The UFC returns to pay-per-view on Saturday night with a stacked card emanating from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The show boasts two world title fights, plus the return of trash-talking veteran Nick Diaz, an exciting clash between heavyweight contenders and the next chapter for a former Women’s Strawweight champion. Here’s why UFC 266 is the perfect show to watch when Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk finishes on Saturday night.
Nick Diaz vs Robbie Lawler
Usually it is customary to start with the main event first, but in truth even the UFC seem to view this as the real headliner here. They have even increased the round limit to the championship five for this fight, only the second time a non-title undercard bout has been extended this way in company history.
Nick Diaz is one of the most popular fighters in MMA, and is returning to the Octagon for the first time since his 2015 fight with Anderson Silva. Diaz was banned after that fight when his post-fight test showed traces of marijuana, and much of his lay-off was spent battling these sorts of charges as well as personal issues. In Lawler he faces a veteran who has also been inactive, having fought just twice in the last two years. Always good value when he does step into the cage, the former UFC Welterweight champion will be looking to spoil Diaz’s homecoming.
The pair have met before, a staggering 17 years previously. At UFC 47, Diaz scored a second-round knockout over Lawler. The fact that fight was so long ago means it is far from a reliable form-guide for Saturday’s contest, and Nick’s six-year hiatus is likely to take its toll. Either way, the fight should deliver thrills. Both men like to stand and trade, and the atmosphere is likely to be electric for Diaz’s return.
Alexander Volkanovski vs Brian Ortega
Volkanovski makes his second defence of the Featherweight championship, while looking to extend his winning run to 20 fights against a live challenger in Brian Ortega.
Ortega has been here before, incurring a doctor stoppage in a Fight Of The Night with then-champion Max Holloway in 2018. Out of the cage for nearly two-years, no thanks to the pandemic, ‘T-City’ showed tremendous improvements in his striking game when decisioning ‘Korean Zombie’ Chang Sung Jung last time out. With championship experience in his locker, and necessary adjustments made, Ortega is a real threat to Volkanovski’s title.
Coming off back-to-back decision wins over Holloway, Volkanovski was settling well into the role of champion. However, just a week before this contest was originally scheduled the fighter contracted COVID-19. The infection spread to his lungs, and Alexander contracted pneumonia. Now fully recovered, there remains a chance his battle with illness will affect him on fight night. Hopefully the pandemic is a non-issue and we get to enjoy these two top featherweights at their peak in the main event.
Valentina Shevchenko vs Lauren Murphy
Shevchenko is making the sixth defence of her UFC Women’s Flyweight championship, looking to extend her dominant run of form against Lauren Murphy. The former Muay Thai competitor and boxer has scored eye-catching stoppages over Jessica Eye, Katlyn Chookagian and Jessica Andrade during her reign.
Murphy comes into the fight as a huge underdog, but deserves her shot after amassing a five-fight winning streak. Two of those victories were by split decision, and Murphy is a fighter who often looks to edge out close fights. Shevchenko is a front-runner and is unlikely to give her that opportunity.
Curtis Blaydes vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik
An exciting match-up between the fourth and sixth-ranked heavyweight contenders, this could end up being a striking vs wrestling collision. Rozenstruik brings elite-level kickboxing into the cage, with stoppages of former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski and Brock Lesnar-conqueror Alistair Overeem on his record. Cyril Gane managed to outpoint the Surinamese fighter in February, but Jairzinho rebounded quickly by scoring a TKO over Augusto Sakai in June.
His opponent was stopped by Derrick Lewis last time out, and needs a win to re-establish himself in world title contention. Wins over Overeem, hard-hitting Mark Hunt and former UFC Heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos jump off his record, and he will hope to recapture that form this Saturday.