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UFC 284 predictions, preview, and analysis

UFC 280: Open Workouts Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Who is the top pound-for-pound (P4P) fighter in the world?

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will attempt to answer that question when the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked P4P champions, Alexander Volkanovski (featherweight) and Islam Makhachev (lightweight), respectively, throw down atop the UFC 284 pay-per-view (PPV) event, which airs this Sat. night (Feb. 11, 2022) at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ from inside RAC Arena in Perth, Western Australia. Volkanovski’s trip north could complicate things at featherweight, so the promotion will crown a new interim champion in the 145-pound co-main event, courtesy of an all-action affair between top contenders Yair Rodriguez and Josh Emmett. Local heroes Jack Della Maddalena, Justin Tafa, and Jimmy Cute will also appear in main card PPV action.

LIVE! Watch UFC 286 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

CHAMPIONSHIP TRILOGY! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to The O2 in London England, on Sat., March 18, 2023, with newly-minted Welterweight kingpin, Leon Edwards, running it back with former 170-pound champion, Kamaru Usman, for a third (and likely final) time. In UFC 286’s pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event, all-action Lightweight knockout artists, Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev, will lock horns with the winner inching closer to a future Lightweight title shot.

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Who wins and who loses?

Before we get to the finer details, be sure to take a closer look at our comprehensive preview and predictions for all the UFC 284 “Prelims” undercard action by clicking here and here. The latest UFC 284 odds and a complete betting guide for the “Makhachev vs. Volkanovski” PPV event can be located here.

Remember, you’ll need a subscription to ESPN+ to order this weekend’s fight card (get one here), but you’ll also get access to all the subsequent “Fight Night” events in 2023 and beyond.

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155 lbs.: UFC Lightweight Champion Islam Makhachev (23-1) vs. UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski (25-1)

UFC is really pushing that “No. 1 vs. No. 2 P4P fighters collide” narrative heading into this five-round headliner and for the purposes of this column I’ll pretend that P4P is not just some dumb category with zero quantifiable metrics that was created for sports fans to argue about. Instead, I’ll play along and pretend to be impressed that Islam Makhachev is the second best fighter in the world — across any weight class — coming off a victory over Charles Oliveira and a whopping zero titles defenses.

Okay nevermind, it’s still dumb.

That’s not to take away from what Makhachev has done inside the cage. You don’t get to 11 straight wins by pure luck and the Dagestani wrestler has finished more than half of those wins along the way. That’s the good news for Makhachev fans. The bad news is that of those 11 wins, only two of those opponents are currently ranked in the Top 10 and five of them have long since parted ways with UFC. Makhachev was able to land a lightweight title shot without having to go through five of the toughest names in the division: Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Beneil Dariush, Michael Chandler, and Rafael Fiziev. I can’t say for sure that he would have lost to any of them, but I think those are the kinds of wins you need on your resume to start calling yourself the best in class, let alone the world.

That’s what makes the Alexander Volkanovski headliner such a tricky fight. If Makhachev wins, it’s easy to blame the size disparity (big deal, he beat up a featherweight). If he loses, then just the opposite happens (lol, he lost to a featherweight). Just ask the aforementioned Chandler, who will probably have to listen to that garbage for the rest of his career.

Volkanovski is a complete mixed martial artist with elite skills in just about every department but will give up considerable size against a tough opponent, stylistically speaking. Makhachev is a punishing wrestler with top-shelf submissions and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where “The Great” — who lived up to his nickname with a perfect record under the UFC banner — remains upright against an opponent who is perfectly comfortable spamming takedowns. I certainly wouldn’t pick Makhachev by submission after watching the Aussie gut his way through the grappling of Brian Ortega, but I do expect him to spend significant time on the ground, especially early in the fight.

That's when things could get interesting.

Makhachev has never done five rounds in his career, partly because he’s been good at finishing opponents early. If he can’t put away Volkanovski — who’s done four, 25-minute fights in the last three years — then he may find himself out of gas by the championship rounds. Remember, Volkanovski is a high-octane fighter who is built for speed with a low center of gravity. He could probably do 10 rounds without batting an eyelash and has the strength of a welterweight.

We’ve seen amazing fighters go up in weight and lose. Max Holloway came up short against Dustin Poirier at UFC 236 and Israel Adesanya was unable to overcome the Polish power of Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259. If Makhachev is able to use his balance and positioning to keep Volkanovski grounded, he’s probably going to cruise to a decision. But if “The Great” can scramble and get back to his feet each time, he’s going to slowly wear down his Dagestani foe and take over in the second half of the fight.

This is one of those contests where a win for either fighter would not be surprising, regardless of what the odds tell you. When push comes to shove, I have to stick with the old bar fight maxim that says a good big man will always beat a good little man. It won’t be easy, but Makhachev should be able to dump-and-hump his way to victory.

Prediction: Makhachev def. Volkanovski by decision

145 lbs.: Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez (14-3, 1 NC) vs. Josh “The Fighting Falmer” Emmett (18-2) for interim featherweight title

Yair Rodriguez has managed to score the No. 2 spot at 145 pounds but has not been the model of activity in recent years, racking up just five fights since getting wrecked by Frankie Edgar back in early 2017 — and one of those bouts was a “No Contest.” What’s left is a unanimous decision victory over Jeremy Stephens, a Hail Mary finish over a shopworn “Korean Zombie,” and a injury TKO at the expense of Brian Ortega. Winning ugly is still winning, but if that resume is enough to place “El Pantera” at No. 2 behind Max Holloway then perhaps the featherweight division needs some new blood. Then again, it’s hard to knock a guy with eight performance bonuses to his credit, which is an extra $400,000 in his pocket for all you math wizards out there.

