One of the most anticipated title rematches in MMA history will take place at UFC 294 this Saturday in Abu Dhabi. Lightweight Champion Islam Makhachev will face Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski for the second time in 2023. Their first contest was a highly competitive contest in March that left viewers debating who won the fight. Makhachev was awarded a unanimous decision victory, largely due to his ability to control the fight with his grappling in the early rounds. Volkanovski accepted this fight on 11 days’ notice after Charles Olivera had to pull out of the fight due to injury.
UFC 294 will also showcase the return of undefeated Russian phenom Khamzat Chimaev. Chimaev was one of the most talented prospects in the sports history at 170 pounds, but after missing weight in his last matchup Chimaev will be moving up to Middleweight for his divisional debut this weekend. Originally, Chimaev was scheduled to face Paulo Costa. After Costa withdrew the UFC had a challenge in finding Chimaev an opponent but former Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman was up for the task. UFC president Dana White stated that this fight would determine the number one contender at 185 pounds.
Also on the UFC 294 main card, Magomed Ankalaev takes on Brazilian knockout artist Johnny Walker in a classic striker versus grappler matchup. Ankalaev recently competed for the Light Heavyweight title against Jan Blachowitz but after a controversial draw, the championship remained vacated. 16 of Walker’s 21 wins have come by knockout, but he will have to stop the dominant grappling of Ankalaev if he wants to find success this weekend.
(C) Islam Makhachev (24-1) vs. (C) Alexander Volkanovski (26-2)
The UFC’s Lightweight and Featherweight champions collide this weekend in a massive PPV main event. Both Makhachev and Volkanovski are featured in the pound-for-pound top five rankings and are dominant champions in their own right. After losing the first fight in March, Volkanovski rebounded with a stoppage win over Yair Rodriguez back at 145 pounds. Makhachev has remained inactive since but will have a significant size advantage in this contest. Volkanovski trains at City Kickboxing with fellow UFC standouts Israel Adesanya and Dan Hooker. Makhachev trains at the American Kick Boxing academy under coach Javier Mendez, where Makhachev spars regularly with Bellator Lightweight Champion Usman Nurmagomedov. Entering this contest Makhachev is a favorite at online sportsbooks (-270).
In the first fight, Makhachev was able to control the smaller Volkanovski against the cage and on the ground at times. This will more than likely be a large part of Makhachev and his team’s game plan in this matchup. While Volkanovski is short in stature (5’7) he is extremely powerful and physically strong. When the fight took place standing last time, it seemed to be Volkanovski who got the better of the striking exchanges. The short-notice nature of this fight should not play a significant factor for either competitor. Makhachev was already in a training camp to defend his title, and Volkanovski won’t have to cut a significant amount of weight leading up to weigh-ins.
Fight fans are excited for this amazing main event this weekend which can be seen exclusively on ESPN+ at 1 p.m.
Prediction: Makhachev by Decision
Khamzat Chimaev (12-0) vs. Kamaru Usman (20-3)
The Co-Main event of UFC 294 will be a historic confrontation between former Champion Kamaru Usman and quite possibly the future of the sport Khamzat Chimaev. Usman is a veteran who has faced some of the best competition in the world. Usman enters this matchup at 36 years old and will face the scariest prospect the UFC has to offer in Chimaev. An undefeated wrecking machine capable of finishing fights with one shot, Chimaev was unable to make weight at 170 pounds but now his sights are set on UFC Middleweight gold. Usman is coming off back-to-back losses against Welterweight champion Leon Edwards but holds a win over 185 title holder Sean Strickland. When Dana White announced that the winner of this fight would face Strickland for the belt it immediately raised the stakes of this contest.
One common opponent between these two is Gilbert Burns. Burns faced Usman for his championship but was turned back by “The Nigerian Nightmare” losing via second-round TKO. In Chimaev’s fight with Burns, he was tested for the first time in his young career. Burns and Chimaev went toe to toe in a fight of the year contender that electrified the city of Jacksonville. After that win, Chimaev would go on to submit ranked contender Kevin Holland in under three minutes at UFC 279.
In my twelve years watching the sport Chimaev is the most aggressive and ferocious young prospect I may have ever seen. It would be easy to describe a professional fighter as mean but Chimaev is certainly that. The talent of Chimaev reminds me of a young Jon Jones. If Usman can pull off the unthinkable it may be the storied champion’s greatest victory yet.
Prediction: Chimaev by KO/TKO
#2 Magomed Ankalaev (18-1-1) vs. #7 Johnny Walker (21-7)
Also on the UFC 294 main card, we will be treated to a matchup between top-ten-ranked Light Heavyweights. Brazil’s Johnny Walker is currently on a three-fight win streak with two of those victories coming by finish. Ankalaev has gone undefeated over the last five years but recently went to a draw with former champion Jan Blachowitz. After Ankalaev made disparaging comments about the promotion following the fight he was put on the shelf since last December. Walker has been the more active fighter but will be at a stylistic disadvantage on Saturday. Heading into this contest Ankalaev is a large betting favorite at online sportsbooks (-350).
Ankalaev is a former Combat Sambo world champion who has a dominating ground game when he uses it. Against Blachowitz, Ankalaev was late to attempt takedowns which is why he was not victorious in his title opportunity. If Ankalaev hangs out on the feet with Walker it could lead to danger, but his easiest path to victory would involve taking the fight down. This is a classic striker vs grappler matchup. Ankalaev is more well-rounded on paper.
Prediction: Ankalaev by Decision
UFC 294 Prelims:
The UFC 294 Prelims have many compelling fights to look forward to. Another talented Russian prospect Ikram Aliskerov will be making his second UFC appearance this weekend. Aliskerov (14-1) is extremely talented and knocked out Phil Hawes with one punch. Aliskerov’s only loss came at the hands of Khamzat Chimaev. Facing Aliskerov this weekend is UFC veteran Warlley Alves (14-6). Alves had a huge submission win against wrestler Colby Covington in 2015 but has gone 4-6 since then.
Prediction: Aliskerov by KO/TKO
Former UFC title challenger Tim Elliott (20-12-1) fights on the prelims this weekend against undefeated British prospect Muhammad Mokaev (10-0). Elliot is a wily vet who has turned back many young up-and-comers in his career. Elliot has gone 4-1 in his last five fights and will be the toughest test of Mokaev’s career. I think this fight will be highly competitive but Mokaev will narrowly ink out a decision win. Mokaev has potential but Elliot will test his toughness this weekend.
Prediction: Mokaev by Decision
The UFC 294 prelims will begin at 9 a.m. CST with the Main Card kicking off at 1 p.m. only on ESPN+.
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