After all of the craziness in the buildup to UFC 294, we’re finally here.
UFC featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski is looking to put his name along with the likes of Conor McGregor, Amanda Nunes, Daniel Cormier, and Henry Cejudo as a simultaneous two-division UFC champion. To do so, he’ll need to solve the puzzle of reigning UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in a short-notice title fight.
Speaking of short notice, former UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has filled in for an injured Paulo Costa to take on the surging Khamzat Chimaev. This is a middleweight bout with high stakes. The winner will receive a shot at Sean Strickland’s UFC Middleweight Championship.
Magomed Ankalaev vs. Johnny Walker, Ikram Aliskerov vs. Warlley Alves, and Said Nurmagomedov vs. Muin Gafurov will also be featured on the PPV card. With fight night approaching, it’s time to get to our UFC 294 predictions.
Fernando Quiles Jr: Volkanovski has proven he can hold his own against Makhachev with their UFC 284 clash back in February. Volkanovski gained steam down the stretch, but I agree with the judges that it was too little, too late. Despite this being a short-notice fight, I see Makhachev making the necessary adjustments to ensure Volk doesn’t find that late burst again. Could I be wrong? I certainly have been in the past, but I feel Makhachev is just a tad bit ahead. (Pick: Makhachev)
Mathew Riddle: I’m pulling for Volk but I don’t think his hubris does him any favors. He was running away with their first fight at the end, but in terms of the adjustments needed by both fighters, I believe Islam needs to make the least. Volk fights on a razor’s edge, but Islam was only in danger in the dying moments of round 5. If Islam has made the necessary adjustments to his cardio and grappling, I can see him winning. (Pick: Makhachev)
Drew Beaupré: I definitely wanted to see how Charles Oliveira would do in a second fight with Makhachev, but like a lot of people I’m more interested in this rematch given how competitive their first meeting was. The short-notice nature of the bout adds some extra drama even if it isn’t an ideal scenario, and Volkanovski has likely at least had this opportunity in mind during his last few months of training. The odds are certainly against him, but I’ll take “The Great” to pull off what would be one of the most incredible victories in the history of the sport. (Pick: Volkanovski)
Zain Bando: I understand the reasoning behind picking Makhachev due to the home-field advantage, but Volkanovski’s uber-confidence leads me to believe the fight will go a little differently this time. Volkanovski will use his wrestling to neutralize Makhachev and earn a late finish or decision victory. I think Makhachev could be looking past him, too. Give me the upset! (Pick: Volkanovski)
Fernando Quiles Jr: This is the biggest test of Chimaev’s career by far. “Borz” has looked dominant with the exception of the Gilbert Burns fight. Even in that bout, he proved he has the grit to last inside the Octagon. Usman is obviously a world-class welterweight, but is he still elite following back-to-back losses to Leon Edwards? He was dominant against Edwards in their rematch before suffering the head kick KO. Then in the trilogy, Edwards was slightly a step ahead and took the majority decision. I think I’ll take the fresher Khamzat Chimaev here, but this is a great opportunity for Usman to have his, “Y’all must’ve forgot” moment. (Pick: Chimaev)
Mathew Riddle: You’re only as good as your last fight, and Usman didn’t look so hot against Edwards. He was slow, lumbering, overreached and had no explosivity. Khamzat is going to be quick, snappy, powerful and relentless, at least in those early rounds. A lot of people are drawing comparisons between their fights with Gilbert Burns, but I put this down to Chimaev resting on his laurels. He won’t make that mistake again. (Pick: Chimaev)
Drew Beaupré: As with the main event, this matchup looks to be a more interesting one on paper than the originally scheduled bout between Chimaev and Paulo Costa. It’s also very much a fight where I’d have preferred to see Usman put in a full camp before making his middleweight debut, especially considering the caliber of opponent he’s facing. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the grappling exchanges play out, but I have to take Chimaev to add to his unbeaten record and hand Usman his third loss in a row. (Pick: Chimaev)
