Superfights are a rare occasion. It’s not often we get two champions, both from different weight classes, squaring off to determine who’s legacy continues to rise and who will ultimately fail to prevail. A pair of champions fighting is a spectacle in its own right, but how about two pound-for-pound enigmas?
For a number of years, Islam Mackachev and Alexander Volkanovski have wrecked havoc on their respective divisions, putting away contender after contender en route to capturing UFC gold. It isn’t the length of their win streaks that has thrusted hype behind them, but more so the method in which they’ve claimed victory. Big knockouts, quick submissions and sheer domination — between the two, they’ve done it all. And on February 11th in Perth, Australia, a new pound-for-pound King will be crowned.
Join us as we preview and predict the full main card for this weekends blockbuster pay-per-view…
#13 Jimmy Crute (12-3) vs. Alonzo Menifield (13-3)
At 26 years of age, Jimmy Crute remains one of light heavyweight’s brightest talents. And his potential ability only makes one more excited when you take into account how shallow of a division 205-pounds is. Needless to say, the Aussie has a sizable chance of making a run for gold at some point throughout his career.
Currently on a two-fight losing streak, we last witnessed Crute step into the cage in December 2021, where he lost to current champ Jamahal Hill in under a minute. Despite the result, he’ll find some solace in the fact that he wasn’t able to escape the feeling out process; a rematch could go differently.
4-3 throughout his tenure, Crute has yet to see the judges since joining the UFC back in 2018. This statistic further presses the fact that he’s an incredibly fun fan-favorite, who manages to mix up his striking and grappling well against some of the divisions lighter tests. His clinch and wrestling entries are ok, and prior to doctor intervention, was able to take down veteran Anthony Smith with practically one working leg. The fact he’s young, a good athlete and consistently improving between bouts makes me confident that Crute will only get better.
Alonzo Menifield is best described as the polar opposite.
Also a Contender Series alum, Menifield instantly made a splash upon his arrival to the promotion, knocking out Vinicius Moreira and Paul Craig in back-to-back first round finishes. The former professional footballer was clearly comfortable within the Octagon, putting aside any jitters that usually come with debut and sophomore outings.
Like his scheduled opponent, Menifield too has had quite the back-and-forth promotional stint. He’d suffer a pair of losses to Devin Clark and Ovince Saint Preux before running through Fabio Cherant and Ed Herman. Most recently, the 35-year-old flattened the tricky Misha Cirkunov in under 90 seconds, proving that a step up in competition was required.
With ten career knockouts, its clear “Atomic” prefers to keep the fight standing. While he definitely packs more power in his fists than Crute, he prefers singular shots as oppose to lengthy exchanges. On top of this, he’s often guilty of covering distance via leaping hooks and loaded up punches, leaving him susceptible to takedowns. Though he was able to defend multiple attempts from Cirkunov, I believe this will be critical in his fight on February 11th.
More comfortable in exchanges and with decent reactive takedowns, expect Crute to land a fair few double or single legs on his opponent. Aside from the possibility of being caught with a couple of big strikes, it’s hard to see him stay in the losing column. UFC 284 could be the chance for him to once more taste victory in front of a home crowd…
Prediction: Jimmy Crute via UD
Justin Tafa (5-3) vs. Parker Porter (12-7)
New Zealand’s Justin Tafa hasn’t fought close to home since his UFC debut in 2019, where suffered a brutal knockout at the hands of Yorgan de Castro. Now, years later, he’s seeking to rectify that blemish when he faces Parker Porter on the main card at UFC 284.
Calling Tafa a big heavyweight would be an understatement. Heading into his last fight, a KO win over Harry Hunsucker in late 2021, he actually missed weight by 1-pound, ultimately weighing in at a staggering 267-pounds. This made him the first heavyweight in UFC to miss weight, a statistic Tafa will not be keen to add too. With a 100% knockout rate, “Bad Man” seems intent on adding to his reputation as a finisher and stringing together his first win streak within the sports premier organization.
Now, heavyweights aren’t the most skilled competitors on the planet, and just like we discussed with light heavyweight, the weight class is often found to be shallow when discussing those outside of the top 5. This is ideal for those in similar situations as Tafa, who can shoot up the rankings with just a handful of impressive showings.
