons out of the first fight and knows exactly what to expect this time around as it relates to the strength, conditioning and game plan of the 145-pound titleholder.  

Makhachev’s title-winning submission of Oliveira was his 11th win by tapout and 15th career finish, while Volkanovski’s title defence against Rodriguez was his 13th win by KO/TKO and 16th career finish. I cannot see one stopping the other, though.

Having had a full training camp the first go-around and coming up just short, Volkanovski’s on the back foot in the rematch. He’s a consummate professional, however, he’s not in the shape he’d like to be in, both in terms of conditioning and added functional muscle, and in a fight where the smallest of margins separate two great champions, that should see Makhachev earn another decision victory.

Prediction: Makhachev by decision.
Best Bet: Makhachev by decision at 2.40.
Alternative Bet: Fight to go the distance at 1.83.

Kamaru Usman (3.45) v Khamzat Chimaev (1.32) (Middleweight)

A warrior and competitor to the core, Usman (20-3 with nine knockouts and one submission) is stepping up in more ways than one. With Paulo Costa out due to injury, “The Nigerian Nightmare” answered the call on 10 days’ notice to fight a freak of nature most want no part of.

On top of that, the former long-time welterweight king – second only to Georges St-Pierre in terms of all-time greats at 170 pounds – is moving up to middleweight (a 15-pound leap) for the first time to do so. It’s a steep mountain to climb, a treacherous trek up a volcano-laden landscape. 

His willingness to do so, and Chimaev’s willingness to fight a new opponent, have prompted UFC president Dana White to make the co-main event blockbuster a title eliminator, with South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis – the No 1-ranked contender at 185 pounds – once again slighted.

Usman is an elite athlete and one of the most complete fighters, both when it comes to skills and intelligence, to ever compete inside the Octagon. Coming from a wrestling background, he has a wrestler’s work ethic and little to no weaknesses, but back-to-back title losses to Leon Edwards have left his future uncertain.

Before his battles with “Rocky”, Usman was on a 19-fight win streak including an all-time welterweight record run of 15 wins in the UFC. So, why is he such a big underdog for the first time in his career? The answer is two-fold.

Chimaev, who’s a perfect 12-0 with 11 finishes (six knockouts and five submissions), is unlike any fighter in UFC history. “Borz” is a next-level destroyer, an eater of men who’s mauled all comers bar Gilbert Burns, his only victim who lasted the full three rounds.

Freakishly strong, the monster grappler has a massive size advantage, which is something Usman won’t be able to overcome. The 36-year-old legend will be a stiff, pedigreed challenge, but the night will belong to local favourite Chimaev.

Prediction: Chimaev by decision.
Best Bet: Chimaev by decision at 3.75.
Alternative Bet: Over 2.5 rounds at 2.30.

Magomed Ankalaev (1.27) v Johnny Walker (3.85) (Light Heavyweight)

Top-10 light heavyweights throw down in the featured bout. Second-ranked Ankalaev (18-1-1) is aiming to make a statement after his last fight left a bitter taste in fans’ and, more importantly, UFC boss White’s mouth. Fighting former champion Jan Blachowicz for the vacant title at UFC 282, the bout was a dire duel that ended in a draw

White was so frustrated and disappointed by both combatants that he booked Glover Teixeira versus Jamahal Hill for the title instead of a rematch, with the latter crowned champion by decision. However, Hill was forced to relinquish the belt because of injury and Jiri Prochazka and Alex Pereira will now vie for the gold next month.

With his Dagestani roots, Ankalaev has solid grappling but his striking is his bread and butter. He has nine wins by knockouts while his only defeat came in his UFC debut against Paul Craig back in 2018, a fight he was a second away from winning before being caught in a Hail Mary submission. 

Seventh-ranked Walker (21-7) is a tall and rangy striker whose aggression will force Ankalaev to engage. Touted as a future champion when he initially made waves, Walker had a cooling down period but has turned things around tremendously, going from four losses in five fights to stringing together a three-fight win streak. 

Aligning with John Kavanagh, Conor McGregor’s coach, has made a world of difference as he’s now more dangerous than ever, using his extraordinarily long limbs more wisely and working behind a spear-like jab.

With that in mind and, given Walker has a 90% finish rate (16 knockouts and three submissions) and can end the fight with a single blow, the Brazilian’s arguably the best underdog of the main card.

Having said that, I see Ankalaev using Walker’s aggression against him and landing the crisper, more precise strikes to stop him in his tracks.

Prediction: Ankalaev by knockout.

Best Bet: Ankalaev by KO/TKO/DQ at 2.00.

Alternative Bet: Ankalaev by KO/TKO/Submission/DQ at 1.86.

Ikram Aliskerov (1.16) v Warlley Alves (5.55) (Middleweight)

In yet another rebooked bout, hot prospect Aliskerov (14-1) faces a veteran Alves (14-6) instead of his original opponent Nassourdine Imavov.

It’s a big downgrade for the former, who now faces an unranked fighter who normally competes at welterweight, while it’s a golden opportunity for the latter to shoot straight into the middleweight rankings with an upset win.

Aliskerov kicked the door down in his UFC debut by knocking out Phil Hawes to take his win streak to six, with five of them being finishes (two knockouts and three submissions).

Alves is back at middleweight for the first time since winning season three of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil in 2014. Since handing Colby Covington the first loss of his career the following year, he failed to climb the ladder and finds himself on a two-fight losing streak and having fought just twice in the last two years. 

This is all about Aliskerov, who’ll pore the pressure onto his undersized opponent and get him out of there early.

Prediction: Aliskerov by knockout.

Best Bet: Aliskerov by KO/TKO/DQ at 2.20.

Alternative Bet: Aliskerov by KO/TKO/Submission/DQ at 1.40.

Said Nurmagomedov (1.48) v Muin Gafurov (2.70) (Bantamweight)

The crowd will be behind Nurmagomedov (17-3) in the main card opener as the Dagestani bantamweight contender looks to bounce back from a decision loss to Jonathan Martinez, which halted a four-fight win streak.

A fluid fighter who seamlessly mixes striking and grappling, he’s a proven pugilist inside the UFC with a 6-2 record and four finishes (two knockouts and two submissions) in the promotion.

Gafurov (18-5) good account of himself in a short-notice loss to John Castaneda in his UFC debut in June and eyes his first victory inside the Octagon with a full camp behind him this time around.

With all but one of his wins coming by stoppage (10 knockouts and seven submissions), “Tajik” is a terror – especially with his ground-and-pound – but Nurmagomedov has the skills and big-time experience to defend most of his takedown attempts and weather the storm.

Prediction: Nurmagomedov by decision.

Best Bet: Nurmagomedov by decision at 2.80.

Alternative Bet: Nurmagomedov at 1.48.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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