UFC 290 Preview: Volkanovski vs Rodriguez

Photo Credit: UFC.com

International fight week has delivered once again, as UFC 290 is set to be one of the biggest cards of the year. In the Main Event Featherweight Champion Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski will attempt to defend his title for the fifth time when he faces dangerous Mexican-born striker Yair Rodriguez. Volkanovski tried to become a two-weight world champion in February when he narrowly lost a decision to current lightweight champion Islam Makachev. On that same card, Rodriguez would defeat Josh Emmett by Submission to capture the Interim Featherweight title setting up this unbelievable matchup.

In the Co-Main event, Flyweight champion Brandon Moreno takes on a familiar foe in the form of Alexandre Pantoja. Pantoja holds two victories over Moreno with one of them coming by finish. Moreno has dramatically improved since his previous meetings with Pantoja and knocked out Kai Kara-France in his last fight. A potential title eliminator at 185-pounds between former champion Robert Whittaker and highly touted South African prospect Dricus du Plessis has MMA fans waiting in suspense for this weekend. Whittaker has not lost to anyone other than current champion Isreal Adesanya since 2014. Du Plessis is undefeated in his five fights with the UFC. Also on the Main Card, talented lightweights Dan Hooker and Jalin Turner clash in a potentially entertaining matchup and Middleweight star Bo Nickal kicks off the Pay-Per-View.

(C)Alexander Volkanovski (25-2) vs (IC) Yair Rodriguez (16-3)

UFC 290 will be headlined by one of the sports pound-for-pound best Alexander Volkanovski and surging contender Yair Rodriguez. Volkanovski is undefeated in his career at 145 pounds and is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the sport. Although Volkanovski has been a dominant champion he faces a very tough test in Rodriguez. In his last two fights, Rodriguez has finished Josh Emmett and Brian Ortega with an ever-evolving ground game. Rodriguez was widely known as a dynamic and creative striker but recently has found success on the ground. In his fight with Ortega, Rodriguez was able to snap the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu products shoulder out of place while attempting an armbar. That performance showcased the killer instinct and finishing ability of Rodriguez who is dangerous wherever the fight takes place.

Volkanovski will enter this contest as a significant betting favorite (-400) at online sportsbooks. On the feet, Volkanovski has tremendous power in his hands and the best cardio in the division. Rodriguez will be the taller fighter by five inches and will need to strike from the outside effectively to have success over Volkanovski. Rodriguez will look to utilize damaging kicks to the legs and body of his opponent while circling away and keeping his distance. In the grappling Rodriguez will want to be careful if he ends up on his back as Volkanovski dishes out tremendous damage with his ground and pound. Rodriguez may be able to catch Volkanovski with a submission due to his length and improving ground game.

Although Rodriguez is a significant underdog he has a legitimate chance to win this fight. He may be the quicker fighter on the feet and also throws unpredictable kicks and flying knees. Volkanovski has a tremendous chin but Rodriguez will be dangerous for as long as this fight lasts.

(C) Brandon Moreno (21-6) vs #2 Alexandre Pantoja (25-5)

In the Co-Main event, Flyweight world champion Brandon Moreno looks to defend his title against Alexandre Pantoja, who has previously defeated Moreno twice as a young contender. The first meeting between these two came on The Ultimate Fighter when Pantoja fought through adversity to submit Moreno and eliminate him from the show. Then in 2018, Pantoja defeated Moreno again this time by decision. Pantoja went on to drop close decision losses to former champion Deiveson Figueiredo and Askar Askarov. Moreno would go 7-1 since his last loss to Pantoja and captured UFC gold in the process.

Moreno has significantly improved since his last fight with Pantoja and will enter this contest as a betting favorite (-210) at online sportsbooks. Pantoja is currently on a three-fight win streak and submitted ranked contenders Alex Perez and Brandon Royval over that stretch. Moreno has a plus striking game that includes tremendous boxing combinations and impressive defensive movement. Moreno has finished all of his last three opponents Kai Kara-France, Deiveson Figueiredo, and Brandon Royval. Pantoja will want to take this fight to the ground where he has found success against Moreno in the past. Moreno will need to defend the takedowns of Pantoja so he can open up with his striking on the feet.

Moreno wants to make a statement in this matchup and put the losses to Pantoja behind him. This could very easily be the most competitive fight on the UFC 290 main card.

#2 Robert Whittaker (25-6) vs #5 Dricus du Plessis (19-2)

A potential title eliminator at 185-pounds between former champion Robert Whittaker and South African star Dricus Du Plessis could produce Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya’s next opponent. Whittaker lost the belt to Adesanya but has not been defeated by anyone other than the current champion since 2014. Plessis is undefeated at 5-0 in his short time with the promotion, holding victories over respected veterans Darren Till and Derek Brunson. Plessis is an impressive athlete who has tremendous physical strength. Whittaker is extremely well-rounded and has impressive cardio to go with his technical striking skills. Heading into this featured fight on the UFC 290 main card Whittaker is currently a significant favorite (-380) at online sportsbooks.

Australia’s Whittaker will look to keep the pressure on Du Plessis in this matchup, as his opponent has struggled with his conditioning in the past. Both fighters are extremely talented could very easily produce a “fight of the night” contender. Whittaker is the safe bet in this matchup, having faced tougher competition. This fight will give mixed martial arts fans a look into the true potential of Du Plessis. If victorious Whittaker will be right back in title contention.

Robbie Lawler (29-16) vs Niko Price (15-6)

Opening the UFC 290 main card, former UFC Welterweight champion and future hall of famer Robbie Lawler will make his final walk to the octagon this weekend when he faces fellow UFC veteran Niko Price. Lawler is the only fighter to win three straight Fight of the Year awards in MMA history. No other fighter has two of these awards, Lawler received Fight of the Year honors in 2014,2015, and 2016 consecutively.

Debuting at the age of 19 in 2002, Lawler has had a memorable and storied career that fight fans won’t soon forget. Nicknamed “Ruthless” Lawler is known for his aggressive brawling style that has led to 21 knockouts over his career. Although Lawler was once a decorated champion he is now 41 years old and (1-5) in his last six contests. Price has also struggled recently going (2-3) in his last five but will enter this contest at 33 years old. I believe that youth and speed will play a factor in this fight but expect a high-action battle from the opening bell.

Lawler will have his UFC Welterweight title fight with Rory Macdonald inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame this weekend.

UFC 290 Prelims:

The UFC 290 prelims are stacked with competitive matchups and highly touted prospects. 2022’s breakout fighter of the year Jack Della Maddalena (14-2) returns after finishing dangerous contender Randy Brown in February. Australia’s Maddalena will be facing undefeated debuting fighter Josiah Harrell (7-0) after his original opponent Sean Brady had to pull out due to injury. Harrell previously competed in the LFA and will have his hands full in his debut this Saturday. Also on the UFC 290 prelims, Light Heavyweight veterans Jimmy Crute (12-3-1) and Alonzo Menifield (13-3-1) meet again after fighting to a draw in February. Both are highly entertaining competitors who put on a fantastic fight against one another last time out.

The UFC 290 prelims will begin at 5 p.m. CST with the Pay-Per-View main card starting at 9 p.m. CST.

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