Thursday, February 22, 2024

UFC 266 & The Return of Anthony Joshua Highlight A Jam-Packed Fight Weekend


Lately the combat sports world has felt unusually quiet. It seems as though the biggest events the past few weeks have consisted mostly of events such as Jake Paul fights and Triller disasters featuring old fighters with no business being in the ring.

That all changes this weekend. Saturday September 25 is one of the biggest days in the combat sports world that we’ve seen in months. Not only do we have UFC 266, which is one of the best cards top to bottom that we’ve seen all year, but we also get to witness one of boxing biggest global superstars in Anthony Joshua fighting as well. The best part is they don’t overlap, so fight fans will be able to watch both back-to-back without missing any of the other event.

Here’s a chronological breakdown of how you can spend your afternoon/evening enjoying some of the finest fighters in all of combat sports:

Anthony Joshua vs. Oleksandr Usyk 

Heavyweight boxing is back with one of the sport’s biggest stars. Anthony Joshua will defend his heavyweight belt against cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in a fight that wasn’t necessarily asked for but will definitely still be fun. This fight only came to be after the British heavyweight super fight of Joshua vs. Tyson Fury fell apart after Deontay Wilder demanded his trilogy bout which pulled Fury out of the Joshua fight. Not wanting to stay inactive, Joshua found his next opponent to fight in Usyk while we wait to see the outcome of Wilder-Fury III, which has been delayed multiple times but is currently scheduled to take place on October 9.

Joshua will find himself back in front of his familiar backdrop as he will be defending his belts in front of a massive English crowd in a sold out Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England. The fight will take place on DAZN with the card starting at 12 PM CST and currently the main event is scheduled to take place at 4:10 PM CST.

UFC 266

In one of the UFC’s best cards top-to-bottom of the year, UFC 266 will take place at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas, NV on Saturday night. This card is one of those UFC cards that you get excited about not only the prelims, but even the early prelims. Dan Hooker is on the prelims for God’s sake! There’s honestly too many exciting fights on this card to cover them all in just one article, but I will point out the most exciting fights on this card that you won’t want to miss.

Curtis Blaydes (#4) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (#6)

The second fight on the UFC 266 PPV is a heavyweight fight with major implications for who could be next in line for a title shot. Curtis Blaydes (14-3), a Chicago native, is coming off of a brutal KO loss to Derrick Lewis and will be looking to get back on track here. Meanwhile, Suriname native Jairzinho Rozenstruik (12-2) is coming off of a TKO win in June against Augusto Sakai. Both men have spent a long time hovering at the top of the heavyweight division on the cusp of a title shot, so this matchup makes a lot of sense where the winner will likely be put back into a position of being able to challenge for the title soon.

Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler II

He’s back! After a 6.5 year layoff, the leader of the Nick Diaz army is making his return to MMA and the UFC. He finds himself facing off against a familiar opponent in Robbie Lawler (28-15, 1 NC), as this fight will serve as a rematch to their first fight which took place all the way back April 2004 at UFC 47. Diaz (26-10, 1 NC) would win the first matchup via TKO. He hasn’t stepped foot in the octagon since high fight against Anderson Silva at UFC 183 in January 2015, which was eventually overturned to a no contest. This is a fight where nobody really knows exactly what to expect. Lawler is on a four fight losing streak and has lost five of his last six, and Diaz is returning after a 6.5 year layoff. Diaz also turned a lot of heads with his sit down interview with ESPN this week where he made comments about his hate for the fight game and proclaimed that he did not want to be there.

The only thing I know for sure about this fight is that this is the “people’s main event” and Diaz will likely have the biggest crowd pop of the night.

(Note: this fight was originally scheduled to be a welterweight fight, but was oddly changed mid fight week to a middleweight fight per Diaz’s request)

Valentina Shevchenko (C) vs. Lauren Murphy (#3)

UFC 266 is co-main evented by a women’s flyweight championship fight between dominant defending champion Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) facing off against #3 contender Lauren Murphy (15-4). There’s not much to say about this fight. Shevchenko is one of the most dominant champions in all of MMA, usually making her title defenses look like they weren’t even challenging. However, Murphy is on a five fight win streak and claims that the champ hasn’t seen anyone like her.

Currently, Shevchenko is a -1800 favorite according to FanDuel.

Alexander Volkanovski (C) vs. Brian Ortega (#2)

UFC 266 finishes off with a featherweight title fight between Australian champion Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) taking on challenger Brian Ortega (15-1). This is a weird fight because the matchup makes sense, but neither fighter has fought in a long time. Ortega’s last fight was a win in October 2020 while Volkanovski’s last fight was a title defense in a controversial win over former featherweight champ Max Holloway in July 2020.

This fight was originally scheduled to take place earlier in 2021, but Volkanovski had to pull out due to Covid. After pulling out, the UFC decided to make Volkanovski and Ortega face off as coaches in the re-launch of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality show which had this past season met with mild praise at its absolute best.

Conventional thinking tells you that Volkanovski should be able to retain in this matchup; however, Ortega is incredibly dangerous if he can get Volkanovski to the ground and get his back. Ortega can submit anybody from anywhere, and this is where he will have to look to win this fight. It will be nearly impossible to beat Volkanovski in a striking match. This is certainly a curious matchup that has become more and more heated as time went on and the two had gotten to know each other so well after being on The Ultimate Fighter together.

UFC 266 takes place Saturday night with the PPV starting at 9 PM CST, available exclusively through ESPN+ in America.

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