UFC 294: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2 takes place on Sunday (AEDT) at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – and we’ve got our UFC predictions for all the fights below.
UFC 294: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2 Predictions
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Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski Prediction
Featherweight kingpin Alexander Volkanovski has been calling for a rematch with lightweight champion Islam Makhachev since a highly competitive fight against him in their 155lb title clash back in February. He’s since successfully made another defence back at145b’s and has now been granted his rematch wish, with the catch being he’s had only two weeks’ notice after being drafted in as a late replacement for the injured Charles Oliveira.
The first fight between these two was extremely close in all aspects of the game. As the smaller man Volkanovski did very well to not be overpowered by Makhachev’s wrestling, proving not easy to take down and hard to keep there due to his skilled scrambling ability. Meanwhile on the feet a 4″ height disadvantage didn’t stop him from continuing to show the kind of striking acumen that has brought him such great success at 145lbs over the years. Both his power and cardio were also on point up at 155lbs, even dropping the champion in the final round.
As the bigger man and the betting favourite, perhaps Makhachev didn’t get enough kudos for besting someone who had up to that point seemed almost unbeatable. He may not be quite on Volkanovski’s level technically on the feet, but he held his own admirably. His size certainly helped, but he also coped well with his opponent’s fast footwork while continuing to prove he land accurate punches with authority at the highest level, as he’d done against Oliveira. Meanwhile, though perhaps his wrestling couldn’t control Volkanovski as often as he’d have liked, it was still a big asset that helped him eventually win out on the scorecards.
I feel like Volkanovski fought at his best in the first fight and so it’s unfortunate that he’s not got a full fight camp behind him this time to ensure he has a chance to do so again this time around. He does appear to be the kind of fighter who is in good shape all-year round, and his exceptional mental strength means he’s as prepared as anyone could be for this kind of situation. Still, Makhachev will have seen room for improvement in his own cardio after their first fight and has had a full training camp to fix that.
And in general I think Volkanovski gave him such a tough fight compared to what he’s used to that it’ll have made Makhachev a better fighter. And so, with his size advantage still also being a factor and Volkanovski’s ability to push hard in the final rounds being compromised due to the short-notice, I’ll take Makhachev to once again just manage to get the better of a highly competitive fight to win on the scorecards.
Prediction: Islam Makhachev to win by decision.
Kamaru Usman vs. Khamzat Chimaev Prediction
Like Alexander Volkanovski in the main event, former welterweight champ Kamaru Usman has stepped in as a high-profile late replacement in the co-main event, moving up to middleweight to replace Paulo Costa against Khamzat Chimaev.
Not so long ago this would have been a dream fight at welterweight when Usman still ruled the roost in the division and Chimaev was being hailed as the next big thing. However, since then Usman has suffered back-to-back losses against Leon Edwards, while a botched weight-cut for Chimaev last year convinced him to push for the 185lb title instead, making a fight between them less likely until this opportunity arose.
And it remains a very intriguing fight stylistically. Chimaev is best known for his exceptional wrestling that sees him easily ragdoll opponents to the mat and either submit them or brutalize them with fight-ending ground-and-pound. However, this is a big step up from the likes of a Kevin Holland or Li Jingliang as Usman showed off his own formidable wrestling game many times during his title reign.
Usman also levelled up his striking too over the years too to become a more well-rounded fighter, showcasing solid boxing fundamentals, while also having excellent cardio that enabled him to stick to a high-volume approach for the full 25 minutes if required. Chimaev’s striking is good too, albeit not always the most technical. He has huge power, is fast for his size and appears to have a strong chin too, enabling to walk down his opponents to land his own strikes or set up a swift takedown.
So on paper they match up very well, but when it comes to deciding who will win, Usman’s last performance looms large. His first fight against Edwards was in many respects an anomaly as he’d been convincingly winning up until the late 5th round head kick finish that shocked the world.
However, whether that knockout took a big toll on him, or age and old injuries were just catching up to him fast, the now 36-year-old Usman just didn’t look himself in the rematch. The spring in his step was gone, he wasn’t pushing the pace like he normally would, and he seemed more tentative. By his own admission Usman has been dealing with knee issues for a long time, so while it’s hard to say for sure if that’s part of the problem here, it’s certainly a concern heading into this fight.
Whatever the case it’s worth remembering that a not-at-his-best Usman did still take Edwards to a split-decision. Even so, an in-his-prime, hungry lion like Chimaev is not the fighter you want to go up against on short-notice in an unfamiliar weight class when there’s signs your not firing on all cylinders. As such I think this is a fight where the fresher Chimaev’s higher energy levels, bigger power and aggressive finishing instincts wherever the fight goes push Usman to his breaking point, leading to a second round TKO finish.
Prediction: Khamzat Chimaev to win by TKO in Rd2.
Magomed Ankalaev vs. Johnny Walker Prediction
Magomed Ankalaev is unbeaten in his last 10 UFC bouts but did end up with a split-draw in his fight for the vacant light-heavyweight title fight against Jan Blachowicz. That meant neither man won the belt and instead of being given another shot at it he’s instead now fighting Johnny Walker, who not so long ago had lost four of his past five fights but has since got back on track to win three-in-a-row.