Zain Bando: Usman hasn’t been the same fighter since losing his title to Leon Edwards last August. Chimaev seems to be on a different level with huge wins against Kevin Holland and Gilbert Burns. Chimaev is the biggest threat to the middleweight title with Israel Adesanya sharing his need for taking time off. Usman just got the call last week. Chimaev has been in Abu Dhabi for over a month, and he’ll finish Usman inside two rounds. (Pick: Chimaev)
Fernando Quiles Jr: After going 1-4 in five fights, Walker has rebounded nicely with three wins in a row. While there is something to be said about momentum, I think Walker’s streak ends against Ankalaev. A good mix of striking and takedowns will be the strategy for Ankalaev, I believe. I see him frustrating Walker and earning a win to get back in the UFC light heavyweight title picture. (Pick: Ankalaev)
Mathew Riddle: Ankalaev struggled too much with Blachowicz to discredit Walker in this matchup. The Russian fighter had a very hard time with some rudimentary striking techniques, and showed no urgency or adjustments over five rounds. I feel that Walker could pull off an upset just by being the more athletic and merciless fighter. It’s also a safe observation to say Walker’s leg kicks could be a problem for Ankalaev in this fight. I’m going with the underdog for the upset. (Pick: Walker)
Drew Beaupré: Of the three higher-profile fights atop this card, this one feels like it’s the most likely to have something strange happen. That could just be because of how things have trended in the light heavyweight division as of late, but it’s also probably due to the clear clash of styles at play. I’m tempted to say that Walker is going to pull off the upset by landing something wild, but I’ll pick Ankalaev to get things to the mat and soundly out grapple the Brazilian. (Pick: Ankalaev)
Zain Bando: The pent up anger and frustration since his draw last December will only add fuel to the fire for Ankalaev. I think he goes out and makes a major statement against Walker and wins by KO/TKO in Round 1. I worry the travel will also negatively impact Walker coming from Brazil. (Pick: Ankalaev)
Fernando Quiles Jr: Aliskerov has been on quite a journey to his next UFC fight, which is unusual for someone who scored a sensational one-punch knockout in their last fight. Aliskerov saw planned fights with Paulo Costa and Nassourdine Imavov fall through. The good news for him is that he’s only had to wait five months to return to action. His opponent, Alves, has a solid ground game, but I don’t think Aliskerov will be fazed with his strong defense. I agree with the oddsmakers here, Aliskerov gets it done. (Pick: Aliskerov)
Mathew Riddle: (Pick: Alves)
Drew Beaupré: This is a tough matchup for Alves to try and snap a two-fight skid, but I also feel for Aliskerov a bit considering he missed out on a chance to jump into the middleweight rankings against Nassourdine Imavov. I expect Aliskerov to get the job done here and likely end things inside the distance, although if he gets overconfident Alves is more than capable of landing a big shot or snatching a surprise submission. (Pick: Aliskerov)
Zain Bando: This is a set-up fight for Ikram Aliskerov to boost his reputation in the UAE region. He’s simply better everywhere. (Pick: Aliskerov)
Fernando Quiles Jr: On paper, this is a great fight to get things started on the UFC 294 main card. Neither fighter has been finished in their pro MMA careers. I expect some fun moments in the standup, but ultimately, I see the speed advantage of Nurmagomedov being enough to get him a decision victory. (Pick: Nurmagomedov)
Mathew Riddle: Gafurov had an action-packed three round affair with Castaneda earlier this year. It was a competitive fight, but Castaneda currently isn’t on the same level as Nurmagomedov – a fringe top-15 contender. Gafurov’s all-out style was enabled by Castaneda’s willingness to stand and trade, but I believe Nurmagomedov will pick him apart at range. (Pick: Nurmagomedov)
Drew Beaupré: This is a great matchup that probably would be getting a bit more attention if there weren’t so many huge names scheduled for later on the event’s main card. Nurmagomedov had an impressive four-fight win streak snapped by Jonathan Martinez in March, and although he’ll need to be careful not to get clipped by any big shots from Gafurov I’ll take the Russian to either win a decision or look for a chance to grab one of his favored guillotine chokes. (Pick: Nurmagomedov)
Zain Bando: Never pick against anyone with the Nurmagomedov last name. The pipeline will continue on Saturday. (Pick: Nurmagomedov)