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Sport UFC 266 fight card -- Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega: Five biggest storylines to watch in Las Vegas

06:15  21 september  2021
06:15  21 september  2021 Source:   cbssports.com

UFC Fight Night 192 Promotional Guidelines Compliance pay: Anthony Smith's $16k tops card

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Although it may have come two months later than it traditionally has in recent years, UFC's International Fight Week festivities return to Las Vegas on Saturday.

Dana White standing in front of a crowd © Provided by CBS Sports

As part of a loaded pay-per-view featuring a pair of title bouts atop the marquee, UFC 266 has also drawn buzz ahead of time to T-Mobile Arena for the return of fan-favorite Nick Diaz following a six-year hiatus.

Let's take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering this weekend's event.

Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including a look at the biggest storylines to follow at UFC 266 on Saturday below.

Alexander Volkanovski can enter elite territory with a win at UFC 266

  Alexander Volkanovski can enter elite territory with a win at UFC 266 Alexander Volkanovski laughs easily and has a self-effacing way about him. The UFC featherweight champion is as unpretentious and normal as can be, though he’s moving into some pretty serious territory in terms of professional accomplishments. Heading into his bout on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in the main event of UFC 266 against Brian Ortega, Volkanovski has won 19 straight fights, including nine in succession in the UFC. Kamaru Usman, who hasThe UFC featherweight champion is as unpretentious and normal as can be, though he’s moving into some pretty serious territory in terms of professional accomplishments.

1. There's little doubt Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega will prove worth waiting for

Originally scheduled for March at UFC 260, the cancellation of Volkanovski's featherweight title defense due to a positive COVID-19 test delayed the fight even further to allow both fighters the chance to coach on "The Ultimate Fighter 29" reality series. And considering Ortega returned from a two-year layoff due to injury last October when he shut out Chan Sung Jung over five rounds to secure a second title shot, it has felt for some time now like the 145-pound division has been on pause. Finally, the action at the top will resume in Volkanovski's second defense since first defeating Max Holloway in 2019. And it's very likely all this forced patience for fans will be rewarded given how incredible this matchup is on paper. The betting odds, which have the tactical wizard Volkanovski as a slight favorite, echo the thoughts of experts who have called it a virtual pick 'em pairing two of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.

UFC 266 odds, predictions, betting trends for Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega

  UFC 266 odds, predictions, betting trends for Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega Alexander Volkanovski will defend his UFC featherweight championship against Brian Ortega in the main event of UFC 266 and Sporting News aims to assist you with all of your betting needs.It will be Volkanovski's second title defense following his narrow decision victory over Max Holloway last July. He'll be facing an incensed Ortega who coached opposite him on The Ultimate Fighter. They were originally slated to face each other at UFC 260, but the fight was postponed after Volkanovski tested positive for COVID.

2. Ortega will need to find the perfect balance to unseat the featherweight king

Despite appearing in the Octagon just twice over the last three years amid injury setbacks, Ortega showed two vastly polarizing versions of himself. Against then-champion Max Holloway at UFC 231, Ortega eschewed his advantages in the grappling and submission game by coming forward with reckless abandon. The thrilling performance might have left Ortega with a busted face and a fourth-round TKO defeat due to doctor stoppage, but it cemented his new identity as a blood-and-guts warrior. Fast forward nearly two full years and Ortega was a completely different fighter in his surgical dismantling of "The Korean Zombie." Ortega's mastery of distance from the standup was incredible, as was the ease in which he disarmed Jung while showcasing a seemingly enhanced fight IQ. Finding the perfect balance between the two in order to attack Volkanovski will be key, but it won't be easy. Attempting to outright rush the Australian champion is an outright futile idea because of how easily he sets traps with his footwork. The same can be said for choosing to try and one-up the chessmaster on equal terms. Ortega will need to be as clever as he can to mix things up without allowing Volkanovski to get into a sustained groove.

UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega odds, predictions: Proven MMA insider releases surprising fight card picks

  UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega odds, predictions: Proven MMA insider releases surprising fight card picks Kyle Marley is up $14,000 on MMA picks and locked in his Brian Ortega vs. Alexander Volkanovski predictionsLAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 14: Alexander Volkanovski of Australia celebrates his win in the octagon during the UFC 245 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 14, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

3. What more can you say about Valentina Shevchenko?

The UFC women's flyweight champion has been so dominant since the launch of the 125-pound division through five title defenses in the past two years that she probably deserves consideration for pound-for-pound best female fighter, even with her having lost twice to current No. 1 Amanda Nunes. Death, taxes and Shevchenko by domination has become the only guarantees in the UFC. Even her most recent bout against former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade, which was expected to be Shevchenko's most dangerous title defense to date, instead became the finest showcase yet of her dominance. Shevchenko proved against Andrade that her wrestling game is on par with every other aspect of her well-rounded arsenal. Saturday's fight against top-ranked Lauren Murphy is expected to be no different as Shevchenko sits as a –1500 betting favorite. The only thing left to do is sit back and enjoy her greatness.

4. Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler 2 is finally done marinating

Admittedly, most of the attention attributed to this bout has surrounded the return of the mercurial Diaz at 38 after not fighting since his bizarre no contest against Anderson Silva in 2016 (and not having won a fight in nearly a full decade). One could even argue, at least in the eyes of longtime fans, this is the most intriguing storyline of them all. Yet it's just about perfect matchmaking, just the same, that Diaz's long-awaited return comes against an old foe in the 39-year-old Lawler. The former welterweight champion has lost four straight and appears to be on his last legs. Yet he's just about even money from a betting standpoint entering this second fight against Diaz in a rematch that feels like an unexpected gift for nostalgic fans who remember Diaz's second-round knockout of Lawler back in 2004 at UFC 47. The fight feels like it was multiple generations ago as far as the sport's overall development is concerned as the two combined for a memorable brawl between young welterweight prospects. Nearly two decades later, they fight to keep their respective careers alive.

5. Dan Hooker is willing to whatever it takes to fight

Hooker, a respected lightweight contender looking to snap his two-fight losing skid when he meets Nasrat Haqparast on the preliminary card, had so much trouble securing a last-minute VISA to leave his native New Zealand for the U.S. that he was forced to tweet at an embassy member pleading for assistance. Hooker plans to fly out on Thursday, which leaves little time to make weight for the fight once he hits the ground in Las Vegas amid potential jet lag. The sacrifice and commitment shown by Hooker is commendable amid tight COVID protocols in his home country. But it's hard not to question what the cost will be physically for the 31-year-old following what should be anything but a normal fight week -- provided he gets there on time and in one piece.

Brian Ortega releases statement, will be ready to 'chuck 'em again' after UFC 266 injuries heal .
has released a short statement following his title challenge on this past Saturday. In the main event of UFC 266, Ortega (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) challenged Alexander Volkanovski (23-1 MMA, 10-0 UFC) for the featherweight title in what turned out to be an instant classic…In the main event of UFC 266, Ortega (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) challenged Alexander Volkanovski (23-1 MMA, 10-0 UFC) for the featherweight title in what turned out to be an instant classic fight at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

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