Tuesday, June 25, 2024

UFC 294 predictions — Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski: Fight card, preview, odds, expert picks

Saturday’s UFC 294 event features a very different card than was originally planned, with injuries pulling fighters from the top two bouts. Two of the greatest fighters of their era answered the UFC’s call to save the event and the promotion emerged with a more compelling card.

In the main event, featherweight champion Alexander Volanovski is stepping in on less than two week’s notice to rematch lightweight champion Islam Makhachev after Charles Oliveira suffered an injury that forced his removal from the card. Makhachev took a narrow decision in the pair’s first meeting in February, though Volkanovski had him rocked with big strikes at multiple points in the fight.

The co-main event could produce just as many fireworks as the headliner. Chimaev has not fought in a year as he waited for a potential title bout and he draws a former champion in his return. Chimaev was given a headlining role opposite an exiting Nate Diaz in September 2022, but badly missed weight and caused a full reshuffle of the bout card. He easily submitted Kevin Holland in the first round, but has since moved full time to middleweight in pursuit of gold. He faces Usman, who is fresh off a pair of losses to Leon Edwards with the welterweight title at stake. The first of those losses came via last-minute head kick knockout in a fight he was winning the entire way. Usman looks for a fresh start at 185 pounds where UFC president Dana White has said the winner will get the next shot at middleweight champion Sean Strickland.

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The rest of the card is highlighted by the light heavyweight matchup in the featured bout on the main card. Magomed Ankalaev is set to take on Johnny Walker as both men look to stay relevant in the 205-pound title picture where the title is currently vacant, though a bout for the championship is scheduled for next month. Ankalaev had a chance to win the vacant title is his last outing, but had to settle for a split draw against Jan Blachowicz. Now he faces the always entertaining Walker, who enters on a three-fight win streak.

CBS Sports will also have live coverage of the fight with round-by-round scoring and blow-by-blow updates to keep you up to date throughout the night.

With so much happening on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.

UFC 294 fight card, odds

  • Islam Makhachev -260 vs. Alexander Volkanovski +210, lightweight title
  • Khamzat Chimaev -370 vs. Kamaru Usman +290, middleweights
  • Magomed Ankalaev -370 vs. Johnny Walker +290, light heavyweights
  • Ikram Aliskerov -600 vs. Warlley Alves +430, middleweights
  • Said Nurmagomedov -260 vs. Muin Gafurov +210, bantamweights
  • Muhammad Mokaev -440 vs. Tim Elliot +340, flyweights
  • Trevor Peek -180 vs. Mohammad Yahya +155, lightweights
  • Javid Basharat -575 vs. Victor Henry +425, bantamweights
  • Sedriques Dumas -250 vs. Abu Azaitar +205, middleweights
  • Anshul Jubli -270 vs. Mike Breeden +220, lightweights
  • Nathaniel Wood -340 vs. Muhammad Naimov +265, featherweights
  • Viktoriia Dudakova -500 vs. Jinh Yu Frey +380, women’s strawweights
  • Shara Magomedov -330 vs. Bruno Silva +260, middleweights

With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer, co-host of “Morning Kombat”), Shakiel Mahjouri (writer), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).

UFC 294 picks, predictions

Campbell Brookhouse Mahjouri Mormile Wise
Makhachev (c) vs. Volkanovski Volkanovski Volkanovski Makhachev Makhachev Makhachev
Chimaev vs. Usman Chimaev Usman Chimaev Chimaev Chimaev
Ankalaev vs. Walker Ankalaev Walker Ankalaev Ankalaev Walker
Aliskerov vs. Alves Aliskerov Aliskerov Aliskerov Aliskerov Aliskerov
Nurmagomedov vs. Gafurov Nurmagomedov Nurmagomedov Nurmagomedov Nurmagomedov Nurmagomedov
Records to date (2023)
35-20 34-21 33-22 33-17 35-20

Makhachev vs. Volkanovski

Campbell: As the reigning featherweight king said it himself after agreeing to rematch Makhachev on just 12 days’ notice: very few UFC champions would be willing to accept so much risk in a last-minute scenario such as this. What Volkanovski should’ve added was even fewer would be capable enough of having confidence that a victory was possible against such a devastating force in Makhachev. But Volkanovski is simply without peer, at the moment, as the defending pound-for-pound king. What that means is that if anyone can do this, it’s Volkanovski, who has carried an intense level of confidence into such a difficult task that it has left critics wondering whether he knows a secret that the general public isn’t privy to. Either way, Volkanovski showed enough resistance during their thrilling February superfight, which Makhachev won by disputed decision, that an improvement upon his initial performance isn’t out of the question for a historically great champion who keeps getting better, even at 35. Volkanovski will need to lean into the threat of his striking given the short training camp, but he proved two things in the first matchup that shouldn’t be overlooked. First, Volkanovski succeeded at wobbling and later briefly dropping Makhachev on the feet. Secondly, he never fell victim to Makhachev’s impressive grappling attack as he was able to neutralize enough pressure to leave open room for the fifth-round rally that went a long way in a vocal minority believing that Volkanovski had done enough to win. Make no mistake, this is a tall task. But no one else is currently as great within the UFC as Volkanovski, which makes this more of a calculated decision to accept the rematch than a risky money grab. 