Ankalaev has sound technical striking and operates well on the outside. He often uses kicks to keep distance, while he is economical with his punches, remaining patient for openings or counter-striking opportunities rather than just throwing for the sake of it. That in turn helps him to be quite defensively sound too, though on the flipside he can appear to lack urgency at times. Ankalaev is also good in the clinch and has a very solid wrestling game that enables him to control the action on top. He’s not really one to hunt for submissions and instead is happy to grind out a win via decision if that’s what’s required to stay in the win column.
In some respects, Walker has tried to adapt his previous wild-man all-action style into something more like Ankalaev, seeking to exercise more caution and patience than he did in the past when he was known for big highlight-reel wins, but also big losses too due to his somewhat reckless style. At first it was a painful transition for him and led to some underwhelming performances, but while it still doesn’t feel like he’s mastered this new style and can still lapse back into his previous ways at times, he’s at least starting to find some success from the changes he’s made. It helps that he’s a very big 205lb’er, as evidenced by the fact he’ll have a 3″ height and 7″ reach advantage over Ankalaev here and has good power and athleticism to go with it.
And Walker’s size could pose problems for Ankalaev if he wants to fight strictly at range, though he will likely find plenty of opportunities to land on the counter. However, I think Ankalaev could do well from the clinch here and is certainly the better wrestler, which will pave the way for him to play it fairly safe by employing a grinding strategy to win out on the scorecards and keep his unbeaten run going.
Prediction: Magomed Ankalaev to win by decision.
Ikram Aliskerov vs. Warlley Alves Prediction
Ikram Aliskerov KO’d Phil Hawes in his UFC debut back in May and was then set for a high-profile match-up against Paulo Costa at UFC 291 at one point before the promotion changed their plans and penciled him in against Nassourdine Imavov on this event instead. However, his opponent then dropped out and so he now faces Warlley Alves instead, who moves up to middleweight to take the fight on around three weeks’ notice.
Given the calibre of opposition the UFC were trying to put Aliskerov in there with it’s clear they think highly of him, and it’s easy to see why as he’s a four-time World Combat Sambo champ who holds a 14-1 record, with his only loss coming via KO against Khamzat Chimaev a few years ago in the Brave CF promotion. Aliskerov is a talented all-rounder who is comfortable on the feet and has good power, while his strong wrestling game is a big plus point and he’s a good grappler too, offering a significant submission threat.
Alves won TUF Brazil Season 3 back in 2014 and that proved to be the start of a four-fight winning run to start his time in the promotion. However, he hasn’t been able to maintain that early promise and has had very mixed results in the years since, with his overall UFC record now standing at just 8-6. Alves is a decent striker with good leg kicks but can overload on his punches and is quite hittable, while he will also have to contend with a 1″ height and 4″ reach disadvantage. Meanwhile, he’s not much of a wrestler, but he is a skilled offensive grappler.
It feels like everything is against Alves here, from the relatively short-notice nature of the fight to the step-up in weight and most importantly just the fact that Aliskerov is likely the better fighter in most areas. As such I think Aliskerov has options here, either using his wrestling offensively to control on top, or just to keep the action standing and punish his opponent with heavier-hitting strikes. Either way I think Aliskerov emerges with a 2nd round TKO finish here.
Prediction: Ikram Aliskerov to win by TKO in Rd2.
Said Nurmagomedov vs. Muin Gafurov Prediction
Heading into 2023, Said Nurmagomedov had won six of his seven fights in the UFC, but then lost out on the scorecards to the in-form Jonathan Martinez back in March. Now he fights Muin Gafurov, who lost in his UFC debut against John Castenada in June and now faces an even tougher test.
Despite his famous surname, Nurmagomedov is not related to that famous fighting family, though he does hail from Dagestan. He doesn’t fight in a similar fashion to the likes of Khabib either as he’s more striking orientated, with a particular emphasis on using a varied arsenal of kicks to all levels on the feet from range. He’s fast and will capitalize nicely on windows of opportunity in striking exchanges but doesn’t have the biggest stopping power or volume. Though he’s not the level of wrestler that some may assume and can be taken down, he is still very capable and can work for submissions too.
Gafurov likes to throw everything into his strikes and has some flashy techniques, but while he has the power to be a threat, he does also leave himself open to being countered. Meanwhile he’s aggressive with his wrestling, though technically he’s not the best and does run the risk of tiring himself out with his energetic approach.
I think this will be quite competitive, but I believe Nurmagomedov will be able to hold his own in the wrestling exchanges, while finding a home for his kicks and taking advantage of holes in Gafurov’s defence on the feet, which together with being the fresher fighter later in the fight will take him to a decision victory.
Prediction: Said Nurmagomedov to win by decision.
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UFC 294: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2 Prelims
(Predicted winners in bold)
Tim Elliott vs. Muhammad Mokaev
Mohammad Yahya vs. Trevor Peek
Javid Basharat vs. Victor Henry
Abu Azaitar vs. Sedriques Dumas
Mike Breeden vs. Anshul Jubli
Nathaniel Wood vs. Muhammad Naimov
Jinh Yu Frey vs. Viktoriya Dudakova
Bruno Silva vs. Shara Magomedov
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