UFC 294 predictions: Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski 2 odds and expert picks for 2023 fight card

The UFC lightweight title is on the line for the rematch between Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski on October 21. UFC 294 takes place at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi and airs on ESPN+ PPV. 

Makhachev competes for the first time since UFC 284 when he edged Volkanovski to retain the lightweight belt. Volkanovski, the UFC featherweight champion, returns to the division on just 10 days’ notice. Will that affect the fight outcome when the first bell rings?

The co-main event sees Kamaru Usman move up in weight to face Khamzat Chimaev in a middleweight fight. A former UFC welterweight champion, a win by Usman could give him a shot at middleweight gold. He must first get past Chimaev, who is considered a boogeyman of the UFC.

Also on the card, Johnny Walker looks to secure a title shot, while the event also sees Tim Elliott, Nathaniel Wood, and Jinh Yu Frey in action.  

WATCH: UFC 294: Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski 2, exclusively on ESPN+

The Sporting News breaks down every fight on the UFC 294 card, with some help from Sports Interaction.

UFC 294 predictions, best bets

Islam Makhachev (c) vs. Alexander Volkanovski 2 for the UFC lightweight title

Per Sports Interaction, Islam Makhachev is the -250 favorite, while Alexander Volkanovski is the +200 underdog. The last time they fought at UFC 284, Makhachev was the -340 favorite, while Alexander Volkanovski was the +245 underdog. 

The fight is unique in many ways. Volkanovski underwent surgery on his arm three months ago and will have to drop from 180 pounds, which he weighed last week, to 155.

In their first fight, Volkanovski landed 70 of 143 significant strikes (48%), while Makhachev landed 57 of 95 (60%). The latter landed four takedowns and had a 7:37 control time mark, while Volkanovski missed four takedowns but successfully defended five. 

Volkanovski lands 6.25 significant strikes per minute, compared to just 2.35 per minute for Makhachev, which is almost three times as many strikes thrown despite the two fighters being similar in terms of strikes landed percentages (56% for Volkanovski, 59% for Makhachev). 

Volkanovski is a volume striker, while Makhachev absorbs the least amount of strikes per minute (1.24) in light heavyweight history.

MORE: How to bet on combat sports

On the floor, Makhachev averages 3.24 takedowns landed per 15 minutes in the cage, which trumps Volkanovski’s 1.86. Volkanovski has worked on his takedown game and believes he has what it takes to counter Makhachev’s ability. 

The Sporting News picks Volkanovski. The odds are against “The Great,” but the improved featherweight champion has been preparing for this moment since the first loss. A knockout win is not out of the question, but like the last contest, it is sure to be a close fight.

Sporting News prediction: Volkanovski via split decision

Kamaru Usman vs. Khamzat Chimaev; Middleweights

Per Sports Interaction, Khamzat Chimaev is the -300 favorite, while Kamaru Usman is the +250 underdog. 

Moving from welterweight to middleweight, Usman, the former UFC welterweight champion, lands 4.46 significant strikes per minute; he has a strike accuracy mark of 52%, and averages 2.96 takedowns landed per 15 minutes. He landed 11 takedowns in four fights and is coming off two straight losses to Leon Edwards.

Chimaev, who badly missed weight attempting to fight Nate Diaz, is a monster. The Swedish fighter, who was born in Chechnya, lands 7.30 significant strikes per minute; he has a strike accuracy mark of 59%, and averages 3.98 takedowns landed per 15 minutes.  

Up there in age and mileage, and also taking the fight on 10 days’ notice, Usman’s chances aren’t great. Chimaev has caused headaches with weight and inactivity, but he is also one of the most avoided fighters in the world. He can ragdoll any opponent and, as seen against Gilbert Burns, can stand toe-to-toe with the best strikers in the world.

Chimaev will be aggressive, but Usman’s wrestling is still superb. The fight going the distance, ending via a close unanimous decision, could be the play, with Chimaev coming out on top. 

Sporting News prediction: Chimaev via unanimous decision

Magomed Ankalaev vs. Johnny Walker; Light Heavyweights

Per Sports Interaction, Magomed Ankalaev is the -350 favorite, while Johnny Walker is the +275 underdog. 

MORE: Volkanovski reveals Janaury plans despite UFC 294 call-up

Ankalaev lands 3.55 significant strikes per minute and has a strike accuracy mark of 52%. Walker lands 3.85 significant strikes per minute and has an accuracy mark of 56%. He goes for takedowns when he wants and has significantly improved since joining SBG Ireland. 

