Everything you need to know about UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega

Publish Date
Friday, 24 September 2021, 7:48AM


ACC UFC contributor Felix Heath-Collins with everything you need to know ahead of UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega.

The premier MMA promotion is back this weekend with UFC 266, a PPV (Pay-Per-View) headlined by a bout between Australian featherweight champion Alexander "The Great" Volkanovski and Brian "T-City" Ortega. Women's flyweight champion Valentina "Bullet" Shevchenko also looks to defend her title in the co-main event against veteran contender "Lucky" Lauren Murphy. While the best on this stacked main card is the massively hyped rematch between MMA veterans Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler, 17 years after their first meeting at UFC 44 in 2004.

Australian featherweight champion Alexander "The Great" Volkanovski looks to defend his title belt in the main event against Brian "T-City" Ortega following their rivalry on "The Ultimate Fighter" TV show earlier this year.

Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) (wins-losses) is an awesome champion who has a unique and complicated fighting history. He's Australian-born and bred, but he also partly trains in New Zealand at City Kickboxing. He's inarguably the greatest featherweight around (having beat the next best Max Holloway twice in a row), yet he hasn't put on any insane, show-stopping performances yet. Four of his last five fights were decisions, with only one coming via stoppage (KO/TKO). But the competition has been fierce. In those five fights, Volkanovski has beaten Darren "The Damage" Elkins, Chad "Money" Mendes, Jose Aldo "Junior", and former champion Max "Blessed" Holloway twice (once via unanimous decision, and again via split decision).

On the other hand, Brian "T-City" Ortega (15-1) isn't anywhere near as likeable as his Australian opponent. In many ways, Ortega plays the 'heel' (pro wrestling villain), while Volkanovski plays the 'face' (pro wrestling hero). And, in a very pro wrestling move, Ortega's nickname "T-City" is short for "Triangle-City" - in reference to his favourite submission, the triangle choke.  Ortega's short but impressive record includes a decision win, a triangle choke submission,  two guillotine choke submissions, and three KO/TKO's, all against dangerous competition at featherweight. Following a six-fight win streak in the UFC, Ortega earned himself a title shot against then-champion Max "Blessed" Holloway. That title fight was a disaster for the then-undefeated Brian Ortega. For four full rounds, Ortega served as a literal punching bag for the Hawaiian Holloway, who broke numerous strike total records before a doctor stopped the fight between the fourth and fifth rounds.

After that historic loss, Ortega took almost two years off. Then, late last year, Ortega returned against fan-favourite fighter "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung, who he beat via unanimous decision. Outside of the octagon, Ortega has gained some infamy for his arrogance and abrasive personality, along with an incident in which he slapped a translator (non-fighter) amid trash-talking.

Based on records alone, Volkanovski should have this one in the bag. Because even though many thought he lost one (or both, depending on who you ask) of his title fights against Max Holloway, neither of those were close to the ridiculous damage that Ortega absorbed from Holloway in their fight. At the end of the day, it's hard to root against the cool-headed Australian hero in Alexander Volkanovski, and it's even harder to root for the unrepentant villain he's fighting in Brian Ortega.

In the co-main event legendary female flyweight champion, Valentina "Bullet" Shevchenko (21-3) defends her belt against surging veteran contender "Lucky" Lauren Murphy (15-4).

Kyrgyzstan's Shevchenko is so ridiculously good that some fans honestly theorize that she's a Russian spy. And it's surprisingly easy to see why. Shevchenko is a supremely brutal Muay Thai artist, she's fluent in three languages (her native Russian, along with Spanish and English), plus she's a marksman and overall gun-nut whose fighting nickname is "Bullet". But she's so damn fun to watch, no one honestly cares which Soviet genetics lab she might've come from. Since joining the UFC in late 2015, her only two losses have come against the much-bigger Women's 'GOAT' (Greatest Of All Time) Amanda "The Lioness" Nunes in two relatively close decisions. Surviving eight full rounds against "The Lioness" is in itself a feat to behold, but Shevchenko has also beat elite competition like Holly "The Preacher's Daughter" Holm, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Liz Carmouche, Jennifer Maia, Juliana Pena, Katlyn Chookagian, and Jessica Andrade. Her career highlight was a brutal head kick KO against Jessica "Evil" Eye, that left the latter unconscious for several minutes.

