What started off as Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira facing off a second time for the UFC Lightweight title, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski instead stepped up on short notice and will face off against Makhachev. This marquee main event on Saturday in the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates will also feature the Co-Main event Kamaru Usman and Khamzat Chimaev. Usman replaced Paulo Costa as Costa was removed due to recent elbow surgery.
Oliveira suffered a nasty cut in his sparring training. The question remains whether Volkanovski will live up to what was the most highly anticipated fight, featuring the fan favorite Oliveira. Volkanovski took the fight on short notice and has lost 26 pounds to meet the weight for the lightweight title against Makhachev. Usman also took the fight on short notice and was not shocked to receive the call. The fighters asked for this battle months ago and their wish was finally granted. Below, we will analyze the Main and Co-Main Events for the UFC 294.
Islam Makhachev v. Alexander Volkanovski
The weight cut journey for Volkanovski has been ridiculous. A day prior to the announcement that he replaced Oliveira, Volkanovski weighed in at 181 pounds. However, the lightweight limit in a title fight is 155 pounds. Makhachev beat Volkanovski at UFC 284 by a close unanimous decision in February. When it comes to striking power, Volkanovski has a slight edge over Makhachev. At UFC 284, the featherweight champion out-landed Makhachev 70-57 and landed 6.25 significant strikes per minute. The submission game is where Makhachev thrives. They are both world class grapplers, but the Russian lightweight has won 11 fights by submission. Volkanovski is widely recognized to have some of the most bulletproof submission defense in MMA. Makhachev completed four takedowns in five rounds against his foe and denied all four of Volkanovski’s attempts. In short notice, Volkanovski has little time to develop a game plan against his opponent. Most of Makhachev’s training was solely focused on Charles Oliveira’s fighting tactics, so it is impossible to know who is in better shape. If Volkanovski had a full eight weeks to prepare, he would be the popular pick, but in another late round squeaker, expect Makhachev to come out on top.
Khamzat Chimaev v. Kamaru Usman
Usman enters the first losing skid in his career. He has not won an event since 2021 and moves up to the middleweight division for the first time in his career. The Nigerian superstar started his career 15-0 with five straight title defenses. He recently dropped back-to-back fights against welterweight champion Leon Edwards. Chimaev, who is 12-0, made his UFC debut in 2020 and has had minor setbacks. In 2020, he was slated to fight Edwards but faced multiple COVID-19 setbacks and briefly retired in 2021. In April 2022, the Russian fighter defeated Gilbert Burns via unanimous decision and missed weight in the September 2022 headline fight against Nate Diaz. Usman holds the best takedown defense in UFC history at 97%. Chimaev’s wrestling skills have not been tested before, which if Usman is in shape on such short notice, makes for a better matchup than Costa. His strikes landed per minute is 7.30 versus Usman’s 4.46. Usman has the slight edge with more fights under his belt but has dealt with serious knee injuries and wear and tear on his body at 36 years old. It’s been over a year and a half since Chimaev entered the UFC Octagon. Chimaev’s camp, like Makhachev, also solely focused their training for Costa. This fight is tough to predict, but with Usman’s high-IQ and experience, along with Chimaev’s impressive run, expect the Russian fighter to come out on top.