Alexander Volkanovski exists the UFC Octagon after a title defense (Zuffa LLC)

In the main event of UFC 298, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski defends his title against the formidable, undefeated challenger Ilia Topuria.

This high-stakes bout at the Honda Center in Anaheim promises to showcase a clash of experience versus youth and power versus technique​​​​.

As always, we’re here to break down not just this main event but every other fight at UFC 298.

Betting Odds

Alexander Volkanovski will enter the cage at UFC 298 as a slight favorite with odds of -130 up against Ilia Topuria at odds of +100.

  • Alexander Volkanovski: -130 (BetUS)
  • Ilia Topuria: +100 (BetUS)

Volkanovski vs. Topuria Staff Picks

Interestingly, we’re split on Volkanovski vs. Topuria with picks going in both directions. Read on to learn more about who we’re picking and why.

Braeden Arbour

Ilia Topuria may be Volkanovski’s most dangerous challenger in quite a while. Both men have skill sets in all areas of the fight, Volkanovski with sharp kickboxing, powerful wrestling, and ground and pound, and Topuria with his boxing, greco-roman wrestling, and jiu-jitsu skills.

Alexander Volkanovski has some key advantages. He is by far the more experienced fighter, particularly at the championship level. With a UFC record of 13-2, Volkanovski overdoubles Topuria’s 6 UFC fights. This also means he has experience training and going 5-rounds to an extent much further than Topuria at 5 x 5 round fights to the Georian’s one.

Volkanovski also has a higher striking volume. Topuria often looks to plod and weave his way in with the intent of throwing 100% behind almost every shot. This is the reason that when he does land his combinations clean they are devastating, but he can’t throw full force at a consistently high rate. Volkanovski is very good at touching his opponent, tagging their legs from the outside, sticking his jab and keeping some kind of strike or feint in his opponent’s face before he fully commits.

What this means, is if Topuria does have some difficulty finding Volkanovski during any period of the fight, it is also likely that Volkanovski is racking up some points just by constantly touching him. Volkanovski’s style in terms of striking also simply poses more weapons. Topuria may very well have some of the best boxing the UFC has ever seen, but he rarely if ever throws a kick higher than to the legs. He will typically box his way with a stiff jab or counter right over his opponent’s jab, before ripping to the body and initiating a combination that ends upstairs.

On occasion, he attacks the calf of his opponents to coral them into the side he wants to catch them with his hands or to freeze them on the fence. That being said, because he is so boxing heavy he is susceptible to taking low kicks on the lead leg when he is bearing all of his weight forward. Volkanovski is tremendous at setting up long low kicks with his feints and chining low kicks onto the end of his blitzes. I believe it would be in Volkanovski’s best interest to invest in those low kicks and take away Topuria’s ability to lean into his jab as early as possible.

Topuria also has some key advantages on his side as well. He is the younger fighter, which may not mean much; however, it’s notable that Volkanovski recently had two of his toughest fights in the UFC with two losses to Islam Makhachev in 2023. While I believe that the camp leading up to their first fight only elevated Volkanovski’s game to unseen levels, the fact remains he is now coming off of a KO loss just three and a half months ago.

No one can know the condition of Volkanovski’s chin due to this, but Topuria, as a tremendous power puncher, can take some confidence knowing if he touches Volkanovski, he could be compromised. Although Topuria may have some trouble with Volkanovski’s leg kicks, he generally does have a higher striking defence.

Knowing that this is a clear game plan for Volkanovski, expect Topria to have prepared for the kicks in camp, but also watch his masterful boxing defense. Topuria is very good at just barely slipping out of the way so that he can stay grounded and dig counters, He also typically holds a very tight high guard to shell most of his opponents offense, and will switch onto a philly shell on occasion to set up his inside slip counters.

A big question mark in this fight is how the grappling exchanges will look. Volkanovski, early in his career, was not known as the striking ace he is today, but instead was viewed as a strong wrestler with outstanding ground and pound.

Submissions are not typically a factor on Volkanovski’s side, although he has done extensive work with Craig Jones lately, one of the best BJJ black belts around today. It’s a real possibility that Volkanovski looks to level change at some point and cause some damage from top position, as mixing all facets of MMA is imperative for the more diverse fighter.

However, Topuria, like Volkanovski, was first a grappler before he became famous for his striking. Topuria is a black belt jiu jitsu fighter, with a wide variety of submissions in his early career, from arm triangles, to armbars to front chokes etc. Whoever establishes a dominant position once it hits the mat may snowball in that exchange.

