Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to action later tonight (Sat., Sept. 25, 2021) with UFC 266, which features a championship doubleheader. In the pay-per-view (PPV) main event, Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will defend his title against Brian Ortega. In the co-main event, women’s Flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko, goes for title defense No. 6 when she takes on Lauren Murphy. And, of course, UFC 266’s PPV main card event will also feature the highly-anticipated return of Nick Diaz, who will dust off the gloves after a six-year layoff to take on Robbie Lawler in a rematch 17 years in the making.
For the first time since 2019, Volkanovski will face someone not named Max Holloway. After defeating the Hawaiian-born scrapper to win, and then defend, the 145-pound title, “The Great” now shifts his focus to Brian Ortega. The two men were tasked with reviving The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 29 this year, and now the pair will finally throw down after their first scheduled bout was scratched due to COVID-19.
Volkanovski has been unstoppable since making his UFC debut in 2016, winning his first nine fights inside the Octagon. Going back a bit further, “The Great” is on a 19-fight win streak and has only one loss in his professional career. He has proven to be without a doubt the best 145-pound fighter on the planet at the moment (sorry A.J.) and is looking to further add to his legacy by taking out Ortega, who will compete in his second UFC world title fight, coming up short against Holloway in 2018 in what was his first (and only) loss.
As for the bout itself, Ortega clearly has the advantage on the ground as a jiu-jitsu black belt under Rener Gracie. But, in his last fight against Chan Sung Jung, “T-City” showed off an improved striking attack, dominating the fight against one of the best Featherweight strikers in the game to earn a clear-cut unanimous decision. All that does is give Volkanovski something else to think about before he steps into the cage this evening. Volkanovski, meanwhile, has the wrestling edge and, to be honest, the power advantage, too.
The bad blood is running very deep between these two talented men, and it will bubble to the surface come showtime. Ortega has improved leaps and bounds over his career, but I just don’t think he has enough in the tank to unseat Volkanovski from the 145-pound throne.
In the co-main event, Shevchenko will attempt to earn her sixth straight title defense at the expense of Murphy. “Bullet” has been a juggernaut her entire career, but after she moved to the Flyweight division she’s taken it up another notch, knifing right through the competition like a hot knife through cold butter. Murphy, meanwhile, put in the work to earn the next crack at trying to dethrone Shevchenko, winning five straight fights with her last loss coming three years ago. Murphy isn’t short on confidence, but that’s the same story we have heard over and over again — I’d expect nothing less — but Shevchenko is simply a notch above the entire competition. Still, Murphy is out to pull off one of the greatest upsets in mixed martial arts (MMA) history.
Despite the card being headlined by two title fights, it’s safe to say that the highly-anticipated (and oft-delayed return) of Nick Diaz is what everyone is looking forward to the most. He will face off against Lawler in a rematch 17 years in the making after Diaz knocked out “Ruthless” at UFC 247 way back in 2004 (watch it here). Diaz hasn’t competed since losing to Anderson Silva in 2015, which was was followed by Diaz being suspend by NSAC for five years for failing a drug test; however, the punishment was ultimately reduced to 18 months. Following a few more minor hiccups with NSAC and USADA (details here), Diaz still opted to stay on the sidelines despite being free and clear to compete.
And that begs the question: Does he really want to fight anymore?
Sure, he signed on the dotted line to face “Ruthless,” but following his extensive interview with ESPN (see it here), Diaz painted an entirely different picture. Nick’s interviews are always interesting and most can’t seem to get a good read on what exactly he means when he speaks. But, during this specific interview, it really caught people off guard with comments such as, “I don’t know why I’m doing this” and “this shouldn’t be happening” and that people around him, “won’t let me get away from fighting.” Plus, he hasn’t competed in a professional MMA fight in six years! That’s a long time to be out and to be returning to compete at the highest level, even for someone like Diaz, who stays in shape year-round. Then again, he did say he should be fighting Welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman.
