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UFC 298: Volkanovski v Topuria Predictions

Featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski is out to vanquish undefeated challenger Ilia Topuria and prove a point in the process in a can’t-miss main event title tilt at UFC 298 in Anaheim on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.


Featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski is out to vanquish undefeated challenger Ilia Topuria and prove a point in the process in a can’t-miss main event title tilt at UFC 298 in Anaheim on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The co-headliner at the Honda Center will see former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker collide with Paulo Costa, while Merab Dvalishvili and ex-two-division champion Henry Cejudo clash in what’s likely a bantamweight title eliminator.

Plus, rising welterweight star Ian Machado Garry seeks to stay unbeaten when he battles Geoff Neal and Anthony Hernandez goes toe-to-toe with Roman Kopylov at middleweight.

MAIN CARD (from 5 AM Sunday SA time):

Alexander Volkanovski (1.80) v Ilia Topuria (2.05) (Featherweight Championship)

Volkanovski (26-3) is amongst the top 1% of UFC athletes. At 35, he’s cemented himself as the greatest featherweight of all time. He’s ruled over the 145-pound division, where he is unbeaten, for over four years and has defended his title on five occasions.

His only two losses in the last 10 years came when he moved up a division in search of double champ status against lightweight titleholder Islam Makhachev. He pushed the dominant Dagestani star to the limit in their first meeting last February, succumbing by decision, and in his most recent fight he stepped up on short notice to take a second crack at Makhachev, only to be knocked out in the first round.

Taking a fight on short notice is always a gamble and it played directly into the result, but in the eyes of the leading featherweight contenders, Volkanovski is vulnerable. They’re sharks smelling blood in the water and the biggest and baddest of the bunch at the moment is an undefeated force from Georgia.

A new breed of beast, Topuria has racked up 14 straight wins – six of which came inside the Octagon – to earn his first title shot. A potent predator who always seeks to finish his foes, he’s only gone to a decision twice and boasts four knockouts and eight submissions.

The confident 27-year-old won’t take a backward step to the champion, but does he have the technical savviness and cardio to go the full five rounds for the first time if needed? Those are the two burning questions when it comes to “El Matador.”

Volkanovski is one of the smartest fighters in the business. His Einstein-esque fight IQ, tactical prowess, speed and seemingly endless gas tank are what’s made him unstoppable at featherweight. While he’s able to go toe-to-toe with Topuria in a fire-fight, he’s a master of playing the long game, having gone the full 25 minutes five times.

For “The Great”, this is an opportunity to prove he’s still the gold standard at 145 and he can do so by relying on his intelligence and championship experience to dictate the pace of the fight and drag Topuria into deep, uncharted waters.

The Australian ace will have to weather an early storm but that’s nothing new to him. With a full training camp, the real Volk will show up in Anaheim and return to form to turn back yet another hungry challenger.

Prediction: Volkanovski by decision.

Best Bet: Volkanovski at 1.80.

Alternative Bet: Volkanovski by decision at 3.40.

Robert Whittaker (1.40) v Paulo Costa (3.05) (Middleweight)

The co-main event is a battle of technique versus power between two members of the middleweight elite.

Former champion Whittaker (24-7) is arguably the most complete 185-pounder on the planet. He’s been at or near the top of the division for close to a decade with his only losses in the last nine years being to former titleholder Israel Adesanya and current king Dricus du Plessis in his last fight.

Prior to that setback, “The Reaper” pulled off a dominant decision win over Marvin Vettori at UFC Paris. Fast, slick and cerebral, third-ranked Whittaker is as athletic as he is intelligent, marrying magnificent striking with excellent footwork and solid grappling.

Sixth-ranked Costa (14-2) is a feared striker with dynamite in his hands and 11 knockouts to his name. The muscle-bound Brazilian hasn’t fought since defeating former champion Luke Rockhold in a three-round war in August 2022.

“Borrachinha” was expected to face Khamzat Chimaev last October but was forced out of the fight with a serious staph infection and needs to get inside the Octagon to turn words into action and push towards another title shot.