It does seem unlikely that we see Topuria shoot for Volkanovski’s legs, his background is in greco-roman wrestling and his wrestling is at it’s best from the clinch. If Volkanovski shoots and fails to complete it at range, there’s always a chance that Topuria defends, finds himself in the clinch and reverses Volkanovski into his own takedown. Watch for Topuria’s outside, inside and step across trips from over under or the bodylock.

This is a very high-level fight in every area that the fight could go. Topuria is coming in with immense confidence and momentum. He shares a lot of qualities with Volkanovski, which the champion has held over most of the other contenders. Both are extremely durable, carry and octagon presence and are supremely quick. The big IF for me is whether or not Topuria can deal with the low kicks of Volkanovski, but if he has solved that problem, I do think he can cause more damage to the head and body of Volkanovski, and I believe he has a distance advantage if the grappling exchanges stay at a high pace. Volkanovski is dangerous if he can settle and land strikes from top position, but the more the two transition, the more Topuria’s additional offensive jiu jitsu skills become a problem.

Pick: Ilia Topuria to win (+100 at BetUS)

Michael Pounders

Alright, fight fans, before we get into this fight, we need first to express our gratitude that it is, in fact, happening. Too many fights throughout the illustrious tenure of the UFC were clamored for by fans and pundits, yet never manifested. Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski vs. Ilia “El Matador” Topuria is a fight you, me, we, everyone has wanted, and we get both men in their primes. I truly can’t wait!

Breaking it down, as I often do in title fights, since both fighters are at such a high level, I’ll be more brief in the scouting report and more detailed in the handicap. Volkanovski is one of the longest reigning UFC champions with a complete skillset that includes all pistons of MMA firing at a high level which produces a fighter who runs like a high-end engine.

Volkanovski is the model of consistency, yet is able to regularly make small adjustments from fight to fight to strategically game plan against his opponents. No matter who he fights, vintage Volk will always implement a thrashing calf kick, feint-heavy boxing, an innate understanding of distance, and reliable volume and cardio.

On the other side, Topuria is an extremely offensively talented boxer with lightning fast hands and thunderous power when he connects. He moves fluidly, fights freely, and also has a complete set of championship-caliber skills. While both Volk and Topuria are elite strikers, each man is also an accredited grappler in the clinch and on the mat. In any area of the fight, both Volk and Topuria have the skills to win at a championship level.

Looking more deeply into the matchup, there are a few x-factors that I anticipate will dictate the fight. First is octagon control. Volk often likes to nullify the strength of his opponent or use their tendencies against them.

When fighting Holloway- the best boxer in the UFC and someone who weaponizes pressure and cardio- rather than standing toe-to-toe with Max, Volk used his forward pressure against him by feinting to draw out Max’s combinations, then cutting an angle, and countering off of his feints. However, against the Korean Zombie, another fighter who is at his best fighting in a tire, Volk fought fire with fire and took control of the center of the cage.

Topuria is another fighter who is at his best as the hammer and hasn’t really had to be the nail. So, I expect Volkanovski to follow his Zombie game plan and stubbornly refuse to let Topuria lead the dance. If Volk can win the cage control, he can force Topuria into an unusual position. I expect Volkanovski to accomplish this with his cracking leg kick. Being such a fundamentally sound boxer, Topuria carries his weight on his front leg, making it vulnerable to calf kicks.

Meanwhile, I expect Topuria to push a pace early. He might have the edge in speed and early power- it will be close- and if he does, he can use that early edge to build a lead, making Volk fight from behind in the scorecards for the first time in years. Then, in the grappling exchanges, I see Volkanovski as being the better clinch fighter and wrestler with Topuria being the better grappler and scrambler. I expect the grappling to be even, each man nullifying the other.

I expect this fight to come down to Volkanovski’s pressure boxing, cardio edge, and experience. Topuria has not fought anyone with Volkanovski’s skillset or level, meanwhile Volk has fought championship caliber strikers for years. Additionally, Topuria has not been tested in deep waters; and, much like Hermansson vs Pyfer last week, experience is the only reliable marker for a fighter’s ability to survive and thrive in the championship rounds.

As for Volk’s recent knockout loss, I’m not worried about his chin at 145 pounds. He was caught with a head kick from the P4P #1 or #2 fighter in the world, up a weight class, and on short notice. Topuria was also almost finished by a head kick up a weight class, just not against even a ranked-level fighter.

