Written By Dylan Knostman
On Saturday, February 11th UFC 284 takes place at RAC Arena in Perth, Australia as the number #1 Pound for Pound fighter Alexander Volkanovski looks to upset current lightweight champion and current #2 Pound for Pound Islam Makhachev, and complete the impressive feat of becoming two division champion. Also during this event we have the interim Lightweight Championship featuring top contenders Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez facing Josh Emmett, along with several other exciting bouts throughout the evening. In this article I’ll be previewing each fight on the main card, and touch on a couple prelims I would recommend tuning in to watch.
The Protege of MMA legend Khabib Nurmagomedov, Dagestan’s Islam Makhachev (23-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC) is one of the scariest men in mixed martial arts. Riding an 11 fight win streak, he has been on the ascent for a long time, but it wasn’t until UFC 280 that he finally captured his lifelong dream of UFC gold after dominating Charles Oliveira on the feet and finishing him with an arm triangle on the ground. His first title defense comes in enemy territory as he attempts to subdue title challenger and current featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski. Islam has perhaps the best wrestling and grappling in the UFC, typical of the Dagestani style. He works with relentless pressure, takes his opponents down, and drowns them on the ground with strikes and submissions. His one loss came via knockout against Adriano Martins in 2015, but Makachev’s standup game has improved so much since that fight it hardly is indicative of his current dominance and skills. The game plan remains the same as always for Islam, as he utilizes his many takedowns, attempting to get the fight to the ground, and to then finish his opponent. The only questions I have for Makhachev going into this fight is whether he will be affected by the Australian fans, how will he handle Volks pace and pressure, and will the absence of his long time coach Khabib change anything? Outside of these variables, I see a clear path to victory for Islam’s first title defense.
Alexander Volkanovski is probably the most well rounded fighter in the UFC. He owns his own impressive winning streak sitting at 22 consecutive victories. This Saturday he will look to cement his status as one of the all time greats as he moves up to lightweight, attempting to become the first UFC double champion since Amanda nunes, and first male double champ since Henry Cejudo. Volkanovski has one of the best jabs in mma, and he uses it to set up his right hand and his kicks. One of his favorite techniques is a step up inside low kick that allows him to get inside of his opponent and blast with heavy shots, and drive his opponent to the fence. His cardio and pace is unmatched, as he has gone five rounds in 4 of his last fights. His toughness is unparalleled, shown in his trilogy with Max Holloway, and his absolute war with Brian Ortega for the lightweight strap. His wrestling is also good, and while he recently reminded Makhachev of the fact he is an Australian national champion wrestler, it’s hard to imagine his skills are on par with the likes of someone like Islam. Volks key to victory is to overwhelm Islam on the feet, consistently stay moving, eat him up with low kicks and do not let the fight go to the ground. His size is slightly concerning as he is only 5’6 and he will have to work hard to get inside on his opponent. Nonetheless, never count out Alexander “The Great” as he is truly one of the most special fighters the sport ever witnessed.
Volk is a personal favorite of mine, and while I hope he can manage an upset, Makhachev is likely the toughest test one can find in the lightweight division. I see the dagestani fighter getting his hand raised by ground and pound finish or submission in the second or third round, and remaining the lightweight champ.
As Alexander Volkanovski moves up to lightweight to challenge Islam Makachev, the UFC decided to schedule top contender Josh Emmett (18-2, 9-2 UFC) vs Mexican star Yair Rodriguez (18-3, 9-2 UFC). Both of these men are coming off criticized wins, Emmett for his main event decision victory over Calvin Kattar in June, while Rodriguez won via TKO against former title challenger Brian Ortega after he injured his shoulder in the first round. Nonetheless, this is the championship fight we get and it should be a good one barring any strange occurrences.
Starting with Emmett, he has long been a contender in the featherweight division, and is finally getting his shot. His power is his most defining characteristic as a fighter. His hooks and overhands are truly devastating, and he is currently tied with Jeremy Stephens for the most knockdowns in UFC featherweight history at 11. As a former college wrestler he has strong takedowns and control, but he is primarily a striker as of late. He utilizes heavy feints, and changes levels often to keep his opponent guessing and to create openings for his massive punches. He tends to struggle to finish fights when he has someone hurt, and sometimes his pace can fall behind his opponent which can hurt him on the scorecards. Emmett has also shown the tendency to get caught in the past, as he has been wobbled by several of his opponents and was finished in brutal fashion versus Jeremy Stephens in 2018. He is also 5’6, which compared to his opponent Yair Rodriguez who is 5’11, is a significant difference for the division.
Yair Rodriguez is one of the most unique strikers in all of combat sports. He has elite kicks he can and will throw from anywhere, and he has no issues jumping in the air to throw or spinning wildly. While seemingly unsustainable, El Pantera boasts an incredible gas tank and has gone 5 rounds before. He will look to stay on the outside versus Emmett, using his long attacks to catch Josh with one of his electrifying shots. He is very skilled with his hands as well, throwing long and fast strikes from many angles, including elbows such as the spinning back elbow that finished the Korean Zombie in 2018. My concerns for Yair going into this fight is his general lack of activity over the past four years, as he only has three bouts with one ending in the first round, where he won via TKO by shoulder injury vs Ortega as previously mentioned. Along with the small amount of octagon time, Rodriguez has also not faced many high level wrestlers like Emmett, and perhaps the most comparable opponent is when he fought Frankie Edgar and got demolished, as the fight was ended via doctor's stoppage in round 2 after Edgar landed a takedown, over eight minutes of control time, and nearly 100 total strikes. The skill is not the question for Yair, he is one of the most talented fighters in the featherweight division, I believe this fight comes down primarily to a stylistic matchup and who can impose their will and game plan on the other fighter. I would say this fight is about as 50/50 as it gets, and I’m excited to see the result Saturday night.