Countershots are one of Ankalaev’s strengths. However, if Walker can hurt his opponent at any point and strike — entirely possible — he could make this a unique affair.

Walker can low kick his opponent’s legs into submission, but he must be careful not to play it too close to the vest. The Brazilian is a wild card here, but that unpredictability could be enough to give him the win. 

Sporting News prediction: Walker via split decision

Ikram Aliskerov vs. Warlley Alves; Middleweights

Per Sports Interaction, Ikram Aliskerov is the -650 favorite, while Warrley Alves is the +475 underdog. 

Aliskerov lands 6.25 significant strikes per minute in the octagon and has won five fights via submission and knockout. The Russian also averages 3.47 takedowns landed per 15 minutes.

Alves, who has not won a fight since 2021, averages 3.21 significant strikes landed per minute and has absorbed 4.09 strikes per minute. That was evident when Nicolas Dalby landed 119 significant strikes against him. 

Alves needs a win, but Aliskerov is younger, faster, and can provide plenty of pressure. A quick submission makes the most sense for this fight. 

Sporting News prediction: Aliskerov via submission (round two)

Said Nurmagomedov vs. Muin Gafurov; Bantamweights

Per Sports Interaction, Said Nurmagomedov is the -225 favorite, while Muin Gafurov is the +185 underdog. 

A former AFC bantamweight champion, Nurmagomedov had his four-fight win streak ended by Jonathan Martinez in March. He landed three takedowns to go with his 1.03 average takedowns landed mark. He does land 3.54 significant strikes per minute, which has helped disorient his opponents when going for the submission.

Gafurov is 0-2 in the octagon, but the former Dana White’s Contender Series alum has 10 wins via knockout and seven wins via submission. 

Nurmagomedov is dangerous on the floor and strikes well on the ground and on his feet. That multi-purpose attack game can work well against Gafurov. It’ll be a tough fight, but Nurmagomedov should break through Gafurov’s defense.

Sporting News prediction: Nurmagomedov via submission (round two)

Tim Elliott vs. Muhammad Mokaev; Flyweights

Per Sports Interaction, Muhammad Mokaev is the -450 favorite, while Tim Elliott is the +340 underdog. 

Elliott, 36, is on a two-fight win streak and is 4-1 in his last five. The veteran lands 3.47 significant strikes per minute and averages 3.88 takedowns landed per 15 minutes. He landed 15 takedowns in five contests.

The 23-year-old Mokaev is unbeaten and has won five bouts (three in the octagon) via submission. He lands 1.14 significant strikes per minute; averages 7.34 takedowns per 16 minutes, and managed 22 takedowns in three fights. Mokaev has a four-inch reach advantage.

MORE: What does the future hold for Premier Boxing Champions, Bellator?

The unique ability of Elliott is considered chaotic. That unknown factor can give him the edge, but he is known to be careless with his offense. Elliott has to avoid wrestling against Mokaev, but can he do so against a younger and faster opponent? That does not appear to be the case here, especially if Mokaev adapts. 

Sporting News prediction: Mokaev via submission (round two)

Mohammad Yahya vs. Trevor Peek; Lightweights

Per Sports Interaction, Trevor Peek is the -165 favorite, while Mohammad Yahya is the +135 underdog. 

Yahya has seven wins via knockout and had his last win via the power punch in 2021.

A former DWCS alum, Peek has eight wins via knockout and lands 5.65 significant strikes per minute. He has been taken down 12 times in three fights in the octagon. 

What Yahya lacks in footwork, he makes up for in grappling. What Peek lacks in grappling, he makes up for in footwork. In a 50-50 fight, despite what the odds say, Peek can end the fight right away. However, Yahya’s pressure could give him the edge in a potential Fight of the Night. 

Sporting News prediction: Yahya via split decision

Javid Basharat vs. Victor Henry; Bantamweights

Per Sports Interaction, Javid Basharat is the -600 favorite, while Victor Henry is the +425 underdog. 

A former DWCS alum, Basharat is 4-0 in the octagon and is undefeated. He lands 5.64 significant strikes per minute and averages 2.03 takedowns per 15 minutes, landing eight in four contests.

Henry lit up Tom Gravely in his last fight, landing 154 significant strikes. He lands 8.67 per minute but is susceptible to the takedown, having been taken to the ground six times in three contests. 