Looking for a good performance of his own is Connecticut’s Parker Porter, a Bellator, CES and UFC vet who has fought the likes of Jon Jones, Gabriel Gonzaga and Chris Daukaus. Forgotten by many, the 37-year-old strung together a neat three-fight win streak from 2020-2022 before running into the highly-touted rookie Jailton Almeida, a defeat that has only aged well. Porter floats around the top 20-30 positions at heavyweight, and just like Tafa, is in a spot where a couple of decent victories could catapult him into the rankings.
Porter has the potential to mix things up and if able to avoid a gunfight with his adversary, may be able to enforce some grappling exchanges. If these were to occur, he’d have to be favored both in the clinch and on the mat.
A pretty unimportant heavyweight scrap overall, but one that could gift us a cool finish.
Prediction: Parker Porter via UD
Jack Della Maddalena (13-2) vs. Randy Brown (16-4)
2022 was nothing short of a breakout year for Jack Della Maddalena, who collected three first-round knockouts to announce his arrival as welterweights newest dog in the yard. And for a division with a wealth of exciting talent, his inclusion only helps strengthen it.
Though on the outskirts of the top 15, many are firmly riding the Della Maddalena hype train. His last performance alone – a quick demolition of Danny Roberts – displays his terrific understanding of striking and room for growth. One can only imagine potential future outings with the likes of Sean Brady or Shavkat Rakhmonov, fights that fans will be gunning to see if the young Aussie continues his winning ways.
At the time of writing, Della Maddalena sits at roughly a -320 favorite, something I believe is fair despite having less experience than his scheduled foe.
Randy Brown has had quite the career since joining the UFC in 2016. Scouted from the YouTube show “Dana White’s Looking For A Fight”, the American entered the promotion undefeated and was quite raw. Since then however, he’s evolved well as a fighter.
Since losing to the likes of Belal Muhammad, Niko Price and Vicente Luque, Brown has been able to turn around his fortunes and is on the best form of his career. Alex Oliveira, Jared Gooden, Khaos Williams and Francisco Trinaldo have all been brushed aside, names that are respected throughout the sport. The Oliveira and Trinaldo performances were particularly impressive — submitting the Brazilian ‘Cowboy’ and keeping the awkward Trinaldo at bay are hard tasks.
For this writer, February 4th sees Brown enter his biggest fight thus far. Never have we seen “Rude Boy” so close to a ranking, and at 32 it may be a case of now or never.
It’s safe to assume he’ll enter hostile territory believing he’s the better grappler and for this reason, expect him to set-up takedowns early. We’ve yet to see Della Maddalena square off with a grappler as solid as Brown.
While takedowns will be a threat and Brown is no slouch on the feet, I’d be placing my money on the favorite. His understanding of distance and shot selection is something I rate highly. He knows how to safely enter and exit the pocket, a feat that’ll play a major role this weekend.
Prediction: Jack Della Maddalena via TKO, R2
#2 Yair Rodriguez (15-3-1) vs. #5 Josh Emmett (18-2)
Featherweight is a weight class stacked to the brim in terms of talent. The perfect mix of skilful veterans and upcoming contenders, the division has been home to many great bouts in recent years. With champion Alexander Volkanovski stepping up to lightweight, it’s only fitting we get an interim title fight…
Yair Rodriguez has fought just twice since 2019, yet finds himself in a great place. #2 in the rankings, he ended a two-year layoff with a Fight of the Night defeat to Max Holloway and in July of last year, picked up a TKO over Brian Ortega as a result of a shoulder injury. With just one win in over three years, it’s understandable why many are frustrated with the chance he’s getting.
In spite of this, Rodriguez has proven that he’s able to compete with some of featherweights best. Though wins over Jeremy Stephens and Chang Sung Jung haven’t aged terrifically, his losing effort against Holloway stands-out. He looked more comfortable, layered and to put it outright, improved in comparison to previous contests.
Best known for his penchant for kicking, Rodriguez is often found landing the open-side body kick or working on the outside with a mix of leg and side kicks. In spite of finding success from kicking range, he’s come under routine criticism; poor set-ups, mechanics and gameplanning have been a theme in the past. For this reason, it’s hard to trust him when aiming to bet on fights. Even more so when he sits as the favorite.