Costa has a puncher’s chance, but that’s about it. Whittaker is too fast, too clever and too technical and will pick Costa apart en route to a decision victory.

Prediction: Whittaker by decision.

Best Bet: Whittaker by decision at 2.10.

Alternative Bet: Whittaker at 1.40.

Geoff Neal (2.90) v Ian Machado Garry (1.43) (Welterweight)

Top-10 welterweights with a score to settle throwdown in the featured bout.

One of the brightest and most exciting prospects in the UFC, Machado Garry is a perfect 13-0 with eight finishes and is coming off a dominant decision win over veteran Neil Magny, his sixth inside the Octagon.

Aptly nicknamed “The Future”, the 25-year-old floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee, to borrow a quote from the legendary Muhammad Ali, using his range, accuracy and agility to piece up opponents. 

Ultra-confident and outspoken, he’s been compared to Conor McGregor and like his countryman, the Irishman has made things personal by wearing a t-shirt with Neil’s mug shot on it.

Neal, who’s 15-5, is a power puncher of note. “Handz of Steel” has routinely lived up to his nickname and has won nine of his fights by knockout, including upsetting Vicente Luque before having his two-fight win streak snapped by the undefeated Shavkat Rakhmonov last time out.

Two places above Machado Garry in the rankings in eighth, the hard-hitting southpaw is set to struggle with the speed and ranginess of his rival. Much like he did to Magny, Machado Garry will pepper his more compact American adversary to stay unbeaten and will most likely get it done by decision.

Prediction: Machado Garry by decision.

Best Bet: Machado Garry by decision at 2.40.

Alternative Bet: Machado Garry at 1.43.

Merab Dvalishvili (1.45) v Henry Cejudo (2.80) (Bantamweight)

Two of the best wrestlers to ever step foot inside the Octagon lock horns with a bantamweight title shot likely on the line.

Dvalishvili (16-4) epitomises relentlessness in mixed martial arts terms. In defeating former champion Petr Yan last time out to stretch his winning streak to 10, the Georgian grappler lived up to his “Machine” moniker by setting a UFC record for most takedown attempts in a single fight with no less than 49.

In Cejudo (16-3), he faces one of the greatest combat sports athletes of all time. An Olympic gold medallist and a former two-division UFC champion, “Triple C” came out of retirement on a mission for more gold.

After dropping a decision to Aljamain Sterling in their title fight back in May, he plans to wrest the next championship opportunity away from his streaking opponent.

Dvalishvili is essentially a younger version of Cejudo, who at 37, isn’t the fast and furious fighter he was in his prime. Therefore, Dvalishvili’s pace and pressure should see him outwork the future Hall of Famer in a fight destined to go the distance.

Prediction: Dvalishvili by decision.

Best Bet: Dvalishvili by decision at 1.74.

Alternative Bet: Dvalishvili at 1.45.

Anthony Hernandez (1.40) v Roman Kopylov (3.05) (Middleweight)

The main card gets underway with a meeting of streaking middleweights. With both combatants having won four on the trot, this is a big platform for them to prove they are a rising force to be reckoned with.

A strong grappler with seven wins by submission, Hernandez (11-2) is a high-octane pressure fighter who stays in an opponent’s face and constantly shoots for takedowns. From there, “Fluffy” uses heavy top control to fire off shots and set up submissions.

A dynamic striker, Kopylov (12-2) has claimed all but one of his wins by knockout. The Russian is a technical kickboxer with good distance management, which will be key in this clash.

His array of kicks will serve him well, provided his foot doesn’t get caught and lead to him being grounded, and he’s a good counter-striker as well.

Crucially, Kopylov has top-tier takedown defence (92% – the same as his knockout ratio), which should enable him to keep the fight standing, and as the superior striker, he’s a live underdog with my backing.

Prediction: Kopylov by knockout.

Best Bet: Kopylov at 3.05.

Alternative Bet: Kopylov by KO/TKO/DQ at 4.50.

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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