UFC 266 takes place on Saturday, September 25 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It’s the latest UFC pay-per-view card on the schedule in 2021, and the winner of the main event matchup between UFC featherweight champion Alex “The Great’ Volkanovski and Brian “T-City” Ortega will solidify himself as the best 145-pound fighter on the planet.
In other action, UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko will defend her crown against tough contender Lauren Murphy.
Plus, UFC superstar Nick Diaz returns to the Octagon for the first time since 2015 to face former UFC welterweight champion “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler in a rematch 17 years in the making.
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+.
Those fights and more means there are plenty of important storylines heading into UFC 266.
Heavy has compiled the five most important of them below.
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1. Was the Long Wait for Volkanovski vs. Ortega Worth It?
Volkanovski and Ortega were originally set to face each other at UFC 260 in March, but Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19. The fight had to be rescheduled, but instead of making it happen as soon as possible, the UFC chose to feature the two fighters as head coaches in the latest installment of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality TV series.
While it’s no doubt a savvy move for the fighters to get as much TV air time as possible, one has to wonder how much benefit the ESPN+ show will end up having on the pay-per-view numbers.
Where “The Ultimate Fighter” used to be one of the most-watched programs in the MMA community, the proliferation of over-the-top streaming platforms and other content options in 2021 seems to have greatly reduced the show’s reach.
Whether it was wise on the UFC’s part to essentially hold up the top of the division for half a year so that the two stars could participate on the show isn’t something that can be answered right now or even probably after the fight, but it’s for sure a topic that should be considered as time marches forward.
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2. Can Anyone Seriously Challenge Shevchenko in the Women’s Flyweight Division?
Shevchenko is easily the best fighter in women’s flyweight history, and there’s a good argument to be made on her behalf that she’s already one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in women’s MMA history, too.
That “Bullet” is always such a big favorite in her fights isn’t her fault. There just doesn’t seem to be a ton of 125-pound fighters who can match her incredible blend of talent and experience.
Still, Murphy enters her long-awaited title challenge with the kind of grit and determination that could give Shevchenko fits. Whether she has the rest of the tools to do anything more remains to be seen.
But the broader question heading into UFC 266 is this: If not Murphy, then who else might give Shevchenko a run for her money in the women’s flyweight division?
The answer could be nobody.
3. Will Diaz Look Anything Close to What He Looked Like in His Last Fight Half a Decade Ago?
Doing anything at the highest level takes repetition, and the plain truth of the matter is that nobody except Diaz knows how much time he’s spent training over the past six years.
Diaz has remained incredibly popular in the sport despite his long absence, and he combines with his younger brother Nate Diaz to pretty much set the bar for sibling pairs in combat sports.
The Diaz brothers are as big as they come in MMA, and there’s no doubt the UFC’s bottom line is better off with both the stars competing this year no matter what the outcome.
Moreover, Nick Diaz enters his first UFC fight in six years knowing he already defeated his opponent way back in 2004. It means there’s at least a decent chance he might be able to do it again.
Still, Lawler has been active, and Diaz hasn’t. That fact alone should help Lawler quickly put Diaz into a position in the fight where Diaz has to prove he’s still capable at the elite level of the sport.
Will he prove it? Will he even look like a legit pro fighter after being out of the cage for so long? We’ll find out at UFC 266.
4. Will Five-Round Non-Championship Fights on the Undercard Become a Regular Thing?
One has to wonder heading into UFC 266 whether five-round special attraction bouts on undercards are set to become a repeatable occurrence.
Diaz vs. Lawler 2 will be just the second time it’s happened in UFC history. The first five-round fight of that same variety saw Leon Edwards defeat Nate Diaz in June at UFC 263. Now, it’s happening again just three months later.
On one hand, five-rounders give more time for the fighters to establish their dominance in the fight. It’s why UFC championship fights and main events get the extra two rounds, and it for sure helps the UFC deliver a better overall product on fight night.
Who doesn’t love more action?
On the other hand, giving out five-round fights to the Diaz brothers would seem like a bad precedent to set. It seemingly changes the rules for the organization and sport for no good reason, and it could lend itself to being used to tilt things toward certain fighters’ favor.
Regardless, the only person that can answer the question about more five-round fights on undercards being a thing is UFC president Dana White, and he’s yet to reveal the answer.
Moreover, more rounds in fights for the same price from a consumer standpoint would seem to be great news for fans who plan on purchasing the pay-per-view.
5. Which Heavyweight Contender Will Claim His Spot Among the Best Fighters in a Deep Division?
The heavyweight bout on the main card between Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik is one of the most intriguing fights in the division this year.
Sure, neither Blaydes nor Rozenstruik are likely to be confused with UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou or even interim champion Cyril Gane.
In fact, Ngannou has already smashed both these dudes, and Gane won every minute of every round against Rozenstruik.
Regardless, Blaydes and Rozenstruik have been tabbed before by some observers as potential future champions. The winner would remain on course to potentially doing that someday soon, while the loser would likely fall out of the title picture altogether.
On top of that, a win by either Blaydes or Rozenstruik would put the victor in line to compete in potentially lucrative bouts against other top heavyweight stars such as former UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic or even UFC superstar Jon Jones.
Which heavyweight star competing at UFC 266 will claim his spot among the top fighters in the division?
We’ll find that out on September 25.
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