We’re just days away from UFC 266, a PPV event headlined by featherweight powerhouse Alexander Volkanovski and perennial contender Brian Ortega. Title fights are exciting, however, the card’s more intriguing bouts take place further down the billing. Nick Diaz, Robbie Lawler, and Marlon Moraes are just three of the athletes scheduled to compete on September 25, each bringing a solid storyline to the table.
Join us as we list five fighters to keep an eye on at UFC 266
Manan Fiorot (7-1-0)
French mixed martial arts is in a great place, with current interim champion Cyril Gane showcasing his nation’s potential on the biggest stage. Escorting him on this journey and leading the female charge is flyweight Manan Fiorot, an aggressive striker with a pair of UFC victories to her name.
Since a split decision loss to Bellator featherweight Leah McCourt in her pro debut, Manan Fiorot has been on a tear, racking up seven straight wins (with six coming by knockout). At UFC 266, she’ll aim to add to her reputation as a finisher when she meets Mayra Bueno Silva in a classic striker vs. grappler matchup.
If her previous two outings hadn’t told you anything, “The Beast” is a fast and forward-moving fighter who enjoys using her lead leg to fire sidekicks; these keep the opposition at kicking range and in a position to be pressured. The 1-2-3 (jab-cross-lead hook) from southpaw is one of her favored combinations, with the hook often clipping her opponent as they’re backed against the fence.
This weekend, Fiorot will be facing a stern task in Bueno Silva, a grappler with the ability to slap on armbars or tight chokeholds. For this reason Manan will need to be wary of the takedown; her wrestling defense and clinch game will more likely than not be challenged.
The writer believes Fiorot should invest in the outside body kick for this fight; although the takedown is a threat, the kick from the southpaw stance has the potential to be rewarding. Expect her to blitz Bueno Silva early while staying at range, potentially picking up another stoppage win.
Chris Daukaus (11-3-0)
For quite some time the heavyweight division has been in desperate need of fresh blood, and in 2021, they may finally have it. With rising Brit Tom Aspinall ranked in the top 15 and exciting grappler Alexander Romanov making waves, a new era of heavyweights are in town. You can safely add Chris Daukaus to this list.
At 31 years old Daukaus is considered young by his division’s standards, making his UFC debut just 13 months ago. In this timespan, the Philadelphia police officer has racked up three first-round knockouts, most recently tearing through veteran Aleksei Oleinik.
Refreshingly, Daukaus brings a number of great qualities to the cage; better than average footwork, clean accuracy, and terrific hand speed. These traits routinely separate him from the pack of your slow-moving, sluggish heavy hitters.
At UFC 266, he’ll square off with the returning Shamil Abdurakhimov in a fight to determine who moves up the ladder. If victorious, Daukaus will be in a position to call out some big names next.
Merab Dvalishvili (13-4-0)
If you were to ask the average MMA fan to name a Georgian fighter prior to 2019, the chances are they’d struggle. In the present day, however, things couldn’t be any different – Ilia Topuria, Liana Jouja, and Giga Chikadze are all notable figures from the nation, each having a prominent fanbase of their own. Along with these three athletes is Merab Dvalishvili, an increasingly popular bantamweight wrestler.
Currently ranked #11 in his weight class, Dvalishvili’s rise has seen him rattle off six straight wins, using his relentless pace and offensive wrestling en route to a 100% decision ratio. Sure, he hasn’t finished anybody in the UFC, but “The Machine” is a consistently fun and impressive fighter to watch, often proving he’s a step ahead of his adversaries. And this weekend, he’ll face his biggest challenge to date in Marlon Moraes.
Moraes is no longer the force he once was. A number of years ago he was considered one of 135’s best, regularly finishing top-ranked opposition in devasting fashion. Yet since his defeat to Henry Cejudo, he’s looked fragile; no longer is he able to withstand big shots from fellow bantamweights. Luckily for Merab, he’s caught Moraes at the perfect time.
Dvalishvili has the opportunity to crack the top ten and put himself on the shortlist for some noteworthy bouts with a victory this weekend.
Nick Maximov (6-0-0)
A name many were introduced to on the Contender Series last year is Nick Maximov, an undefeated middleweight fighting out of California. In fact, he’s not only a middleweight: Maximov’s last outing was at heavyweight and he’s had success at 205.
Currently honing his skills at the Nick Diaz Academy, Maximov will be making his promotional debut against fellow Contender Series vet Karl Robertson, a powerful striker currently riding a two-fight losing streak. For him, this fight is a must-win; losing to the 23-year-old debutee while on a skid certainly isn’t a good look.
Robertson has tasted defeat four times throughout his professional career, each coming by way of submission. This fact is key as Maximov has three submission wins along with a respected grappling background and resume in ‘Submission Underground’. In lighter words, he’s no slouch on the mat.
Fans can expect to see grappling exchanges from the get-go accompanied by early submission attempts and fast-paced action. Although it’s a big step up in competition, Nick will be eager to prove that he’s more than UFC caliber.
Nick Diaz (26-9-2)
Six years. Six long, drawn-out years since the MMA community last observed Stockton bad boy Nick Diaz step into the cage. In that time, his fanbase has grown exponentially; try finding a fan who doesn’t recognize his face. However, now at the age of 38, Diaz’s comeback unfortunately falls under the ‘now or never’ category.
Winless in his last three fights, Diaz last competed at UFC 183 where he lost a unanimous decision to the legendary Anderson Silva. Although it was later overturned to a No Contest, he had never been so far from a victory. In fact, it has been roughly nine years and eleven months since he last had his hand raised.
Attempting to predict his upcoming rematch with former nemesis Robbie Lawler is near enough impossible. Nick hasn’t competed in years while Lawler, the division’s former champion, has remained fairly active, yet rides a four-fight losing streak. Without aiming to rip out the heart of old school fans, September 25 will see a meeting between two post-prime and potentially shot fighters.
What can you expect from Nick Diaz at UFC 266? His iron chin? Maybe. Relentless pace? Possibly. One thing you will notice is the buzz he brings to the fight game. A mere public appearance is enough to have fans on their knees; imagine what will a fight of his in 2021 will look like. Rooting for him or not, the spectacle that is Nick Diaz must be witnessed by all.
Who are your 5 fighters to watch at UFC 266? Let us know in the comments.