UFC 294 is Saturday. And while the main card looks different from how the promotion drew it up, sparks will still fly from the Octagon.
Islam Makhachev is set to fight Alexander Volkanovski in a rematch for the lightweight title after former champion Charles Oliveira suffered an injury during camp. Makhachev, in his last bout, defeated Volkanovski via air-tight unanimous decision in February in Perth, Western Australia. Now Volkanovski enters Abu Dhabi, where Makhachev will be the crowd favorite.
Former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is set to take on undefeated Khamzat Chimaev in the co-main event at middleweight. Chimaev’s new weight class seems to be 185, but that didn’t stop Usman from bumping up a weight class on short notice, as he replaces the injured Paulo Costa. The UFC offered the winner of this fight the next crack at middleweight king Sean Strickland.
While the main card is stacked, the undercard also offers some great fights. Let’s take a look at the UFC 294 preliminary card action.
Tim Elliott vs. Muhammad Mokaev
The undefeated Mokaev draws the biggest name and stiffest test of his career yet in Elliott.
Elliott, a former flyweight title challenger who had all-time great Demetrious Johnson deep in a submission attempt, has fought a who’s who at 125. Elliott’s winning ledger includes names like Tagir Ulanbekov, Pedro Nobre, Louis Smolka, and Victor Altamirano. He went toe-to-toe with “Mighty Mouse” for the title, former champion Deiveson Figueiredo, former title challengers Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson, Ali Bagautinov, and more.
Elliott is war-tested at 125 and has turned away his share of promising prospects. Mokaev himself enters with a lot of hype.
The grappling specialist is 9-0 overall with four wins in the UFC, including finishes over Cody Durden, Jafel Filho and Malcolm Gordon.
It will be intriguing to see how Mokaev’s grappling matches up with Elliott’s, who has smooth takedowns and transitions himself. Mokaev will also have Elliott’s awkward brand of striking to deal with.
Rankings are also on the line, as Elliott is No. 10 at flyweight and Mokaev No. 11. While experience is markedly on Elliott’s side, only one rank separates the two men. It will be super interesting to see if Elliott can stop another prospect or if Mokaev proves he is ready for the top 10 at 125.
Mohammad Yahya vs. Trevor Peek
The exciting Peek will look to rebound from his first professional loss when he takes on Yahya, who is set to make his UFC debut.
Peek lost his last outing to Chepe Mariscal after starting his professional MMA career at 8-0. Peek always brings the heat, and his presence in the Octagon makes it a must-watch fight.
Yahya comes over from UAE Warriors, where he was the promotion’s lightweight champion. He has defended his belt twice and will look to stave off Peek. Like Peek, most of Yahya’s career wins (seven) have come via T/KO. If we’re in for a stand-up affair, the fight will promise high-octane action.
Javid Basharat vs. Victor Henry
Basharat has drawn eyeballs at bantamweight after starting his career at 14-0. He’ll look to keep the immaculate record going against Henry, who is not shy when it comes to an underdog role.
Basharat emerged onto the scene off of the Contender Series and has since racked up three straight UFC wins. He’s defeated Trevin Jones, Tony Gravely and Mateus Mendonca, logging 45 minutes of Octagon experience in the process. All three wins for “The Snow Leopard” were unanimous. Basharat has established himself as a blue-chip prospect to watch.
He’ll be tested by Henry, who secured a massive upset over Raoni Barcelos in his UFC debut. While he lost to the battle-tested Raphael Assuncao, he got back into the win column over Gravely.
Henry likely marks the toughest test of Basharat’s career, so it should be interesting to see if Henry can secure another upset or if Basharat shows he could get a top-15 crack within another fight or two.
Nathaniel Wood vs. Muhammad Naimov
Wood, now 7-2 in the UFC, takes on Naimov, who made a huge splash in his UFC debut when he KO’d Jamie Mullarkey at lightweight. Naimov will drop his natural weight class of featherweight to take on Wood, who has made a name for himself as a 145’er to watch.
Wood has picked apart the likes of Andre Fili, Charles Jourdain, Charles Rosa and John Casteneda while only losing to John Dodson and Casey Kenney.
Naimov carries fight-ending power, as evidenced by his upset finish of Mullarkey. It will be interesting to see if he can carry it down 10 more pounds and if he can catch Wood, or if Wood will be too technical for him.
Bruno Silva vs. Sharabutdin Magomedov
Magomedov makes his UFC debut at a flawless 11-0. He draws Silva, who is 23-9 and 4-3 in the UFC, as his first foe.
For someone with just 11 fights, Magomedov enters with a solid strength of schedule from his regional days. A few of his opponents match the fight quantity of Silva, but there’s no doubt Silva has fought the toughest competition of any of Magomedov’s past opponents.
The middleweight holds UFC victories over Brad Tavares, Wellington Turman, Andrew Sanchez, and Jordan Wright. He also fought former middleweight champion Alex Pereira, who is set to fight Jiri Prochazka for the vacant light heavyweight title.
Magomedov carries a good deal of hype, and it will be fun to see if he’s earned it, or if Silva is too much for him from the get-go.
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