"Lucky" Lauren Murphy is a skilled boxer who has forged an impressive winning streak out of a rough UFC start. Debuting in 2014, Murphy lost two straight fights via decision - to Sara McMann and Liz Carmouche.  Murphy rebounded with a KO/TKO before losing another decision, this time to Katlyn Chookagian. A decision win for Murphy followed, and then another decision loss, this one to Sijara Eubanks. A year off between 2018-19 saw Lauren Murphy come back in a big way with her current five-fight win streak, thus earning herself the coveted title shot against Shevchenko. And not too soon, either, as Lauren Murphy is now nearing the end of her combat sports career at 38 years old (five years older than the champion Shevchenko).

For Murphy to overcome the odds and beat the unbeatable champion, Shevchenko, she'd have to put on one hell of a performance this weekend. It would honestly be one of the biggest upsets in MMA history (along with the likes of Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop and St. Pierre vs. Serra 1). But to do that, Lauren would have to be pretty damn "Lucky", indeed.

Right before those two tantalizing title fights is the real fight of the night. It's a middleweight rematch 17-years in the making between longtime welterweights Nick Diaz and "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler.

Nick Diaz (26-9) has the most losses of any "undefeated" fighters. He's a street kid from Stockton, California who refuses to lose, even when the official result is being announced by Bruce Buffer. And even when he does win, the fight is often turned over due to him habitually smoking marijuana before he fights. Famously, Nick (and his even famous-er Conor McGregor-beating younger brother Nate) only began training their first martial art (Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu) as kids for the meal that the older guys in the class would buy them afterwards. As Nate Diaz later recalled: "I didn't have any money. At home we didn't have s**t. I was starving all day. So if I went to train I'd get something to eat... I was going for burritos, and dinner, and hey, I wanted dinner every day. Before I knew it I was a blue belt."

"Ruthless" Robbie Lawler (28-15) comes from the other side of the tracks. No, he wasn't rich growing up, but he wasn't starving like Nick and Nate, either. Instead, his roots are mostly working-class, born in San Diego, California before moving to Bettendorf, Iowa at ten years old. A city that would produce Pat Miletich, Jens "Lil' Evil" Pulver, and the great welterweight Matt Hughes. Excelling at American football and wrestling in high school, Robbie Lawler was eventually scouted out by his future trainer Pat Miletich, who would turn him into a ferocious fight-finishing machine. Lawler's storied MMA career involves two stints in the UFC (the first way back in 2002), a single PRIDE fight, and a decent run in Strikeforce, too. In that near 20-year pro MMA career, Lawler won the UFC welterweight title and has collected wins against the likes of Chris "Lights Out" Lytle, Frank "Twinkle Toes" Trigg, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Melvin "No Mercy" Manhoef, Josh Koscheck, Rory "Red King" MacDonald twice, Johny Hendricks, Matt Brown, Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condit, and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone. Robbie Lawler is currently on an unprecedented four-fight losing streak and is seriously running out of steam at 39 years of age. That's just over half his life fighting professionally in a cage. That lifetime worth of combat sports at the highest level sure takes its toll on the body and the brain.

Although Nick Diaz pulled off a beautiful 2nd round KO/TKO of Robbie Lawler in his second-ever UFC fight, both of these southpaw boxers are well past their primes. Diaz is now six years removed from his last MMA fight, and Lawler has had four losses since his last win in the octagon. While old, battle-worn men really shouldn't be fighting anymore, at least they're both equally old and battle-worn. It should be some good, sloppy fun to see off two of the most legendary MMA careers the sport has seen

The UFC 266 main card starts for us here in New Zealand at 3:00 PM this Sunday, while the earliest prelims begin at 11:00 AM. Enjoy!

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