At 37, Team Alpha Male’s Josh Emmett is aware how critical February 4th will be for the remainder of his career. It’s rare to have someone his age competing so well at the lower weights, and even with big injuries and bad luck throwing multiple spanners in the works, Emmett’s bounced back each and every time.
Emmett focuses more on his fists when creating offense. Naturally heavy-handed, he hones in on this by building his game around his big right hand. Feints and throwaway punches draw reactions of out his opponents and also allow him to cover distance; level changes with his lead hand add to these responses.
Just like his scheduled counterpart, Emmett too hasn’t been active as of late. As mentioned this is mainly down to injuries, his most recent being an ACL tear in 2020. This hasn’t caused the Phoenix native to slow down, as he’s accumulated a hefty five-fight winning streak heading into UFC 284.
Emmett’s as tough and gritty as they come, and this weekend I expect him to stake his claim as one of the world’s very best featherweights. While Rodriguez’s speed and kicking ability will be a threat, I predict he’ll be worn down as the fight goes on.
Prediction: Josh Emmett via UD
#C Islam Makhachev (23-1) vs. #C Alexander Volkanovski (25-1)
Attempting to explain how good Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski are is a monumental task in its own right. Each man deservingly worked their way towards a title shot before dethroning the champion in convincing fashion. But despite sharing convincing performances, there’s nothing similar about the pair at all.
Makhachev has proved to be a force at 155 through his open space and cage wrestling, using takedowns as a proactive approach rather than a reactive one. In fact, the only man we’ve seen truly go head-to-head with him in this department is Arman Tsarukyan, who was able to take the southpaw down throughout their three-round affair. Whether through double legs or trips, Islam has proved that when he takes you down, you usually stay there. Drew Dober faced the harsh reality of this when he was dominated before being submitted in the third round.
Islam does differ from his longtime training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov. But recently, he has shown similar levels of improvement in his striking. I’m in no way calling them the same striker, just simply noting that in a handful of fights leading to their conquest of gold, their hands got sharper and tools greater. Where they mainly differ, however, is from top position.
While Khabib prioritized damage and offense, always aiming to trap you in a position and keep you there. Islam is more static in his approach. He’ll happily wait for his opponent to make an error — an attempt to get up or scramble could lead to their guard being past or worse, neck exposed. His half guard game played a crucial role in his championship win over Charles Oliveira, and is something I believe Volkanovski will have to navigate through carefully. As well as this, Makhachev’s leg and wrist riding techniques are second to none in the division. A slight hiccup from the challenger could lead to a round of horror…
With Islam’s wrestling being the hot-topic of debate throughout fight week, many seem to be placing Volkanovski’s striking on the backburner. Undoubtedly a top 5 striker in the sport today, the featherweight King has shown a legion of layers en route to running through Brian Ortega, Chang Sung Jung and more impressively, Max Holloway. As a high-level striker with this depth, it’s hard to tout anybody up to be competitive with him whilst standing up. Shot selection, timing and his fight IQ as a whole are bonafide weapons in their own right.
Since being announced by the promotion months ago, a number of points have been recycled by fans and media, but most ring true. It’s obvious that Volkanovski must keep clear of the fence, just like Islam has been reminded to not engage in a full-on striking match — I’m reiterating these one final time. Easier said than done, it’ll be intriguing to see how two pound-for-pound combatants go about business this Saturday.
Volkanovski is the better tactician, albeit is in with a monumental task at UFC 284. In some ways, he’s in a bit of a win-win situation. A loss would see him return to the division he conquers with ease, having gained even more respect from the MMA fanbase. A win, nevertheless, will have colossal consequences. A two-weight world champ. Pound-for-pound King. Potential GOAT? Who knows what awaits the Aussie icon if victorious.
Predicting a fight with the magnitude of this one will never not be complicated task. In spite of stepping up a weight class, I think the contest will be incredibly competitive, with Volkanovski’s cardio seeing him through in the later rounds. It’s here that I see him having a slight edge and a finish occurring.
Long live the underdogs.
Prediction: Alexander Volkanovski via TKO, R4