LAS VEGAS – Alexander Volkanovski is usually a quiet guy. He has never really had personal problems with an opponent. Until now, of course.
It’s obvious that Brian Ortega got under Volkanovski’s skin when they trained opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter over the summer. On Thursday, during the press conference, Volkanovski mentioned Ortega’s positive drug test in 2014. Tensions were extremely high.
On Saturday, the two men will finally resolve their differences when Volkanovski defends his UFC featherweight title against Ortega in the main event of UFC 266 in Las Vegas. The fight was initially scheduled for UFC 260 in March, but Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19, forcing things to be delayed.
Volkanovski is ESPN’s 6th pound-for-pound fighter in the world. ESPN has Volkanovski at No. 1 and Ortega at No. 3 in the world at featherweight.
Volkanovski (22-1) has won all of his nine UFC fights. The Aussie is coming off a split decision win over Max Holloway at UFC 251 in July 2020, his first title defense. That was a close one and many thought Holloway was the true winner. Volkanovski, 32, hasn’t lost since May 2013, his fourth pro fight. He beat Holloway to win the title at UFC 245 in December 2019.
Volkanovski (22-1) has won all of his nine UFC fights. The Aussie is coming off a split decision win over Max Holloway at UFC 251 in July 2020, his first title defense, a fight that was very close and Holloway was thought by many to be the real winner. Volkanovski, 32, has not lost since May 2013, his fourth professional fight. He beat Holloway to win the title at UFC 245 in December 2019.
Ortega (15-1, 1 NC) is coming off a unanimous decision win over Chan Sung Jung last October after being out for nearly two years. The California native has only one career loss and that also came in a featherweight title fight, against Holloway at UFC 231 in December 2018. Ortega, 30, is 7-1 (1 NC) in UFC.
In the co-feature event, Valentina Shevchenko will attempt to continue her dominating career as the UFC women’s flyweight champion against challenger Lauren Murphy. Shevchenko (21-3), 33, who fights in Las Vegas, is ESPN’s No. 2 female fighter in the world. Her only losses in the UFC have been against Amanda Nunes, the pound-for-pound queen and double champion. Murphy (15-4), 38, fighting from Houston, has won five fights in a row.
Also on the card, Nick Diaz returns after an absence of more than six years to face longtime rival Robbie Lawler in a five-round middleweight fight. Diaz and Lawler fought in 2004, with Diaz winning by second round knockout at UFC 47. Diaz (26-9, 2 NC), a 38-year-old, is a popular former Strikeforce champion seeking his first win since 2011. Lawler (28-15, 1 NC), a 39-year-old from Florida, has lost four bouts in a row. He is a former UFC welterweight champion.
Follow the action live with Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim or watch the fights on ESPN + PPV.
Fight in progress: Middleweight: Cody Brundage (6-1, 0-0 UFC, +125) vs. Nick Maximov (6-0, 0-0 UFC, -150)
Welterweight: Matthew Semelsberger (9-3, 3-1 UFC) defeats Martin Sano (4-3-1, 0-1 UFC) by KO in the first round
Team Diaz didn’t get off to a great start.
Semelsberger hit Sano with a monstrous knockout 15 seconds into the first round. This is Semelsberger’s second quick KO in three fights. He knocked out Jason Witt in 16 seconds in his UFC debut in March. This was the UFC debut for Sano, a longtime Nick Diaz teammate.
“It felt amazing,” Semelsberger said in his post-fight interview. “But honestly. I’ll take the quick knockout. But … he came ready for a war.”
Later, Semelsberger said that he is nearing the final fight of his contract.
“I’m ready for whatever,” he said. The 28-year-old Semelsberger is now 3-1 in the UFC. The Maryland native is a grappler, but he clearly has one-hit knockout power that needs to be accounted for.
Sano, a 30-year-old California native, has not won four bouts in a row.
Men’s Featherweight: Jonathan Pearce (11-4, 2-1 UFC) defeats Omar Morales (11-2, 3-2 UFC) by submission in the second round
Pearce sought out Venezuelan Morales early on, but was met with a couple of sharp left jabs and a straight right. So Pearce went to Plan B and wore down his opponent with a relentless grappling attack for his second straight finish.
Pearce, who is 29, trapped Morales against the cage for much of the rest of the fight, knocking him down and, when Morales got to his feet, knocking him down again. Midway through the second round, it seemed like Morales couldn’t put up much resistance. When on Morales’s back while standing, Pearce plunged into a choke to get the tapout at 3:31.
Morales, 35, has lost two of his last three after winning the first 10 fights of his career.
• Men’s featherweight championship fight: Alexander Volkanovski (c) (22-1, 9-0 UFC, -180) vs. Brian Ortega (15-1 1 NC, 7-1 1 NC UFC, +155)
• Women’s flyweight championship fight: Valentina Shevchenko (c) (21-3, 10-2 UFC, -1500) vs. Lauren Murphy (15-4, 7-4 UFC, +850)
• Middleweight: Nick Diaz (26-9 2 NC, 7-6 1 NC UFC, +120) vs. Robbie Lawler (28-15 1 NC, 13-9 in UFC, -140)
• Heavyweight: Curtis Blaydes (14-3 1 NC, 9-3 1 NC UFC, -340) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (12-2, 6-2 UFC, +270)
• Women’s Flyweight: Jessica Andrade (21-9, 12-7 UFC, -260) vs. Cynthia Calvillo (9-2-1, 6-2-1 UFC, +210)
• Men’s Bantamweight: Marlon Moraes (23-8-1, 5-4 UFC, +210) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (13-4, 6-2 UFC, -260)
• Lightweight: Dan Hooker (20-10, 10-6 UFC, -150) vs. Nasrat Haqparast (13-3, 5-2 UFC, +125)
• Heavyweight: Shamil Abdurakhimov (20-5, 5-3 UFC, +165) vs. Chris Daukaus (11-3, 3-0 UFC, -195)
• Women’s Flyweight: Roxanne Modafferi (25-19, 4-7 UFC, +330) vs. Taila Santos (17-1, 2-1 UFC, -420)
• Lightweight: Uros Medic (7-0, 1-0 UFC, -125) vs. Jalin Turner (10-5, 3-2 UFC, +105)