What a couple of weeks it’s been for the UFC! Two last minute replacements to the main and co-main events have meant that UFC 294 promises to be one of the best cards of the year.
Lightweight champion Islam Makhachev was originally set to face Charles Oliveria, but after suffering a cut in training, ‘Do Bronx’ was forced to pull out. It means that featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will move up weight classes to face the Dagestan champion for the second time.
In the co-main, undefeated middleweight prospect Khamzat Chimaev will now face Number 1 ranked welterweight Kamaru Usman. The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ steps in on 10 days-notice (like Volkanovski) after Chimaev’s original opponent, Brazilian middleweight Paulo Costa, stepped out because of an elbow infection.
Despite the last-minute switch ups, fight fans across the world are now even more excited to see how Saturday night plays out.
Islam Makhachev (24-1-0) vs Alexander Volkanovski (26-2-0)
Lightweight champion Islam Makhachev hopes his 11-fight win streak will extend to 12 on Saturday night when he takes on featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski.
Islam returns for his fourth fight in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, a location he himself considers a second home. Islam has been on a tear in the lightweight division. On Saturday night he will try and defend his belt for the third time since he claimed gold for the first time defeating Charles Oliveria at UFC 280.
Makhachev fights out of American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), who are known for their dominant wrestling fighting style with many fighters like Makhachev originating from the Dagestan.
Calling this ‘Round 6’, Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski hopes it is revenge rather than repeat when the cage door closes on Saturday night.
Volkanoski has reigned supreme over the featherweight division ever since his win against UFC hall of famer Max Holloway in 2019. Volkanovski’s last fight was against Makhachev in the division above in Feburary and he was scheduled to fight back down in his own division in January. He has always talked about wanting the rematch someday against Makhachev however there are question marks about how prepared he can be stepping in on an 11-day notice.
In the first fight between the two champions it was Alexander ‘The Great’ fighting on home soil in Sydney, Australia. Whereas, as Makhachev has highlighted throughout fight week, the fight fans of Abu Dhabi have certainly taken him as their own. The first fight was an instant classic.
Both fighters went back and forth trading heavy shots. As expected, Makhachev tried taking the fight to the ground, although Volkanovski surprised many critics with his resilience to keep getting back up and giving Makhachev a troubling dilemma. Makhachev had never faced anyone who could nullify the takedowns as effectively as Volkanovski, and as the rounds passed by, no one envied the judges scoring the bout.
With a minute left in the round, Volkanvski’s straight right dropped Makhachev, leaving the Australian crowd thinking their home town hero had done enough. To the Judge’s scorecard we went, and still! Despite concerns, Makhachev got the nod and remained UFC Lightweight Champion.
On Saturday night we expect more of the same. The way the first fight was fought at such a fast pace and was very well contested, this fight is anyone’s call. Volkanovski hopes to become the 5th ever double-champ in UFC’s history; although with 11 days’ notice this would surely be one of the greatest victories we’ve seen inside the octagon and would put Volkanovski amongst the greats.
Sam’s Prediction: Makhachev-submission RD 5
Khamzat Chimaev (12-0-0) vs Kamaru Usman (20-3-0)
Khamzet Chimaev is a middleweight on a mission. With 5 wins in just 5 fights in the UFC, Chimaev is just one fight away from a title shot. Chimaev, who was born in Russia, has huge support with the locals. Chimaev gained notoriety amongst fight fans when he fought on 2 back-to back UFC cards within a week in Abu Dhabi during 2020. It was the first time this had ever been done by an active UFC fighter.
Chimaev has built up a huge following as a consequence of his laid-back attitude to fighting, but inside the cage he captivates fight fans with the way he is constantly moving forward looking to finish his opponent. A win last time out against the highly respected Gilbert Burns has put Chimaev within touching distance of UFC gold.
Saturday night will bring Chimaev’s biggest test to date in the form of ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ Kamaru Usman. Despite two losses to the Uk’s very own and now Welterweight champ Leon Edwards, Kamaru Usman will still go down as one of the greatest welterweights of all time.
Before his two losses Usman was on a 11-fight win streak with his only two losses inside the octagon coming against Leon Edwards. For Saturday’s fight Usman steps up a division, and like Volkanovski, has only had just under two weeks to prepare.
The fight should be an absolute classic. Both fighters are unbelievable wrestlers. Usman being a NCAA division 2 national champion wrestler with Chimaev sharing similarities with his Dagestan type wrestling style. Both men have also showed they can switch a fighter’s lights out when they land a punch. Chimeav has finished 4 of his 5 opponents, with Usman having noticeable stoppages of his own finishing the likes of Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal.
Middleweight Paulo Costa was meant to fight Chimaev as they have had a long-standing rivalry generated through social media. However, Costa unfortunately gained an elbow infection which handed the opportunity to the Nigerian fighter. On Saturday we will find out who comes out on top – the rookie with very high potential versus a veteran still at the top of his game.
Whatever the outcome, we as fight fans are surely in for a treat.
Sam’s Prediction: Usman-Points