The UFC once again touches down in Abu Dhabi on Saturday for a card that features the much-anticipated rematch between Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski.
That wasn’t the original plan. In fact, both the main and co-main for this card have seen last minute alterations. Usually when such a thing occurs, excitement tends to dip, but not here as both changes have only served to ramp up the intrigue.
Makhachev was set to defend his belt against Brazilian Charles Oliveira, but the challenger suffered a cut above his eye during his final sparring session before flying out to the gulf – so in steps Aussie featherweight champion Volkanovski, who once again moves up in weight to challenge the Dagestani for his lightweight strap.
In the co-main, Khamzat Chimaev was all set to face Paulo Costa in a middleweight match before the latter had to be withdrawn because of a nasty staph infection. His new opponent took many by surprise as former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman entered the fold for his first fight since suffering back-to-back losses to Leon Edwards.
The narratives have changed, but the hype very much remains for this card. So without further ado, let’s get into our picks.
Makhachev to beat Volkanovski on points @ 15/8
First off, all the credit in the world must be given to both fighters for stepping up to save this main event.
Makhachev may be in peak fighting shape, but Oliveira presented a different kind of challenge to Volkanovski and his preparations were surely geared towards that of ‘do Bronx’. As for Volkanovski, earlier in the week he revealed he was 180 lbs when he received the call to fill in, leaving him in a situation where he has to cut an incredible 26 lbs in 11 days.
When these two faced off back in July, the MMA world was split on the result. A late rally for the Aussie had many claiming he just about stole the fight, which could be playing on Makachev’s mind ahead of Saturday evening’s rematch.
With that said, we simply can’t look beyond the disparity in preparation time. Makhachev is hard enough to beat at 155lbs as it is, let alone without a full camp.
If ‘Volk’ had ample time, you would essentially be looking at a 50/50, where this observer may even lean towards the Australian, but given the short notice and quick cut, we have to go for Makhachev via decision.
Chimaev to beat Usman by KO, TKO or DQ @ 5/2
Based on star power, the late switch to the co-main makes this an even bigger tussle than the original Chimaev v Costa fight.
But dig a little deeper and the originally slated bout was likely to be a more competitive affair, which we’ll surely still see at some point down the line.
Usman is undoubtedly one of the greatest fighters to ever grace the octagon, but as with our headline act, preparation time is likely to prove key, especially when coming up against a young, hungry beast like Chimaev.
These two have shared a division before of course, but while Usman reigned supreme as champion, Chimaev’s stint at welterweight was plagued with weight cut issues, meaning a move up to middleweight was inevitable.
At 185lbs, Chimaev is likely to be too big and too fresh for a late-entering Usman who has struggled with niggling injuries in recent years.
The clash between ‘mountain wrestling’, as Khamzat puts it, and Usman’s American-style still presents a significant amount of curiosity, but we can’t help but feel the above factors will prove too much.
We’re going with Khamzat to ‘smesh’ the former welterweight champ within the distance.
Ankalaev to beat Walker on points @ 9/4
Ankalaev has been the picture of consistency since entering the UFC, aside from his debut in 2018 when Scotland’s Paul Craig caught him in a triangle choke with one second left on the clock.
Here he comes up against Brazilian Johnny Walker, who despite being wildly inconsistent during his later MMA career is on a three-fight win streak.
Ankalaev will be desperate to put on a show after a draw with Jan Błachowicz last time out, and all signs would point him doing that here.
Walker has shown in the past that his chin can at times be questionable, so don’t rule out a KO/TKO finish at 6/5.
But while we take that into account, we’re squeaking out some value by going with the decision victory.
Mokaev to beat Elliot by submission @ 9/4
Elsewhere on the card, there’s British interest as Manchester’s own Muhammad Mokaev takes on American Tim Elliot in the featured prelim bout.
We think Mokaev continues his meteoric rise through the flyweight ranks, and a submission victory may present some value.