UFC 284 Staff Predictions: Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski
The highly anticipated UFC 284 event is set to take place on February 11, at the RAC Arena in Perth, Australia. Fans in the United States can catch the live action exclusively on ESPN+ PPV. The main event of the evening features the reigning featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, moving up a weight class to challenge new lightweight champion Islam Makhachev for the 155-pound title.
The fight between Volkanovski and Makhachev is expected to be one of the biggest matchups of the year and has already generated a lot of buzz among UFC fans. Volkanovski, the pound-for-pound #1, is on a 22-fight winning streak and is considered one of the most dominant fighters in the history of the division. On the other hand, Makhachev, who is the protégé of Khabib Nurmagomedov, has been making waves in the UFC with his 11-fight winning streak and is considered one of the best grapplers in the division.
With both fighters bringing a wealth of skills and experience to the octagon, the result of this fight is anyone’s guess. To get a better idea of what to expect, our team of experts here at The Body Lock have shared their thoughts on who they think will come out on top, as well as their best bet for the fight. Get ready for an epic battle as Volkanovski and Makhachev go head-to-head at UFC 284.
The odds for this main event bout are surprisingly wide with Volkanovski set to enter as a moderate underdog. There’s not much value left on Makhachev at this time.
- Islam Makhachev: -380
- Alexander Volkanovski: +315
The bigger he can make the octagon feel the better it is for Volkanovski. Between the two the most pronounced advantages for him will be his speed and footwork at the striking range, while Makhachev is the taller and perceivably bigger man, it will be Volkanovski that actually holds a one-inch reach advantage. Makhachev’s best work on the feet comes at kicking range, where he throws one or two powerful kicks at a time to chip away at the arms, body, and head of his opponents, fill the gap with semi-commital boxing and then look to load up on kicks again. The problem is, while his boxing is a bit tenser than Volkanovski, he will slip in a good, accurate, and whipping shot inside these combinations.
Engagement on the feet I think will be dictated by Volkanovski. He thrives at getting in and getting back out after landing powerful shots. The issue he runs into here is that while at first glance, straight movement sounds smart, that linear attack is where Makhachev is able to intercept and counter as he did against Charles Oliveira. Therefore what would be smarter is for Volkanovski to show Makhachev that linear channel and draw out those counters and then use angles to get inside and exit. As a conventional stance opposite a southpaw, Volkanovski’s favorite overhand right will be even more relevant, but so will Makhachev’s power left kick.
Order UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski
Makhachev will most likely be able to get Volkanovski to the ground. Volkanovski’s best wrestling test thus far was Chad Mendes in 2018. This was a long time ago, a different weight class and a different wrestling style but there are takeaways. Mendes was able to take Volkanovski down three of four attempts but hardly racked up control time. Makhachev’s chain wrestling style as opposed to the blast double style of Mendes is more equipped to maintain position, but Volkanovski’s best bet is still to scramble up and then defend every takedown. I think if Makhachev is able to get Volkanovski trapped against the cage, a combination of chipping away at him in the clinch and taking him down in the crevasse of the cage, is Makhachev’s most dominant path to victory. Volkanovski is notoriously difficult to submit or finish in general and Makhachev’s stoic absolute self-belief makes this almost definitely a tough drawn-out fight where both men cannot count on a quick finish.
While I think that the most probable outcome is Makhachev maintaining enough pressure in the clinch and on the mat to control his way to a decision or late submission, the idea that Volkanovski can scramble back up and make the most of the striking exchanges is so very in the realm of possibility. Much more than 1:3 odds which most oddsmakers are offering, so the pound-for-pound #1 at +300 is a great value. Another set of odds to keep in mind is Makhachev by decision at +180 and by submission at +165.
Pick: Volkanovski to win (+300) or Makhachev to win by decision (+180)
The fight of the year favorite takes place at UFC 284. Pound for pound #1, Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski takes on the pound for pound #2 Islam Makhachev for the lightweight strap. Currently, Volkanovski is on a 22-fight win streak dating back to 2013 in the Australian Fighting Championship. In the UFC, Volk is undefeated with 4 knockouts and 8 decision wins. Not only has he dominated his division, Volk, scarily so, seems to have leveled up in his 3 most recent fights. Given he’s gone from elite to somehow more elite, him pursuing double-champ status seems like the natural next step for his legacy. Meanwhile, Makhachev’s legacy began before many people even knew who he was. Makhachev is the protégé of Khabib Nurmagomedov, arguably the greatest fighter of all time.
