Alex Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown

UFC champ Alex Volkanovski

Getty UFC champ Alex Volkanovski returns at UFC 266.

UFC 266 is set for September 25 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The main event matchup features two of the fiercest featherweight fighters in the world today, and the two stars will be duking it out for divisional supremacy.

Alex Volkanovski, 32, from Australia, is the reigning UFC featherweight champion. Brian Ortega, 30, from the United States, is the second-ranked contender in the UFC’s stacked 145-pound division.

The two UFC stars coached opposing teams during the latest season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality TV series on ESPN+. Now, Volkanovski and Ortega will settle their differences inside the Octagon.

UFC 266 takes place September 25 at 10 p.m. Eastern time at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It will air as a pay-per-view on ESPN+.

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It’s one of the biggest and most important title fights of the year, and Heavy on UFC has you covered with a complete head-to-toe breakdown of the main event.

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Who Has the Edge in Striking?

Volkanovski can flat-out bang with the best.

One of Volkanovski’s best weapons is his overhand right. Another is the heavy leg kick he repeatedly used on his way to seizing the crown from longtime 145-pound champion Max Holloway in December 2019 at UFC 245.

Holloway is one of the best strikers in the sport, but Volkanovski got the better of the exchanges over five rounds to earn the decision.

The return fight the following year at UFC 251 was a closer contest, but for all the hubbub about the outcome being controversial, the truth of the matter is that Volkanovski outlanded Holloway in terms of significant strikes in that fight, too, per UFC Stats.

Meanwhile, Ortega got wrecked by Holloway in 2018. The American was completely outclassed and ultimately stopped in the fourth round of a one-sided fight.

Still, the only other time MMA fans saw Ortega after that was against Chan Sung Jung, aka “The Korean Zombie” last year. In that fight, it was Ortega who turned in the masterclass striking performance, so his fans are likely to see that as evidence of vast improvement.

Regardless, all the striking stats lean Volkanovski’s way. He lands more per minute (6.02 to 4.09) at a much higher rate of accuracy (55% to 38%). Moreover, his defense is rated higher (60% to 52%), and he gets hit by fewer significant strikes in return per minute (3.31 to 6.28).

Verdict: Volkanovksi has the edge in striking.

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Who Has the Edge in Grappling?

Volkanovski didn’t gather the same kind of wrestling credentials many UFC stars accumulate on their way up from the amateur ranks to the professional fighting scene. He competed as an amateur wrestler as a youth but abandoned it somewhat early in his life to focus on rugby.

Still, Volkanovksi picked things up without skipping a beat once he found his way back to an MMA gym at age 22. He’s been described as a “natural”, and nothing that’s happened in the UFC has disproved the idea. While powerful punches and kicks are his primary weapons, his ability to mix in dominant grappling skills is probably underrated.

Meanwhile, Ortega’s ground game is almost exclusively achieved through his jiu-jitsu. He’s not been able to score important takedowns in fights even when he’s badly needed them, and he’s not likely to have done much during his preparations for this fight to change the story the stats already tell about the fighters heading into UFC 266.

Per UFC Stats, Volakanovski scores 2.09 takedowns every 15 minutes to Ortega’s 0.80 over the same timeframe. Additionally, Volkanovski bests Ortega in takedown accuracy (34% to 21%) and takedown defense (72% to 56%), too.

Verdict: Volkanovksi has the edge in grappling.

Who Has the Edge in Submissions?

The submission game is the single area in which Ortega shines.

In the old days of MMA action, a great submission game, particularly a strong set of jiu-jitsu skills, was something fighters could use to capture UFC gold.

While that remains somewhat true in 2021, and probably always will to some degree, the bar for just how high a fighter’s jiu-jitsu skills have to be to make a big difference on fight night has grown to new heights in recent years. Today, MMA fighters without topflight jiu-jitsu skills know they have to become knowledgeable about how to avoid the most dangerous scenarios on the ground, and that’s exactly what they do.

Regardless, Ortega is a solid submission artist, and using that method would seem to be his most likely avenue to winning the fight.

According to UFC Stats, Ortega attempts 1.1 submissions every 15 minutes in his UFC fights.

That isn’t an absurdly high number for a UFC star, but it’s over triple the number of submissions Volkanoski attempts every 15 minutes (0.3).

Verdict: Ortega has the edge in submissions.

What About the X-Factor?

Volkanovksi is riding a nine-fight win streak in the UFC.

While he’s technically defeated the division’s former champion (Holloway) twice, and while the statistics from both of those title fights imply Volkanovski was rightfully declared the winner anyway, there is some evidence to suggest that Volkanovski might be tempted to think about a third fight with Holloway right now over what’s going down at UFC 266.

Meanwhile, Ortega is coming off of a dominant win over “The Korean Zombie” last year, and it was one that saw the suddenly bald Ortega appear to be a completely new person in more ways than just the lack of hair on his head.

So Heavy on UFC’s “X-Factor” for the upcoming UFC 266 main event showdown between Volkanovski and Ortega is how those two storylines might dynamically intersect.

X-Factor: Volkanovski could be thinking about other fights right now even though the best possible version of Ortega might be standing in front of him at UFC 266. 

Prediction for UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega

Sometimes a controversial win can spoil how fans look at a fighter.

Look for no further evidence of that than the fate of Volkanovski after he defeated Holloway in his last fight. Never mind that Volkanvoski outlanded Holloway in the significant strikes category 137-102, and forget about the three takedowns he nabbed to Holloway’s zero.

Some people just don’t want to give the Australian the credit he deserves.

But things have a way of changing fast in the UFC. Ortega looked sharp as ever in his last fight, so Volkanovski grabbing the win at UFC 266 might go a long way toward getting things back on track for the champ.

Ortega will likely test Volkanovski early in the fight. However, after the second round, Volkanovski will take over with more powerful strikes and dominant wrestling.

Prediction: Volkanovski defeats Ortega via unanimous decision. 

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Twitter: @Kelsey_McCarson

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