As for the fight itself, it’s an interesting match up to say the least, but one that makes sense because while Diaz has been been out for nearly six years, Lawler hasn’t competed in more than one year and is currently on a four-fight losing streak. In fact, Lawler is 1-5 in his last six, so it’s not like he’s the same fighter he was years ago. Indeed, “Ruthless” has clearly lost a step (or three), but he still has some power in his punches. But, it’s going to take more than that to stop Diaz because he has shown what makes him a fan favorite is being able to take a licking and keep on ticking. On that note, Diaz likely isn’t the same fighter he once was, either. What all of that boils down to is that this is truly one of those fights that no one has the slightest idea what to expect when these two legends of the game tango one more time. It’s the simple truth ... and don’t let anyone else convince you other wise. And that is what further adds to the intrigue of this fight and Diaz’s return. This could be the final time Diaz and/or Lawler fights, so soak it all in ladies and gentleman.
There really isn’t much to complain about when it comes to this stellar card. The PPV main card is stacked and the underbelly is very appealing, too, with several marquee match ups which, for my money, could have done well on lacking “Fight Night” events from the past.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
A title fight between current Light Heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira was briefly linked to this event before it was ultimately moved to headline UFC 267, which will go down on Oct. 30, 2021, on “Fight Island.”
Karl Roberson was in line to face Nick Maximov, but withdrew for medical reasons and was replaced by Cody Brundage, who will be making his Octagon debut on just one day’s notice. Brundage is 6-1 in his professional MMA career with his lone loss coming against William Knight on “Contender Series.” Also, a fight between Mayra Bueno Silva and Mana Fiorot was pulled last minute because of COVID-19 protocols.
Tatiana Suarez was expected to make her long-awaited return to action after a few years off, but suffered a knee injury, ultimately bouncing her from a scheduled women’s Flyweight bout against Roxanne Modafferi, who will now face off against Tailia Santos on the “Prelims” undercard. Modafferi is 4-5 so far in her UFC career and has alternated wins and losses since making her Octagon debut in 2017 (she is due for a win tonight, cosmically, if you are curious).
Martin Sano will make his UFC debut against Mathew Semelsberger. While Sano may not be well-known you will recognize him because he is a part of the “Diaz Army,” and is a fixture in the crew when Nick or Nate Diaz are around. “Spartan” hasn’t competed since 2017 and is just 0-2-1 in his last three fights, one loss coming under the Bellator banner and the other with World Series of Fighting (WSOF). Semelsberger will prove a tough challenge for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace because prior to losing to Khaos Williams he was on a five-fight win streak.
Maximov — another Cesar Gracie-trained fighter — earned his shot in the big stage after his impressive showing against Oscar Cota on “Contender Series,” which was nearly one year ago. As we discussed earlier, Brundage will also be making his UFC debut. It’s risky to accept a fight on such short notice, but it can reap huge rewards if he comes up the victor. But, even if he loses, he is still guaranteed at least one more fight inside the Octagon for doing UFC a solid.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
The undercard will be headlined by a Bantamweight bout between Marlon Moraes and Merab Dvaslishvilli, but we will go further into detail with that fight in the next section. For now, let’s focus on the rest of the “Prelims.”
Nasrat Haqparast and Dan Hooker had a very tough road to make it to Las Vegas. Haqparast’s mother passed away last week, which prompted many to think he’d bow out of the fight. Much to everyone’s surprise, he decided to stay on the card. Days later, though, he ran into another obstacle because obtaining a visa to travel out of Germany proved to be tougher than expected. He was eventually granted a visa and made it to Las Vegas two days before the fight. Hooker also faced visa issues but was granted one — thanks to fans, apparently — and was able to obtain one a week before the fight.
Shamil Abdurakhimov will look to bounce back after having his four-fight win streak snapped by Curtis Blaydes at UFC 242 when he takes on Chris Daukaus, who has won four straights fights and is undefeated (3-0) inside the Octagon.
Jalin Turner will go for consecutive win No. 3 when he takes on Uros Medic, who is undefeated so far in his young MMA career. After graduating from “Contender Series,” Medic was able to make an impressive UFC debut at UFC 259 with a first round knockout win over Aalon Cruz.
