All eyes will be on the octagon this weekend when Alexander Volkanovski challenges Islam Makhachev for the UFC Lightweight Championship. The 5-round fight is a matchup between two of the UFC’s most elite wrestlers; Makhachev and his Khabib-like chain wrestling; Volkanovski with his defensive proficiency.
Volkanovski is the reigning featherweight champion and fights this Saturday to join the exclusive, esteemed club of “champ champs”– that is, fighters who have held titles in two separate weight divisions simultaneously. Such a club is small as it is one of the tallest tasks the UFC has to offer. Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo are the only fighters to have ever earned the label “champ champ.”
Makhachev looks to defend the lightweight belt he earned in a dominant performance over Charles Oliveira last October. Going into that fight, Oliveira was the most feared grappler in the game, being the UFC’s all-time leader in wins by submission. Makhachev, however, wasn’t fazed. He submitted the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with an arm-triangle choke in the second round. Such a striking win sent shockwaves through a division once dominated by Oliveira’s mastery.
Islam has quite a bit to lose in this matchup. Being the protege of Khabib Nurmagomedov, he follows in the footsteps of one of the sport’s greatest ever. A loss would mean the lightweight title slipping out of his grasp after having just taken it, a tremendous hiccup in a career seemingly destined for domination. A win would be a title defense to build upon for the coming years, cementing Makhachev as the most feared fighter in the division.
Though Volkanovski’s wrestling prowess is impressive, Makhachev’s main advantage lies in his size. At 5’10” and 154 pounds, he towers over the Australian. Being a phenomenal wrestler, Islam will surely leverage his size to break through his opponent’s solid defense and stay on top for most of the fight. Once on the ground, Alexander will have his hands full guarding against Islam’s fearsome submission grappling, as showcased in his win over Oliveira.
Prediction: Makhachev by Unanimous Decision
I predict that Islam Makhachev’s size will simply be too much for Volkanovski to handle. It will be a dogfight with most of the action coming on the ground. Having the reach advantage will be key for Islam in damaging Volkanovski on the feet, leading to him gaining top position on the canvas and relentlessly throwing in submission attempts.
Guarding against submissions is known to be one of the most tiring tasks in the sport, and doing so against a much larger opponent will have Alexander gassed by the third round. From there, he won’t have enough in the tank to attack. Even if the challenger wants to win on the feet, it’s unlikely many of his strikes will be enough to hurt the larger Makhachev.
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