Unbelievably, and humbly, Nurmagomedov himself claimed that Makhachev is the better grappler of the two and will hold the lightweight belt. The former is, unfortunately, unprovable unless Khabib comes back, and the latter is already true. Khabib is normally in Islam’s corner but has decided to step away from coaching. This will be Makhachev’s first UFC event without the possible GOAT at his side. Nevertheless, Makhachev’s utter dominance during his 11-fight winning streak, also undefeated in the UFC, suggests he will be more than capable regardless of his coaching corner.
To boil Volkanovski down in the simplest terms, he is one of the best strikers in the entire UFC with high-level offensive and defensive wrestling, cardio for days, and a will to win that seems unmatched. Recently, each of his skillsets seems to have improved. His hands are just a bit faster, his footwork just a bit more impactful, he is carrying more power, and his hunger has only grown. On the feet, Volk is a masterclass of MMA striking. He has a cracking leg kick, which he uses at range often considering he is typically the shorter fighter. He moves with precision and explosion, using footwork and timing as weapons rather than just aspects of his game. He rarely throws a single shot at a time, instead able to string together unique and effective combinations. And, when he lands, he lands with accuracy and power.
The most impressive aspect of Volkanovski’s game, though, are his feints. Given that he is often the shorter fighter, Volk has developed a truly great way of entering striking range. He is able to feint so effectively that he draws out an ill-advised, ill-timed, or poorly thrown strike from his opponent. From here, rather than a simple counter, Volk slips his opponent’s strike, cuts an angle, gets to his preferred spot, and lands an open and impactful combination. Few others are so seamlessly and consistently able to combine feints with footwork, timing, head movement, and combination striking. He is just that good. In the grappling department, an area that presumably will be tested, Volkanovski is also highly skilled. He is a stout fighter who uses his low center of gravity to get lower than his opponents. Then, he can drive his hips effectively to reverse positions on the cage or push off when he’s wrapped up. In the times that he’s hit the mat, Volkanovski has proven an ability to remain calm, work patiently through a tough position, and get back up through fundamentals and strength.
Order UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski
Islam Makhachev is often compared to Khabib because of their similar fight style and connection outside of the cage. However, he is his own fighter and his greatness is his own as well. Makhachev’s strength is his wrestling which might just be the best in the UFC. He is massive for the 155 division and is often the stronger fighter. Yet, his timing, skills, and speed are what separate him when wrestling. He is able to explode into takedowns regardless if he sets his shots up with strikes or not because his timing is next level. Makhachev typically strikes with power because his goal is to get the fight down. If his power shots, which are still highly technical and rarely wild, miss, he is able to counter wrestle the counterstrikes that come his way. Similarly to how Volkanovski uses feints to set up counters, Makhachev uses power shots to set up counter wrestling. When an opponent raises their hands to defend his power shots or return their own fire, their hips are exposed. Once Makhachev sees exposed hips, he’s like a shark to chum. He explodes with lighting-fast feet, wrangles his opponent with elite form, and drives his hips forward with unmatched persistence until they hit the mat. If his opponent is able to survive by backing into the cage, Makhachev is just as happy because his cage wrestling is also one of the best in the entire UFC.
Russian fighters, especially those from Dagestan seem to have a vice grip in their gloves. Makhachev is the poster child for this grip strength. When an opponent is against the cage, Makhachev grips wrist, controls position, then either takes the back or looks for a trip. In either case, because of the famous “Dagestani handcuff” that Makhachev implements, his opponent is pinned between the cage and the most terrifying man at 155 pounds. Not an ideal place to be. No matter his method, Makhachev looks to get the fight to the mat as soon as possible and rarely struggles to do so. Once down, just like his mentor, Makhachev’s top position is grueling and suffocating. He drives the top half of his body into his opponent, forcing them to remain stuck in a compromising position or take an ill-advised risk trying to shrimp out. If they remain stuck, Makhachev rains down slicing elbows and ground & pound that often ends the fight. If his opponent tries to scramble, Makhachev quickly transitions for a submission and finds the finish that way. Put simply Makhachev has the best wrestling in the division, possibly the UFC, and has no issues finding the finish once it’s down on the mat.
