Matches to Make After UFC 266

By Brian Knapp Sep 27, 2021

Alexander Volkanovski danced with a figurative devil—twice—and lived to tell the tale.

Volkanovski withstood a pair of harrowing submission attempts from Brian Ortega and retained the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight crown with a five-round unanimous decision over the longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in the UFC 266 main event on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 49-46, 50-45, 50-44, all for the 5-foot-6 Australian powerhouse.

Already down two rounds on the scorecards, Ortega made his move in a breathtaking middle stanza that showcased the best qualities of both men. He ensnared Volkanovski in two chokes—a guillotine and a triangle—in separate exchanges, neither of which was successful. Once the champion free himself from danger, an epic beatdown commenced. Volkanovski unsheathed his ground-and-pound in a hellacious burst of punches and outlanded his weary challenger by a 146-59 margin across the final 15 minutes, much of it after “T-City” made his passes at the chokes. Only Ortega’s will to compete kept him alive, referee Herb Dean hovering nearby and poised to intervene at all times. When it was over, the Los Angeles native’s face was a swollen, bloody mess.

In the aftermath of UFC 266 “Volkanovski vs. Ortega,” here are five matches that ought to be made:

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway-Yair Rodriguez winner: All signs point to Volkanovski having considerable staying power as featherweight champion. Now firmly entrenched as one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best, the 32-year-old Freestyle Fighting Gym export has rattled off 20 consecutive victories and owns a perfect 10-0 mark in the UFC. His last five wins have come against a murderer’s row of opposition: Ortega, Holloway (twice), Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes. Volkanovski began hinting at a potential move to 155 pounds after he turned away Ortega, though the featherweight division figures to provide him with ample resistance in the months ahead. Holloway and Rodriguez will lock horns under the UFC Fight Night 197 marquee on Nov. 13 in a confrontation that will spawn either a fresh contender or a trilogy.

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Joanne Calderwood-Alexa Grasso winner: While history tells us otherwise, it feels as though Shevchenko may rule the women’s flyweight division forever. “Bullet” tightened her death grip on the 125-pound championship in overwhelming fashion, as she put away Lauren Murphy with elbows and punches in the fourth round of their co-main event. Murphy, who had never before been finished, succumbed to blows 4:00 into Round 4. Shevchenko, 33, has posted eight straight wins since she wound up on the wrong side of a split decision against Amanda Nunes in their September 2017 rematch. She connected with 132 total strikes against Murphy while absorbing only 19 in return. Calderwood will take on Grasso at UFC 198 on Nov. 20.

Curtis Blaydes vs. Chris Daukaus: Blaydes maintained a strong position in the UFC’s heavyweight division, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Jairzinho Rozenstruik in an uneventful three-round encounter. All three cageside judges scored it 30-27 for the Elevation Fight Team representative, who bounced back from his Feb. 20 knockout loss to Derrick Lewis. Blaydes executed takedowns in all three rounds, outstruck the Surinamese kickboxer and steered clear of danger with a conservative approach that did little to please the crowd but managed to get the job done. One of the stars of the undercard, the 32-year-old Daukaus improved to 4-0 in the UFC with a second-round technical knockout of Shamil Abdurakhimov.

Jessica Andrade vs. Jennifer Maia: Andrade kept her name in the conversation at 125 pounds when she put away Cynthia Calvillo with punches in the first round of their women’s flyweight showcase. No match for the Brazilian’s brute strength or her propensity to administer blunt force trauma, Calvillo bowed out 4:54 into Round 1. Andrade marched forward with no regard for the Californian’s ability to return fire, eventually pinning her to the fence and forcing her into a defensive shell before closing the deal with a volley of power punches. Despite the stellar showing, a recent blowout loss to the aforementioned Shevchenko caps the Parana Vale Tudo star’s upward mobility—at least for the time being. Maia finds herself in a similar position, having rebounded from her own setback against the champion with a unanimous decision over Jessica Eye on July 10.

Dan Hooker vs. Arman Tsarukyan: Hooker opened up the playbook against Nasrat Haqparast, as he took a unanimous decision from the Tristar Gym prospect in their three-round undercard battle at 155 pounds. Scores were 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26, all for “The Hangman,” who answered the bell following back-to-back defeats to Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler. Hooker integrated timely takedowns with his famously potent standup attack and managed to neutralized the Firas Zahabi-trained German for a majority of their confrontation. He piled up more than seven minutes of control time and outstruck Haqparast by significant margins in all three rounds. Tsarukyan last competed at UFC Fight Night 192, where the 24-year-old Russian phenom brought down Christos Giagos with punches 2:09 into the first round of their Sept. 18 pairing.
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