Josh Emmett is ranked three spots behind Rodriguez at No. 5 and has now captured five in a row, including a split decision victory over Calvin Kattar at UFC Austin in June of last year. There’s nothing spectacular about his offense but he’s known for his high volume, though Emmett has one of the lowest percentages in the entire division when it comes to accuracy, landing just 37 percent of his strikes. In addition, he absorbs just as many strikes as he dishes out, roughly 4.5 per minute. Rodriguez is far more accurate with his attack and about the same on output, boasting a better defense (percentage-wise) in regards to incoming fire. Where Rodriguez holds a distinct disadvantage is the wrestling but Emmett — outside of his performance against Scott Holtzman more than six years ago — has not been relying on anything except his hands, a mistake fighters often make when they fall in love with (or simply rely too much on) their power.

Emmett has the chops to put Rodriguez out to pasture but I have a feeling he’s going to waste too much time swinging for the fences. When the knockout blow doesn’t land, he’s likely to get frustrated and start chasing “El Pantera” around the cage, getting whack-a-mole’d for his efforts.

Prediction: Rodriguez def. Emmett by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Jack Della Maddalena (13-2) vs. Randy “Rude Boy” Brown (16-4)

Jack Della Maddalena is from Perth, so you can expect the crowd to lose its shit when the Aussie makes his way to the cage. He’s also an outstanding welterweight prospect with a bright future taking on a very stiff test at 170 pounds. Maddalena earned his way into the promotion with a hard-fought victory over Ange Loosa — who also got signed to UFC — on Dana White’s “Contender Series” back in late 2021. Since then, the 26 year-old Maddalena has been all aces, registering three straight wins — all by way of first-round technical knockout. His competition was good, but not great, so expect a lot of questions to be answered against Brown this weekend “Down Under.”

Brown, six years older than his welterweight foe at 32, has looked nothing short of outstanding over the last few years, rebounding from a tough loss to Vicente Luque to rack up four consecutive wins, including his UFC London victory over the rough-and-tumble Francisco Trinaldo. That makes Brown the winner of seven out of his last 10 and you can bet “Rude Boy” will be fired up to play spoiler and take Maddalena’s spot on the hype list. Easier said than done, but don't be fooled by the +260 betting line for Brown, he’s a legitimate threat. I favor Maddalena in the standup but he’s been taken down in previous fights, something Brown can exploit in favor of the perilous stand-and-bang attack. Like most of the fights on this card, this contest could boil down to the wrestling. How much Brown utilizes — and to what degree of success — is likely to be the difference maker. I just have a hard time picking against a white-hot Maddalena in his own backyard.

Prediction: Maddalena def. Brown by technical knockout

265 lbs.: Justin “Bad Man” Tafa (5-3) vs. Parker Porter (12-7)

This heavyweight fight feels like an excuse to get Justin Tafa on the PPV main card because “Bad Man” is from Australia and finished all five of his wins by way of thunderous knockout. No question the promotion wants Parker Porter to be number six to keep the crowd buzzing. There’s not much to say about Tafa from a technical perspective. The former rugby bruiser comes from a fighting family (his brother is kickboxing phenom Junior Tafa) and basically just throws heavy leather until somebody drops. His most recent victim was the unheralded Harry Hunsucker, who folded like a cheap lawn chair in the first round of their UFC Vegas 45 showdown back in late 2021.

I didn’t have many words for Tafa and I’ll probably have even less for Porter, a one-time Bellator MMA fighter who is 3-2 for UFC and coming off a submission loss to Jailton Almeida at UFC Columbus last March. Like Tafa, the 37 year-old Porter is not particularly large for a heavyweight, standing just 6’0” and carrying a little extra body fat. All three UFC wins for Porter came by decision and the CES MMA veteran was able to land five takedowns across those three fights. I expect that to be the gameplan against Tafa and his success in that department will likely dictate the outcome of this fight. I guess now is a good time to mention that “Bad Man” has good takedown defense, sporting a 100-percent rejection rate.

Prediction: Tafa def. Porter by knockout

205 lbs.: Jimmy “The Brute” Crute (12-3) vs. “Atomic” Alonzo Menifield (13-3)

Jimmy Crute and Alonzo Menifield will enter this main card curtain-jerker with nearly identical records (12-3 for Crute and 13-3 for Menifield) but Crute is ranked No. 12 at 205 pounds and Menifield has yet to crack the division Top 15. That’s a bit surprising when you consider that Crute is coming off back-to-back knockout losses to Anthony Smith and Jamahal Hill while Menifield recently rattled off consecutive victories over Askar Mozharov and Misha Cirkunov.

Crute will be the hometown favorite for this light heavyweight affair. “The Brute” cut his teeth on Season 2 of Dana White’s “Contender Series,” earning a UFC contract with a knockout victory over Chris Birchler. Similarly, Menifield made his mark on the same season — just five episodes earlier — with his first-round destruction of Dashawn Boatwright. “Atomic” has stayed a little busier in the years that followed, putting together a 6-3 record against 4-3 for Crute.

Menifield is two inches shorter but holds a two-inch advantage in reach (both combatants fight from the Orthodox stance). The big difference maker in this fight is going to be the wrestling. “The Brute” landed eight takedowns in his bonus-winning victory over Michal Oleksiejczuk and I expect him to (safely) follow suit here, especially coming off two straight losses. Unless Menifield can land the killing blow early, or turn the tables with a takedown of his own, he’s likely to be dragged down and beat up for all three rounds.

Prediction: Crute def. Menifield by decision

Remember to catch up on all the UFC 284 “Prelims” predictions here and here. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 284 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 on ESPN/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 284: “Makhachev vs. Volkanovski” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the updated and finalized UFC 284 lineup and bout order click here.

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