Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to pay-per-view (PPV) this Saturday (Sept. 25, 2021) with all guns blazing, featuring two title fights and a rematch nearly two decades in the making.
UFC 266’s main event sees Featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, and top contender Brian Ortega take their rivalry from The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) gym to the Octagon, while Valentina Shevchenko looks to defend her Flyweight title against Lauren Murphy one fight prior. In addition, the inimitable Nick Diaz returns from a lengthy absence to face Robbie Lawler and Heavyweights Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik attempt to re-enter contention at each others’ expense.
155 lbs.: Uros Medic vs. Jalin Turner
Uros Medic (7-0) — a career-long veteran of Alaska FC — kept his finishing streak going with a two-minute demolition of Mikey Gonzalez on the Contender Series. He was even more efficient in the UFC itself, battering Aalon Cruz into submission in just 100 seconds.
None of his professional fights have lasted more than six minutes.
Following a successful appearance on “Contender Series” that nonetheless failed to earn him a contract, Jalin Turner (10-5) stepped up on short notice to face Vicente Luque, who stopped him late in the first round. He’s gone on to win three of his next four, each of those victories by stoppage within two rounds.
“The Tarantula” stands two inches taller than Medic and boasts a 4.5-inch reach advantage.
It’s hard to argue that Medic doesn’t pass the eye test; “The Doctor’s” looked like a genuine monster on the feet and continues to improve under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro. That said, he’s definitely unproven. Cruz, the best opponent of his career by far, went winless in the Octagon and spent most of his career at Featherweight. Turner hasn’t exactly beaten a who’s-who of UFC foes himself, but he’s been tested quite a bit more than Medic, and that’s on top of his huge reach advantage and crushing power.
Though Turner doesn’t have the wrestling to exploit Medic’s most glaring weakness, I’m going with the more proven product. Another blitz from Medic wouldn’t be too outlandish, especially since Turner’s been stopped by strikes three times, but I like Turner to weather the storm, take Medic into deep waters, and put him down.
Prediction: Turner via second round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Manon Fiorot vs. Mayra Bueno Silva
Following a controversial decision loss in her professional debut, France’s Manon Fiorot (7-1) claimed titles in EFC and UAE Warriors en route to UFC. She has been similarly successful in the Octagon, stopping Victoria Leonardo and Tabatha Ricci during her 2021 campaign.
“Beast” has knocked out five opponents in a row and six overall.
Mayra Bueno Silva (7-1-1) followed her first-round submission on the Contender Series with a first-round submission in her UFC debut, only to spend nearly 18 months on the sideline and drop a decision to Maryna Moroz upon her return. She returned to the win column by tapping Mara Borella, then fought to a gritty draw against Montana De La Rosa.
“Sheetara” has scored five submission wins as a professional.
It’s a bit surprising, though definitely not unwelcome, that UFC elected to pit such entertaining and promising members of a talent-starved division against one another. At least Silva can take solace in the fact that she’s ostensibly got plenty of time to make another run after Fiorot kicks her back down the latter.
I’ve made no secret of how highly I rate Fiorot, and while wins over Leonardo and Ricci do not a contender make, she’s got the goods to beat Silva. “The Beast’s” mobile, powerful kickboxing attack figures to work well against the Brazilian’s straightforward stalking, and the former has demonstrated more than enough wrestling skill to take Silva’s lethal submission game out of the equation. So long as Fiorot doesn’t initiate the grappling herself or linger in the pocket in pursuit of a finish, she takes “Sheetara” apart at long range to make it 3-0 in UFC.
Prediction: Fiorot via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Karl Roberson vs. Nick Maximov
Karl Roberson (9-4) — half of just the third-ever “Contender Series” main event — punched his ticket to the world’s largest fight promotion by knocking out Ryan Spann in just 15 seconds. He claimed victory in four of first six UFC appearances, but enters the cage this Saturday on the heels of two consecutive submission defeats.
“Baby K” gives up two inches of reach to Maximov despite being the taller man.
Submission Underground regular Nick Maximov (6-0) went 6-0 in 3.5 months as a mixed martial arts (MMA) amateur before turning pro. He ended his first five professional bouts inside the distance to set up a spot in “Contender Series,” where he overcame a 54-pound weight disadvantage to win a decision over Oscar Cota.