Brookhouse: Live, I scored the first fight for Volkanovski. On rewatch, it seemed clear Makhachev’s win was deserved, though the fight was close. Volkanovski had the moments you remember from the fight, but Makhachev was able to control far more of the action overall. With that in mind, why am I picking Volkanovski? Can I get away with just saying “vibes” here? Volkanovski is a great fighter and great fighters have a bizarre level of self-confidence that they can do amazing things. But they also have teams surrounding them that know if something is a good idea. Volkanovski and his team were willing to take this fight on short notice and that has to be in part because they know he’s ready for it, even without a full, dedicated training camp. Makhachev knows Volkanovski can hurt him and that may change the approach here. Sometimes you just pick up the vibe that a defining moment is coming and I’ve picked that up this week.

Mahjouri: Volkanovski put forth an admirable effort in his first fight against Makhachev, but the featherweight champion decisively lost. Volkanovski executed a great game plan and it wasn’t enough to dethrone the larger champion. I expect Makhachev to be better prepared for Volkanovski the second time around. Add that Volkanovski is making the move up on roughly 10 days notice and it’s too tall an order for the smaller champion. Volkanovski should have better cardio than most fighters filling in and I suspect he’ll make it through five tough rounds, but Makhachev has his hand raised when the scorecards are announced.

Chimaev vs. Usman

Campbell: While Chimaev still remains largely unproven at the elite level, it’s hard to deny how dominant he has been. Outside of a back-and-forth war with Gilbert Burns in a fight Chimaev appeared to make more difficult than it needed to be, the native of Chechnya has rarely stepped foot inside the Octagon and not experienced dominant control. Even though Usman still demands respect as an experienced former champion, there remain too many questions about what he still has left at 36. Amid rumors of a possible leg injury amid a short-notice acceptance of the fight following an injury to Paulo Costa, Usman moves up a weight class fresh off a two-fight losing skid to current welterweight king Leon Edwards. Expecting him to bounce back against such a violent opponent as Chimaev feels like a bridge too far. Not only should Chimaev win, a stoppage isn’t out of the question should Usman’s cumulative wear and tear affect his mobility. 

Brookhouse: Yes, Chimaev should be the favorite entering the fight. Usman has plenty working against him here, including a body that seems to be a bit less cooperative these days. That said, I do believe talk of Usman’s decline is wildly overstated. Yes, he lost to Leon Edwards twice, but were it not for a Hail Mary head kick in the dying moments of their first championship meeting, Usman takes a wide, clear decision and the second fight never happens. Usman looked flat in the second title fight with Edwards, but we’ve seen great fighters have off nights. Chimaev has dominated the majority of his competition in shocking ways. That said, the one time he faced a true test, Gilbert Burns pushed him hard. Is this version of Usman, even on short notice, better than Gilbert Burns? I believe so. Chimaev should win but I’ve convinced myself this is Usman’s fight to lose. That I’ve done that with both of these top fights should be a red flag but where’s the fun in just running with what “should happen?”

Mahjouri: I originally sided with Usman. I believed the former welterweight champion’s record-setting takedown defense, fights against more technical strikers and championship experience would overcome Chimaev’s pressure style. A semi-audible conversation between Usman and Justin Gaethje at the UFC 294 workouts flipped my pick. It’s far from concrete, but the conversation sparked rumors that Usman may have injured his knee. The chatter paired with Usman’s history of knee issues is too dicey for me to side with him. If Usman is compromised, Chimaev will be able to pick him apart on the feet and possibly ground the former champ. I’ll take Chimaev via late stoppage or decision.

Ankalaev vs. Walker

Campbell: Just 10 months removed from his disappointing (and disputed) split draw against Jan Blachowicz for the vacant light heavyweight title, Ankalaev has been a bit out of sight and out of mind despite the chaos atop the division. Even with now ex-champion Jamahal Hill’s injury, the uncertainty of former champion Jiri Prochazka’s comeback and the emergence of a new title challenger in former middleweight king Alex Pereira, Anakalev might still be the best in class on a global level at 205 pounds. That doesn’t mean he is without lessons to learn. Ankalaev failed to capture the moment against Blachowicz to convincingly sway the judges. He gets another chance against a rising Johnny Walker with the prospect of a second title shot potentially at stake. Anakalev is more skilled and the gap between them on the ground is vast. As long as he brings with him a renewed intention to leave his mark in terms of striking, Anakalev can still be the boogeyman of the light heavyweight division. 

Brookhouse: Ask yourself this question: Do you truly believe you can predict what is going to happen in a Johnny Walker fight? If you said yes, you’re lying to yourself. Walker’s atoms are bound together by strings of pure chaos energy. Will he bomb his opponent out in ruthlessly efficient fashion or will he be too wild and exhaust himself while getting outworked by a sharper opponent? Who knows! Walker by TKO, Round 1.

Mahjouri: It’s a relief to see Walker put together a three-fight winning streak after his perilous fall from grace. Walker has clearly evolved into a more patient and thoughtful fighter with a bigger bag of tricks. But wins over Anthony Smith, Paul Craig and Ion Cutelaba do not make a world champion. Ankalaev should already be a UFC champion in the eyes of many who watched his split draw with Jan Blachowicz. Ankalaev has a knack for muting advanced opponents and knocking out lesser ones. Walker has the power to turn the tide, but I don’t think he has the skills required to force enough openings to test Ankalaev’s perfect chin. Ankalaev via KO.

Who wins UFC 294: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2, and how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC 294, all from the MMA expert who profited more than $6,200 in 2022, and find out. 

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