Ultimately, I think anyone picking Topuria- a valid selection given his undeniably special skillset- is picking based on projection. A Topuria pick is projecting that Volk is over the hill- unseen at 145- and Topuria is a championship-level fighter- unproven.

Meanwhile, backing Volkanovski is backing the best featherweight of all time at near pick’em odds in a division in which he’s never lost. I might be falling into the Nunes vs Pena, Valentina vs Grasso, and Izzy vs Strickland trap.

But, while those upsets are recent and notorious, I am confident in backing Volkanovski to do what he’s always done throughout his career- slam the door shut on the next up-and-coming contender. I also expect Volkanovski to drag Topuria into deep waters, so I really like o3.5 rounds as a prop bet.

Pick: Volkanovski to win (-130 at BetUS)

Joe Pounders

Alexander Volkanvoski is a highly skilled technician who is the arguable GOAT of the featherweight division and is certainly in the conversation for top ten, if not top five, fighters of all time.

The notion that Volkanvoski could be a top-five fighter of all time would likely get pushback as we sit here today, but just a few months ago, that pushback would have been far less. The change in belief boils down to Volkanvoski, for the first time in the UFC, came in out of shape and ultimately, suffered his first KO loss to the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, Islam Makhachev.

Because Volkanvoski took the Islam fight on short notice and was visually not himself, I believe that data point should be removed from the breakdown for this fight. Upon doing so, you can quickly surmise that Volk is vastly underrated here, as he has never lost in the featherweight division in the UFC, arguably beat Islam the first go-around, and has seemingly improved fight over fight, with his best three performances to date coming in his most recent three fights (when the most recent is removed).

The final point above is critical to note, as his speed, technical understanding of positioning both on the feet and ground, and overall fight intelligence have taken significant leaps forward over the last few years. These positives added to an already well-rounded champion makes Volk one of the best fighters in the UFC, and the most recent blunder to Islam has made him extremely motivated — an extremely motivated Alexander Volkanovksi is an extremely dangerous one at that.

Being a dangerous opponent to face can be easily attributed to the undefeated challenger in this fight, Ilia Topuria. To this point, Ilia has run through every opponent he has squared off against, with only a slight blunder when moving up divisions for a fight, where in round one facing Jai Herbert, he nearly got KO’d. So, similar to Volk, Topuria had a slight blunder in the lightweight division, but when looking at his featherweight track record, flawless is the word that comes to mind.

Given the impressive performances Topuria has shown, he has the ora of a boogeyman, given he has this unknown effect to his game, not in skills, but rather, unknown in high-end ability given he has dismantled all challengers, but, these challengers have been outside the top 5 rankings of the division — Josh Emmett being the exception.

For many young fighters, the unknown high-end ability is a blemish when handicapping fights that are levels ahead of what they have seen in the octagon, but Topuria is different. That is because he first, is elite everywhere, with extremely powerful, fast boxing, and also, elite wrestling with slick submissions. Second, Topuria has supreme confidence in himself, and this confidence feels authentic, further extenuating the boogeyman feel to his game.

While many would stop there with Topuria’s analysis, only focusing on the pros, that would be flawed given he does have cons. Notably, Topuria is quite heavy on his lead leg given he wants to land boxing combinations with maximum damage. The consequence of doing so is presenting an opportunity for his lead leg to be kicked and kicked with damage. In this fight, Volkanovksi will take full advantage of this, and if Topuria does not combat the attack, he can fall into trouble. Luckily, for him, is that he has seamless stance switches and a variety of counterattacks of the leg kick, so he has the tools necessary to combat the attack, but if he can’t, trouble does loom.

While I may eat my words after this fight, given I would not be shocked in one bit to see Topuria perform to his ability once again, I feel this fight is extremely mispriced from a betting standpoint. Right now, Volkanvoski is a -120 favorite, where I handicapped him as a -210 price. The -120 signifies massive recency bias against the current champ, as he did just get KO’d not too long ago, but that was up in weight, on short notice, came in out of shape, and was against the pound-for-pound number one fighter in the UFC. If he did not take that fight, I believe he would be priced as a -210/220 favorite here given his upward trajectory in skill, dominance over the division, and lack of experience from Topuria.

Because I feel the odds are off, believe Volkanovksi is extremely motivated and in phenomenal shape, and because he arguably beat the pound-for-pound number one a year ago coupled with dismantling top ten pound-for-pound Max Holloway not too long ago, I am confidently backing him here and advise a multiple unit play on him on the ML.

Pick: Alexander Volkanovski ML (-130 at BetUS)

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