He has submitted three professional foes and knocked out two others.
While Roberson’s grappling improvement has been laudable, it’s led to seem unfortunate decision-making. He nearly threw away a win against Wellington Turman by engaging the Brazilian in his wheelhouse, and his attempt to go submission-for-submission with Brendan Allen earned him a nasty heel hook for his troubles.
This is something of a competency test for his fight IQ. That’s because Maximov has no striking to speak of and is more of a determined wrestler than a highly skilled one. If Roberson remembers that he’s a kickboxer and keeps it standing, he’ll eat the Octagon newbie alive. If he tries to get cute, it’ll be either his third tapout loss in a row or a long and frustrating decision loss spent entirely on the bottom. I’ll give Roberson the benefit of the doubt and say he clobbers Maximov with the same Travis Browne elbows he used to finish Spann and nearly stop Glover Teixeira.
Prediction: Roberson via first round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Matthew Semelsberger vs. Martin Sano
After out-working Carlton Minus to a decision in his Octagon debut, Matthew Semelsberger (8-3) returned to his finishing ways with a 16-second wipeout of Jason Witt that earned him “Performance of the Night.” This set up a clash with Khaos Williams, who used a busy striking attack to snap Semelsberger’s five-fight win streak.
“Semi the Jedi” has ended six professional fights inside the distance, five of them by knockout.
A 4-0 professional start sent Martin Sano (4-2-1) to World Series of Fighting (WSOF), where he fell to Dominic Waters in his sole promotional appearance. He then took his talents to Bellator, where he suffered a knockout loss to Don Mohammed and subsequently drew with Diego Herzog.
This marks his first fight in 4.5 years.
I know that we’re long past the point where UFC can call itself a meritocracy with a straight face, but Sano’s signing is particularly egregious. He’s 0-2-1 in his last three, hasn’t won since 2014, and looked mediocre at best in recent efforts. He’s here because he trains with Nick Diaz, not because he’s a world-class mixed martial artist.
The Sano from 2017 didn’t look much better than the Sano from 2014, and Semelsberger would annihilate either of them on the feet. Sano’s little more than an overeager slugger with a good gas tank; Semelsberger hits more than hard enough to punish his poor defense. Barring unbelievable behind-the-scenes improvement on Sano’s part, Semelsberger lamps him quick.
Prediction: Semelsberger via first round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Jonathan Pearce vs. Omar Morales
Jonathan Pearce (10-4) went from losing three straight to stopping his next five opponents, culminating in a beatdown of Jacob Rosales on “Contender Series.” Though he suffered an upset loss to Joe Lauzon in his UFC debut, he returned to form by stopping Kai Kamaka III 13 months later.
All of his wins since his second pro fight have come by stoppage, seven of them via knockout.
Venezuela’s Omar Morales (11-1) smashed LFA champion, Harvey Park, on “Contender Series,” then followed that up with consecutive decisions over Dong Hyun Ma and Gabriel Benitez. Then came a drop to Featherweight, where he’s fallen to Giga Chikadze and outstruck Shane Young in successive efforts.
He is one inch shorter than Pearce, but will enjoy a 2.5-inch reach advantage.
I’ve picked Pearce’s last two fights incorrectly, which bodes ill for his chances here, but I do think he’s got what it takes to win. He’s by far the best grappler Morales has yet faced in the Octagon, and while he’s got some defensive issues and could be vulnerable to Morales’ signature low kicks, he’s much more active than the content-to-cruise “Venezuelan Fighter.” Morales’ reticence to push the pace looks like a key flaw here, as Pearce excels when he’s setting the tempo and walking his opponent down.
It’s all moot if Morales turns Pearce’s lead calf to jelly, of course, but Pearce’s toughness and persistence figure to pay dividends. Steady takedown attempts, constant aggression, and a deep gas tank carry him to a late ground-and-pound stoppage.
Prediction: Pearce via third round technical knockout
Four more UFC 266 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including pivotal clashes at Bantamweight and Lightweight. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 266 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPNEWS/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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