MORE: What’s next for Conor McGregor following UFC-USADA split?

While Henry can land for power, Basharat provides more pressure. He uses range to hurt his opponents and can mix things up by taking his opponents to the floor. Punching people is cool, but Henry has yet to drop someone, and Basharat can take advantage of that. 

Sporting News prediction: Basharat via unanimous decision

Abu Azaitar vs. Sedriques Dumas; Middleweights

Per Sports Interaction, Sedriques Dumas is the -225 favorite, while Abu Azaitar is the +185 underdog. 

Azaitar fought twice in the octagon, once in 2018 and once in 2021, losing against Marc-Andre Barriault in the latter fight. On an extended break, he faces a prepared fighter in Dumas, who has fought twice in 2023. The DWCS standout lands 1.64 significant strikes per minute. 

Dumas will have a three-inch reach and five-inch height advantage. Azaitar can provide early pressure, but given his time away from fighting, will his stamina hold? The former can painfully take advantage if not.

Sporting News prediction: Dumas via TKO (round one)

Mike Breeden vs. Anshul Jubli; Lightweights

Per Sports Interaction, Anshul Jubli is the -275 favorite, while Mike Breeden is the +220 underdog. 

Breeden is on a four-fight losing streak, and while he landed 105 significant strikes against Natan Levy (adding to his 5.22 significant strikes landed mark), he was taken down nine times.

Jubli is 1-0 in the octagon (2-0 counting a Road to UFC event) with a seven-fight win streak. He has landed 5.69 significant strikes per minute. 

WATCH: UFC 294: Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski 2, exclusively on ESPN+

The competition Breeden has faced is leagues above Jubli’s in the octagon. The latter was taken down four times against KyeungPyo Kim, though he did get the victory. Breeden needs a win and may get one against Jubli, who is an octagon novice.

Sporting News prediction: Breeden via unanimous decision

Nathaniel Wood vs. Muhammad Naimov; Featherweights

Per Sports Interaction, Nathaniel Wood is the -350 favorite, while Muhammad Naimov is the -350 underdog. 

A former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion, Wood is on a three-fight win streak in the octagon. “The Prospect” will have a three-inch reach disadvantage but he lands 6.24 significant strikes per minute, compared to Naimov’s 3.48 mark. Wood also lands 1.70 takedowns per 15 minutes, while Naimov was taken down six times in two fights. 

The move to featherweight from bantamweight has helped Wood tremendously. While Naimov is a heavy-hitting fighter, he can get too aggressive. It could help if he catches Wood with a sharp shot, but Wood should be cautious against the Tajikistani fighter.

Sporting News prediction: Wood via unanimous decision. 

Victoria Dudakova vs. Jinh Yu Frey; Strawweights

Betting odds are not available yet for this fight. 

Dudakova competed in the DWCS (where she secured her only decision win) and has fought for Open Fight Championship. She averages 1.41 significant strikes landed per minute in the octagon and 4.82 takedowns landed per 15 minutes, landing five in two fights.

Frey, a former Invicta FC atomweight champion, has lost three in a row. She lands 2.92 significant strikes per minute and averages 1.02 takedowns landed per 15 minutes. 

Dudakova’s wrestling can work well against Frey’s flaws in the octagon. While Frey can strike, she has been outlanded 130-66 in the significant strikes category in her last three. If she takes her down early, Dudakova can strike away until Frey submits. A Frey win is possible, but Dudakova, with a two-inch reach advantage, should be the one getting her hand raised. 

Sporting News prediction: Dudakova via TKO (round two)

MORE: All you need to know about the WWE and UFC merger, TKO Group Holdings

Sharabutdin Magomedov vs. Bruno Silva; Middleweights

Per Sports Interaction, Sharabutdin Magomedov is the -250 favorite, while Bruno Silva is the +200 underdog.  

Magomedov has 10 wins via knockout and uses his knees to drop opponents. Only four fights have gone past the first round, and he even won two contests eight days apart. Silva is on a three-fight win streak and has averaged 3.05 significant strikes landed per minute, with a strike accuracy mark of 46%. “Bulldog” averages 2.57 takedowns landed per 15 minutes and has a 64% takedown defense mark. 

Silva has struggled on the floor, as seen by the three straight losses before his win streak. He has taken limited damage in the octagon, but with someone like Magomedov, can Silva’s chin take a direct hit? It does not appear that way. 

Sporting News prediction: Magomedov via TKO (round one)

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