This fight is going to be the highest-level fight of the year, even if it ends in round 1. That is how truly elite both fighters are. Volkanovski needs to be in the best shape of his life for this fight because I see his path to victory through unrelenting pressure. If he can continue moving, striking, and defensively grappling for 25 minutes, he can win a decision on the back of volume. But, if he takes even a second for a break, gets caught against the cage even once, or mistimes even one strike, Makhachev will exploit the opening and get the fight down. I expect Volkanovski to touch Makhachev early and Makhachev to be cautious early on as he tries to get Volk’s timing. But, come the end of round 2 and into round 3, I think Makhachev will find an opening, get ahold of Volkanovski’s hips, get the fight down, and find a submission soon after.
Pick: Makhachev by submission
Islam Makhachev, the protege of Khabib Nurmagomedov, is the pound-for-pound number two fighter in the UFC. Although arbitrary in ranking, his undisputed championship title is fact.
Outside of dethroning the threatening Charles Oliveria to earn the lightweight championship, Islam Makhachev’s historic dominance makes him one of, if not, the most threatening fighters on the UFC roster. What is quite interesting is that his head coach, Javier Mendez, who also coached Khabib, has repeatedly stated that Islam is the most well-rounded lightweight to have ever competed — this includes Khabib. Parlay this opinion, from a highly respectable person who has insight like no other, with the fact that a close friend of Khabib and Islam, Daniel Cormier, has stated that in a strict wrestle-only match, Islam would beat Khabib, and it becomes quite clear how elite Islam Makhachev is as a fighter.
What makes Islam so elite is first and foremost his wrestling, with many people in the MMA community believing he has the single greatest wrestling in the UFC at the moment. Moreover, once on the mat, Islam has impeccable submission skills. This ability, to combine elite wrestling with elite submissions, makes Islam the most feared grappler in the division, and, in the entire UFC.
Beyond grappling alone, Islam has slick and underrated kickboxing. Standing out of the southpaw stance, Islam throws an underrated straight lefthand that lands with consistency and power. Moreover, he has powerful kicks that are thrown to all levels of the body of his opponent. In total, Islam is the full package, with elite striking, grappling, and physical size. Add the fact that Islam is not only confident in his ability, but understands his success is an eventuality, and the concluding is that he is the biggest problem Volkanovski will have to face in his career.
Luckily, for Volkanovksi, is that he is next-level elite as well. Being the pound-for-pound number one fighter in the UFC, Volkanovksi has cleaned out his featherweight division and has his eyes set on the lightweight title. While he is a true 145’er in physical stature, his unique ability to play beyond his size will allow him the best chance to dethrone the Dagestan threat of Islam who has no identifiable weaknesses.
Order UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski
The notable tactic Volkanovski will need in this fight is the ability to get off the mat once he is inevitably taken down. While many people question his ability to do so, albeit he has extremely good grappling, nobody can question the intellect he has when it comes to fighting. I reference intellect here because he has stated from the inception of this fight development that he will get up. The fact that he has the wherewithal to respect Islam’s elite wrestling so much that he understands getting taken down will happen coupled with his natural grappling skills makes me trust that he will in fact be able to get up.
When standing, Volkanovksi is one of the best strikers in the entire UFC. This skill was on full display in his trilogy fight against Max Holloway, as Volkanovski showcased that he is simply faster and more technical than even the best strikers in his division. The speed of his strikes, both with his ability to land in combination with his hands along with lightning-quick kicks, will be the way in which he wins durations of the bout against Islam as Islam has not faced someone of Volkanovski’s speed in his fight career. Moreover, speed will be imperative to avoid the power of Islam, as Volkavoski will need to not only be aware of the takedowns but also, avoid wearing any clean strikes by an opponent who will likely be 175-180 pounds come the actual fight. If he can avoid each, Volkanovski can shock the world, but not shock me as he too has no identifiable weaknesses.
The skill level of both fighters cannot go understated. Islam’s wrestling is simply next level while Volkanovksi’s speed on the feet is a thing of beauty to behold. The main question in this bout is if Volkanovksi can get up off the mat once Islam inevitably lands the takedown. To say I know the answer to this question would be ignorant, as such, I will look at the historic performances to formulate a best guess.
The main performance that I want to highlight is Islam’s most difficult win to date, which was against elite lightweight challenger, Arman Tsarukyan. In that fight, Islam did outwrestle the elite wrestling of Arman, but, struggled with the speed of Arman and did not find the finish once on the mat. While Islam is indeed far more dangerous now than he was in 2019, the fact that speed and elite grappling caused him problems makes me believe Volkanovksi’s elite speed and intellect can give him a viable chance to get up off the mat and earn a shocking win.
Bet: Volkanovski to win by decision (+550)
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.