Jack Della Maddalena (JDM) is perhaps the most exciting and technically proficient prospects in the UFC right now. After losing his first two professional fights, he has gone on to win 13 straight, with 12 finishes. An outstanding boxer with absolute dynamite in his hands, 11 of those finishes have come by knockout including three straight in the UFC. He punches in combos, changes levels, is very diverse in his attacks, and sees openings and capitalizes seemingly before they are there. Look for him to use his jab and footwork to get his opponent to the fence, and then he will explode with measured yet massive hooks and straights to the body and head. With this fight, JDM will finally be freed from his miserable 10k show/10k win contender series contract, and I expect to see him begin to get big names following a win.
A win will be no easy task though against “Rude Boy” Randy Brown, a 14 fight veteran in the ufc with a number of finishes on his record including submission wins over Alex Oliveira and Warrley Alves, a knockout of Bryan Barbarena, and recently decision wins over Francisco Trinaldo and Khaos Williams. His last loss came to Vincente Luque who absolutely demolished his lead leg with kicks, and went on to knock him out in the second round. I cite this fight as it is the most similar opponent Brown has faced compared to JDM, so it may end in a similar result. On the positive side, Rude Boy, at 6’3, is extremely tall and long for the welterweight division and he has a tremendous jab, good head movement, with long kicks to follow. He is a brown belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu with decent grappling and wrestling, but he makes his money on the feet. His path to victory is to keep JDM on the outside and pick him apart, or somehow get the fight to the ground and submit him. This will be a tall task as I project JDM to be levels above Brown on the feet, and I expect a short and unfortunate night for Brown, with JDM getting his hand raised by knockout in round 2.
While I never will disrespect any man or woman who steps in the cage to fight, I will be critical of technical ability and styles, and the overall structure of match ups and cards. There is absolutely no reason this fight should be on the main card, as Justin Tafa is perhaps the worst mixed martial artist in the UFC. While he is 5-3 in mma with 5 knockouts, he is slow, one dimensional, has virtually no ground game and his only elite skill is his power. His brother Junior was supposed to be on this card, and if you want to see an elite prospect, he is the Tafa to look at. But sadly, his fight was canceled, so we are left with Justin. He will go into the cage and try to swing hard and wild with little to no strategy or technique, and if does not get the knockout early he will most likely fold soon after.
On the other side of the fight, Parker porter is somewhat of a journeyman of the heavyweight division, is slightly undersized at 5’11 yet fills out the heavyweight frame well. He owns a brown belt in jiu jitsu, and while they are not great he is willing to shoot a takedown. He has decent hand speed and combos, but lacks much of the power other heavyweights boast. Porter is 3-2 in the UFC with no finishes, while being submitted once and knocked out once. Porter will most likely attempt to avoid the power of Tafa, get to the clinch, and get a takedown. Once he’s there, I see a path to a submission for him but he may struggle with the size and strength of Tafa, so this fight most likely will be a quick finish, or a slogging decision win for Porter as all of his UFC wins have been. This fight should be on the early prelims.
This is a somewhat interesting matchup in the Light Heavyweight division. Australian native Jimmy Crute is the son of two former boxers, and has been training combat sports most of his life. He’s a skilled striker and kickboxer, and also has a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. He had incredible success early in his career, starting 12-1 with most of his wins coming by finish, but as of late his fortune has changed versus better competition. Crute is coming off a much needed break following stoppage losses to Anthony Smith and the now division champion Jamahal Hill. This will be a nice step down in completion for him, but Alonzo Menifield is no walk in the park either. Menifield, a former professional football player, comes in the fight at 13-3, with back to back wins against Misha Cirkunov and the fraudulent Askar Mozharov. Menifield has good wrestling but is a brawler on the feet. I see Crute winning this fight by submission if he gets taken down or by keeping it more technical on the feet and piecing up Menifield. Although “Atomic” has a chance if he can catch Crute with a big shot or get into a dominant position on the ground and finish the fight. This will be an exciting war and I see Crute getting it done by finish.
Bukauskas returns to the UFC after his brutal knee injury vs Khalil Rountree on short notice vs slugger Tyson Pedro. Both fighters come in on 2 fight winning streaks, with Bukauskas capturing the cage warriors Light Heavyweight Title in his last bout just over a month ago. This should be an exciting scrap, and I have Modestas pulling off the upset.
Australian banger Jamie Mullarkey takes on undefeated newcomer Francisco Prado, who is the number one ranked fighter in Argentina at only 20 years old. He is a relative unknown, but Mullarkey never fails to put on an exciting show, with only 4 of his 20 professional fights going to a decision. With not much tape or information on Prado but an impressive record, it’s tough to say who’s going to win this fight but based on these men’s records I do not anticipate the judges will be needed for this contest.
Loma Lookboonmee remains the only Thai fighter on the UFC roster, and she certainly lives up to her Muay Thai heritage in the octagon. Her clinch work is tremendous with nasty knees and elbows, and her grappling has improved greatly over the last few fights. Elise Reed is a relative newcomer but active for the division, fighting three times in the last 11 months. Elise will most likely look to grapple, and Loma will attempt to clinch up and punish reed with her close range strikes. I have Lookboonmee winning by TKO or decision in this contest.