UFC 266 Staff Predictions: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega 1

Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega will clash in this Saturday’s UFC 266 main event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Volkanovski, the featherweight champion, will be attempting to defend his title for the second time after he defeated Max Holloway in 2019 and then defended the title against Holloway in July 2020.

Ortega gets his second chance at the UFC Featherweight Championship on Saturday night. Ortega was unsuccessful in his first attempt at capturing the UFC title in December 2018 when he was stopped by Holloway. But since then, Ortega managed to bounce back with an impressive decision victory against Chan Sung Jung in October last year

Volkanovski vs. Ortega betting odds

Volkanovski is the betting favorite at -185 vs. Ortega at +155.

Volkanovski vs. Ortega predictions

Braeden Arbour

If MMA math worked then Volkanovski should win this fight, especially because Volkanovski beat Max Holloway the first time the same way Holloway beat Ortega: Pace.

However, although Ortega has been known to give up rounds due to his relaxed style in the past, the most recent Ortega we saw against the Korean Zombie seems to have filled that hole in his game. That’s not to say that Volkanovski doesnt come into this match-up with a cardio and volume advantage because he does, and with his feint and footwork-heavy style, he will be forcing Ortega to hesitate at times. At the same time, however, Ortega’s skillset specifically holds a lot of elements that will also force Volkanovski to second guess and stay on his toes, and this very well could also affect the constant pressure we have come to expect from the champion.

Particularly, because Volkanovski uses so much lateral movement and ducking in order to land the overhangs and shoot for his takedowns, Ortega’s shots up the middle, which are often his best, become even more dangerous. The rear uppercut has been a staple in Ortega’s fights, as well as the knee down the pipe to the shorter foe, and Volkanovski is built perfectly for Ortega in that regard.

I expect Volkanovski to find the most success with his leg kicks in this fight, one of the best adjustments made by Ortega over the last couple years is a new lightness to his stance, but because of this, as it is chopped down it will have a greater impact on his performance and Volkanovski is especially good at attacking those legs whether he’s moving forward, countering, or cutting an angle and Ortega has to be wary of that.

Yet, the biggest aspect of this fight that leads me to my prediction is the ground game, not because I see either man taking the other down and dominating but because it affords Ortega a potential shortcut to a finish which Volkanovski has not allowed in any other fight so far. We’ve seen both men rely on their chins before and both can take a tremendous shot, but Volkanovski is the one who has more often been dropped or wobbled and found a way to recover, more than often by quickly bridging the distance to keep safe. This is not an option against Ortega who thrives in short striking range with his uppercuts, knees, and elbows and can snatch a neck and finish via submission from virtually anywhere.

Ultimately while I see it being a competitive fight, I think if Ortega finds himself hurt there are areas he can go to recover, whilst if Volkanovski finds himself hurt, Ortega has more ways to end it. It’ll be a war but I lean Ortega.

Prediction: Brian Ortega to win via submission

Michael Pounders

Volkanovski is 32-years-old, the current featherweight champion, and is coming off back-to-back wins against Max Holloway. In fact, Volkanovski is riding an unbelievable 19 fight winning streak. Professionally, he’s 22-1 with most wins coming by knockout. He is a very well rounded fighter who isn’t afraid to brawl if needed because he often has the advantage in power.

When the fight is going his way, Volkanovski chops his opponent’s legs with devastating calf kicks, slows their mobility, and then explodes forward with ill intent. His pressure heavy style and excellent footwork and reactions have resulted in a 2-to-1 strike differential. He’s hard to hit cleanly. Volkanovski is also incredibly strong, you’ll likely hear the broadcast bring up his history as a 200-pound rugby player. Now fighting at 145 pounds, Volkanovski’s legs still look like that same rugby player- strong and stout. This helps him keep the fight standing, stuffing 72% of takedowns, or securing his own takedown if he chooses. Overall, Volkanovski is a champion with an excellent resume, a seemingly flawless game, and a vicious style that makes his fights entertaining for as long as they last.

Ortega, on the other side, has had a similar career arc to his foe. Ortega is 15-1 professionally with 9 wins coming by finish. Unlike Volkanovski though, Ortega faced adversity early in his career; and, despite winning, his critics dubbed him a one-trick pony – great submissions but that’s all. Then, in 2018, when Ortega knocked out Edgar, the UFC community started to respect the well-rounded but still killer instinct style of Ortega. Ortega still has a negative strike differential, absorbing a worrisome 6.3 significant strikes per minute; but, his striking has improved exponentially in recent fights. Ortega’s bread and butter though is still his Jiu-Jitsu, with 7 submission wins, if the fight goes to the ground, it doesn’t last very long. In addition to his improved striking and always great Jiu-Jitsu, Ortega is moving more fluidly and intelligently in the cage. Rather than rushing toward his opponent, Ortega keeps the pressure on but more strategically than in previous fights. Similar to Volkanovski, Ortega is dangerous and can end the fight anywhere it goes.

It’s tough to bet against a guy who has defeated Mendes, Aldo, and Holloway; but, I am. Ortega’s resurgence has made his defense look sound and his offense look unbeatable; meanwhile, Volkanovski arguably lost both fights to Holloway. Specific to this matchup, I think Ortega’s movement will counteract Volkanovski’s leg kicks and allow Ortega to test the takedown defense of the champ. If it gets to the ground, Ortega should be able to finish it or at least dominate the round. On the feet, I see the two similarly – powerful, high volume, and unafraid to brawl. With one man having the clearer path to victory, I’ll side with him.

Prediction: Brian Ortega to win

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