After losing to Giga Chikadze — the first loss of his career — Omar Morales got back on track with a win over Shane Young at UFC 260. He will go for back-to-back wins when he faces off against Jonathan Pearce, who is coming off an impressive win via second round knockout over Kai Kamaka III.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Moraes has really fallen on some hard times inside the Octagon. After starting his UFC career with a 4-1 record earning him a title shot against Henry Cejudo — which he lost via technical knockout — “Magic” has only managed to go 1-2 since. He edged out Jose Aldo via split decision in a fight many felt “Junior” had won. After that, however, the former WSOF champion was knocked out in back-to-back fights by Corey Sandhagen and Rob Font, who made “Magic” disappear in the first round (see highlights here and here). The long-time veteran has now been relegated to the “Prelims” and has a tough task ahead of him if he wants to avoid consecutive loss No. 3 because he will battle Dvalishvilli, winner of six straight. The matchmaking is questionable here given Dvalishvilli’s run and Moraes’ slump, but it’s a great opportunity for one man to score a win over a huge name and the other to get back on track by taking out a rising contender. Lawler, loser of four straight, is also in need of a big win against Diaz because five straight victories could mark the end of his time inside the Octagon.
Interest Level: 9.5 of 10
The card is loaded with one great fight after another. Volkanovski will finally face someone other than Holloway and attempt to earn his second straight title defense, while Ortega hopes to end “The Great’s” run before it picks up further steam. As for Shevchenko, she looks to add more to her already-impressive resume by extending her title defense streak to six. And of course, the return of Nick Diaz has everyone buzzing. But, the rest of the main card is great, as well.
In Heavyweight action, Curtis Blaydes will tango with fellow hard-hitting big man Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Blaydes is hoping to bounce back after he was knocked out by Derrick Lewis earlier this year, snapping his four-fight win streak and championship dreams in the process. Rozenstruik, meanwhile, is looking to build off the momentum of his destruction of Augusto Sakai this past June. Blaydes sits at No. 4, while “Bigi Boy” is comfortable at No. 6, so a win for either man will be huge for their title fight aspirations.
In women's Flyweight action, former title contender Jessica Andrade eyes a trip back to the winner’s circle after she was beat down by Shevchenko in April of this year in their title fight when she battles Cynthia Calvillo. Andrade likely won’t get another crack at stopping “Bullet” with a win, but a victory is of the utmost importance here in order to avoid falling further down the ladder.
As for Calvillo, she was at one time considered a legit title contender at Strawweight and Flyweight, but her loss to Katelyn Chookagian at UFC 255 really slowed her roll. A win over “Bate Estaca” could move her up the Top 5 and inch her closer to a shot at her first-ever championship bout, especially since three of the four women ranked ahead of her have already come up short against Shevchenko. And if Murphy fails to dethrone “Bullet,” the prospects of Calvillo getting the next shot with a win increase vastly.
Enjoy the fights!
UFC 266 PPV Main Event on ESPN+ (PPV):
145 lbs.: UFC Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega
UFC 266 Main Card on ESPN+ PPV (10 p.m. ET)
125 lbs.: UFC women’s Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy
170 lbs.: Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
265 lbs.: Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
125 lbs.: Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo
UFC 266 ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPNN/ESPN+ (8 p.m. ET)
135 lbs.: Merab Dvalishvili vs. Marlon Moraes
155 lbs.: Nasrat Haqparast vs. Dan Hooker
265 lbs.: Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Chris Daukaus
125 lbs.: Roxanne Modafferi vs. Taila Santos
UFC 266 Early ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET)
170 lbs.: Uros Medic vs. Jalin Turner
185 lbs.: Cody Brundage vs. Nick Maximov
170 lbs.: Martin Sano vs. Matthew Semelsberger
145 lbs.: Omar Morales vs. Jonathan Pearce
*Fight card, bout order and number of fights remain subject to change due to COVID-19.*
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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 266: “Volkanovski vs. Ortega” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.