I absolutely hate UFC 294 for betting. Most of the favorites are too juiced, yet the underdogs are too untrustworthy to gamble on.
Nevertheless, here are my UFC predictions for the main card.
Said Nurmagomedov vs. Muin Gafurov
I feel lukewarm about Said Nurmagomedov. There are plenty of good things about his skill set, but his game is incohesive and he is not the kind of guy who will fight tooth and nail for victory when times get rough.
The Dagestani is a dynamic kicker with good footwork, but he goes to the well too often with spinning attacks and can be controlled against the fence. It is difficult to establish a dominant position against him on the mat and he is always ready to sink in a guillotine to punish sloppy takedown attempts
He should be able to stick and move against Muin Gafurov with high success in the early stages of the fight, but I’m unsure if he can maintain his distance and keep the fight clean in the later rounds.
Gafurov lacks refinement, but you can count on him to bite down on the mouthpiece and come forward. The Tajik fighter throws big looping punches and has an excellent double-leg takedown, although his top control is not the best.
I was impressed by his volume and work rate on short notice against John Castaneda and I think he has the potential to out-hustle Nurmagomedov – even if he is out-matched in terms of technical ability.
Said Nurmagomedov is the rightful favorite, but I can’t justify his -240 price tag. This could play out more competitively than the odds suggest.
Ikram Aliskerov vs. Warlley Alves
Warlley Alves is moving up a weight class to take this fight on short notice and didn’t appear to be in the best shape at the weigh-ins. While he is probably going to lose, Alves has the potential to finish anyone in the first round.
The Brazilian is a skilled striker with natural power and he also has an excellent guillotine choke.
While I’m usually against selling out for the guillotine at the UFC level, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea on this occasion. Alves is bound to slow down, so he might as well blow his energy and go all out for the early finish.
Alves should attack the body, throw everything with vicious intent and jump on the guillotine if it’s available.
Most likely, Ikram Aliskerov will be able to weather the early storm and find a finish himself – either on the feet or on the mat. The Russian sambist is proficient in all facets of MMA and I think he’s too composed to get caught by some crazy haymaker.
I don’t like this fight for betting, but I’d probably play Ikram Aliskerov to win in rounds 2 and 3 at +300 and +800 respectively if I were desperate for action.
Magomed Ankalaev vs. Johnny Walker
I’ve been a fan of Magomed Ankalaev since he first stepped into the octagon, but his recent performances leave much to be desired.
He racked up terrifying knockouts in his earlier career, but has relied on his wrestling to win tepid decisions recently. I can’t blame him for fighting more conservatively as he has faced better competition – but I’d love to see him return to the ferocious style that made him popular as a prospect.
To his credit, he seems to have taken the criticisms onboard and has promised for a more exciting encounter this weekend.
I’d love to see him slug it out with Johnny Walker, although wrestling is his most intelligent path to victory.
I expect a low volume affair on the feet, with both men looking to feint and time each other with big shots. Walker has the reach advantage and I think he will pose plenty of issues with his long straight punches as well as kicks to the open side.
I’m just not confident Walker can stay off his back. He showed glimpses of good defensive wrestling in recent fights, but can be taken down from caught kicks and will need to avoid the clinch against a strong Greco stylist.
I’m also not confident that Walker can get back to his feet if he gets grounded. He has a BJJ brown belt, but Ankalaev has excellent top pressure and I doubt Walker will be able to sweep him.
That said, Walker’s fights are always volatile and so long as he doesn’t get stuck on bottom position – I think he has a good chance of outperforming his +280 price tag.
Magomed Ankalaev is the pick, but this is an underdog or pass spot as far as betting goes.
Kamaru Usman vs. Khamzat Chimaev
Stylistically, Kamaru Usman is not an easy matchup for Khamzat Chmaev.
Both men are fantastic athletes and proficient chain-wrestlers, but “The Nigerian Nightmare” appears to be the more technical striker.
Against Gilbert Burns, Chimaev showcased plenty of offensive firepower – but didn’t see punches coming and walked face-first onto counters.
The Chechen is in the prime of his career and has had time to make improvements, so I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him knocking Usman unconscious – but attempting to overwhelm him as he did against Burns could backfire.
Usman is more defensively-minded, has an excellent jab and will also target the body. If the grappling gets canceled out, I could see Usman winning the aggregate of exchanges on the feet.
The only issue is that Usman is taking this on short notice and is coming off the worst performance of his career where he competed while injured. I’m not sure what condition his knees are in and how much longer he intends to fight at 36 years of age.
That said, styles make fights and I’m tempted to take a shot on Kamaru Usman at +260.
Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski
I’m glad Alex Volkanovski is stepping up at the last minute to save this card, but this is an extremely tall order. Not only is Volkanovski coming off a recent surgery, he also had a long flight to Abu Dhabi without a training camp or time to adjust to the climate.
Furthermore, this is not his natural weight class.
Volkanovski doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would fight solely for a paycheck and wants to cement himself as a legend of the sport.
As we saw in the first fight, Volkanovski is a handful on the feet. The Australian has excellent use of feints, counters and has good offense off the shift.
However, I’m not confident he can find the knockout and we saw him get controlled for long periods.
Islam Makhachev is not as sophisticated on the feet, but he does the basics well. He stays defensively tight and has a good right hook, left cross and left body kick.
Makhachev has shown an ability to hit takedowns and get to a dominant position and I don’t think Volkanovski will be able to prevent that – particularly without a full training camp.
I suspect this fight will be a bit of an anti-climax and I’m picking Islam Makhachev to reclaim his belt.