The UFC is back on September 25, 2021 with another stacked and action-packed pay-per-view event from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vega, Nevada.
UFC 266 is headlined by UFC Bantamweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski vs. No. 1 contender Brian Ortega. In the co-main event, Women’s UFC Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko will take on Lauren Murphy. Just before that, we get to witness the return of Nick Diaz as he will battle it out with long-time rival Robbie Lawler in a rematch 17 years in the making.
UFC 266 is stacked with great bouts from top-to-bottom, and other noteworthy names include Curtis Blaydes, Jessica Andrade, Dan Hooker, and Marlon Moraes.
UFC Featherweight Championship
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega Best Bet
Alexander Volkanovski currently bears the 145-pound crown in the UFC. The 32-year old champion has defended his title once, in a rematch against Max Holloway which he won via split-decision. A win for the champion would put his name in the mix among the greatest 145-pounders of all time. A loss could call for an immediate rematch, but that all depends on the nature of the loss.
Brian Ortega gets his shot at the title for the second time in his UFC career. Ortega is only 30 years old, so a loss wouldn’t be career-ending. However, if Ortega is to become champion now may be the best time as he is still in his athletic prime. Ortega’s biggest advantage is his opportunistic fighting style. Once he smells blood in the water, he usually finds a finish.
However, the downside of this tendency is that Ortega usually absorbs way more than he lands. In nine UFC bouts the 30-year-old has been out-struck six times. Sure, he has only lost one fight but this tendency is not going to give him a consistent track record in the long run.
In his last title bout we saw this tendency fully exploited by a great volume striker, Max Holloway. Ortega did have his moments in that fight, but eventually the strike totals just added up for Holloway as he butchered T-City to win a fourth-round TKO due to doctor stoppage.
Style-wise, Volkanovski matches up perfectly with Ortega. He has volume for days, and has even shown the ability to outperform Holloway in that area when they faced off. As long as Volkanovski keeps this standing, he'll cruise to a unanimous decision on the scorecards. Jabs, leg kicks and feints should be enough to puzzle the challenger here.
Women's Flyweight Championship
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy Best Bet
One of the greatest female MMA fighters of all time, Valentina Shevchenko, returns to defend her title against Lauren Murphy. Murphy’s claim to fame is her well-rounded skill set. She regularly mixes up volume striking with takedowns.
On the other side, we have Shevchenko who is close to what many call a perfect mixed martial artist. There really isn’t a weakness in her game that can be exploited. Wrestling might be one, but Murphy isn’t known for chain wrestling so I see her having very limited success there.
Stating the obvious, a win for Murphy would be life changing but expecting her to get the W is also a bit far-fetched. Shevchenko is slowly but surely cementing her legacy as one of the sport's G.O.A.Ts every time she steps in the octagon. If she wins in impressive fashion, a trilogy bout against Nunes is the fight to make.
While predicting a winner here might not be hard, we should be careful betting Shevchenko at this point. Eventually she might lose, and if you back her in every single one of her outings you’ll be left with a negative ROI at some point. I won’t fade her either, since that seems like a waste of a bet.
Instead, let’s look toward the props where I think there’s some value to be found. Usually, if champions win they tend to do so via decision. Therefore, let’s go with Shevchenko to win by decision at +105. Murphy is a tough cookie, and I could see her enduring the punishment and seeing the scorecards.
Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler 2 Best Bet
While highly anticipated, the touted return of Nick Diaz is happening after he has been away from the sport for six years. Ring rust is a heavily debated topic, with some claiming it is very real and others claiming the opposite. Regardless, I’ll assert that a six-year hiatus from professional competition with years of focus on other things can't work as an advantage.
Luckily for Diaz, he is matched up against long-time rival Robbie Lawler this weekend, whose recent outings have landed the former 170-pound champion on a four-fight skid. The question of this fight is, who is more over the hill?
A win for Diaz could be big, but it all depends on the victory. If he wins a narrow split-decision over Lawler, his stock could almost take a hit. On the other hand, a knockout performance could put him right back into the top five due to his name value. Let’s dive deeper into this matchup.
The main thing about this fight is the fact that it’s a rematch. In rematches, the winners of the first fight tend to win the second about 7/10 times. Going by that notion, Diaz is a good play as an underdog. I mentioned earlier that Diaz’ hiatus is the biggest thing going against him here, but we can only theorize how he will look once in the cage.
Back when he was fighting, he always amassed a high output and had a wide strike differential, meaning he got hit less than he hit his opponents. Lawler’s statistics have been horrendous in recent outings, and he hasn’t gotten a signature finish in years. Even if Diaz shows up and under performs, out-striking Lawler isn’t exactly an impossible feat these days.
I think Diaz hits him with some of that trademark Stockton pressure, causing Robbie to shell up for the majority of the fight. Diaz is the play.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik Best Bet
This meeting is a striker vs. a grappler. Curtis Blaydes is a relentless chain-wrestler for his size, and averages many takedowns over the course of a three round fight. Jairzinho Rozenstruik is a powerful striker with the touch of death.
A win for both guys is big. Blaydes especially needs a win to course-correct his career after a devastating KO loss to Derrick Lewis. Jairzinho’s fan-friendly KO style serves him well, and a loss to Blaydes wouldn’t be the end of him. He will never be more than two or three wins away from the title. Blaydes, on the other hand, needs to string together more wins to get to the top.
This bout is Blaydes’ to lose. You won’t find a more purely bred striker on the entire heavyweight roster. Jairzinho’s wrestling defense will be put to the test on Saturday. Blaydes’ insanely high takedown average means he definitely gets this fight to the ground at some point, so the question becomes, will Rozenstruik be able to get back up?
I wouldn’t bet on it. Rozenstruik has been taken down and out grappled by far lesser wrestlers than Blaydes, so I honestly don’t expect Rozenstruik to fare well against Blaydes. He also doesn’t go for submissions, which can be a big deterrent for wrestlers to engage in grappling exchanges. The wrestler will have a field day with the striker here.
Women's Flyweight Bout
Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo Best Bet
After a TKO loss to Shevchenko, former UFC Strawweight Champion Jessica Andrade takes on Cynthia Calvillo. Andrade is one of the more well-known female fighters on the UFC roster, and she has challenged for a title in multiple weight classes. Calvillo is a technical wrestler in the 125-pound division. She is coming off a tough UD loss to Katlyn Chookagian.
A win for Calvillo is huge, and most likely puts her a few wins away from title contention in her weight class. At the same time, Andrade’s name value means she is never many fights away from a title fight. While Andrade is considered the superior fighter here, reflected in the betting line, a small play on Calvillo could be warranted.
Andrade is a great fighter, sure, but only when she shows up. Her 21-9 record speaks inconsistency to me. On the other side we’ve got Calvillo who is 9-2-1 against pro competition. Although experience is against Calvillo in this bout, she has a far more consistent track record, and I think that counts for something.
So how does Calvillo win? With her grappling. We have seen Andrade getting overwhelmed on the mat before, most notably in her last fight. Calvillo might end up being levels below Andrade, but that skill discrepancy isn’t really reflected in the statistics, and I’m always skeptical about betting big favorites when their skills aren’t backed up by the data. The value is on the ‘dog here. It's a long shot, but the odds make up for the risk.