We are finally here! UFC 294 goes down live this coming Saturday from the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. There are a few dozen reasons that both hardcore and casual MMA fans are excited about this card. Beyond it being simply stacked from top to bottom, there is a lot at stake, particularly with our main card. But also, the presence of numerous undefeated and up-and-coming talents.
A main card packed with future legends, the company’s brightest stars, and a few upcoming contenders, it’s an evening that is bound to leave a plethora of headlines the morning afterward.
A Stacked Card
The main event is the sequel to arguably the Fight of the Year with Islam Makhachev facing Alexander Volkanovski for the UFC lightweight championship, this time in Islam’s home territory. Khamzat Chimaev is returning after over a year in a title eliminator against former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in the co-main event.
Elsewhere on the card, Johnny Walker aims to keep his momentum in another potential title eliminator against former title contender Magomed Ankalaev. Said Nurmagomedov looks to bounce back against Muin Gafuroz and lastly, Ikram Aliskerov takes on short-notice replacement Warlley Alves.
Additionally, the show isn’t just built by its impressive main card, but an equally loaded undercard filled with some must-see names. Muhammed Mokaev makes a surprisingly fast return to action against Tim Elliot following a horrendous injury scare back in March. Javid Basharat takes on Victor Henry, the ever-exciting Nathaniel Wood faces Muhammad Naimov, and the terrifying Sharabutdin Magomedov makes his UFC debut against Bruno Silva.
Next to no fight on the card lacks in the excitement department and is one for the history books. Without waiting any longer, Anik and Mishal are here to make our main card predictions for UFC 294.
UFC Lightweight Championship: (C-LW) Islam Makhachev vs. (C-FTW) Alexander Volkanovski
Anik: My heart says Volkanovski, but my head says Makhachev. When they had a razor-thin fight at UFC 284, Makhachev had 12 hours less to rehydrate. This disadvantage slowed down the pace of the Dagestani warrior in the later rounds. Instead of offensive wrestling with a prevalent threat of submissions, Makhachev could only hold Volkanovski down for control time.
While Volkanovski is durable and an exquisite striker, all it takes is one mistake to get taken down and held down, causing him to lose rounds. Volkanovski will have the more significant moments, but Makhachev will win another decision based on ground control time and using his offensive wrestling more this time. This rematch will bring out the best in Makhachev because I believe Volkanovski might be a more challenging matchup for him than any lightweight.
Prediction: Islam Makhachev via Decision
Mishal: As much as I loved the initial Makhachev vs. Oliveira fight on paper, this is the only fight that could trump it in terms of talent, anticipation, and how high-level it is. Islam’s first outing against Volkanovski ended up a lot closer than almost anybody expected it to be going in. A jaw-dropping back-and-forth war between arguably two of the best in the UFC at the moment, ending in the perfect way to set the next stage in this rivalry; this time in Abu Dhabi.
Both men no doubt came out of their first fight better fighters all around, it’s just something about Volkanovski since that period that speaks an aura of confidence few have ever possessed. Volk has been more driven than ever to prove a point as a fighter, with the intent of not just toppling the one who managed to defeat him but keeping two weight divisions busy and proving it can be done. Compared to his slightly tentative performance in the previous fight in the earlier rounds, I expect him to be far more dangerous and open to taking risks, namely in the striking where he definitely passed on some opportunities against Makhachev the first time. Makhachev will be looking to do the same and has proven he has the tools to be Volk’s Kryptonite, but doesn’t maintain the same posture as the fight plays on.
This is not a fight I can imagine going the distance on either man’s part, and they along with their camps made this clear. But weighing out both scenarios, I struggle to be convinced that anyone currently has what it takes to finish Alexander Volkanovski. Either way, one champion wins and solidifies a historic winning streak, while another champion cements himself in the discussion for the greatest of all time. A fight that only comes along in a generation, and I favor the challenger to correct the mistakes from the first time around to shock absolutely everyone.
Prediction: Alexander Volkanovski via KO/TKO
Middleweight Bout: #1-WW Kamaru Usman vs. #4-WW Khamzat Chimaev
Anik: While Usman has a 97% takedown defense in the UFC, he has only one submission victory in his career. Chimaev, on the other hand, is far more offensive on the ground and usually finishes the fight if he takes his opponents down. Due to the elite wrestling pedigree of both, I believe this will turn into a stand-up battle, and Chimaev’s power and range will neutralize Usman’s strong jab. While both are great everywhere, Chimaev is the bigger man and slightly better everywhere. He also has a newfound gas tank due to not having to cut to 170 pounds and has finished all but one of his opponents.
I am riding with the undefeated Chimaev to win by dominant decision or a late stoppage.
Prediction: Khamzat Chimaev via KO/TKO
Mishal: The fight we all wanted, and now more than ever, the fight we needed to save a card such as this one. Chimaev vs. Usman isn’t just the most logical next step for both men’s current trajectory, it’s one I was shocked wasn’t made considering how close it was to happening just over a year ago.
Similar to Makhachev vs. Volkanovski, this is a fight that could be defined by its difference in preparation. Chimaev coming off a full training camp for a larger, more domineering opponent in Paulo Costa, whereas Usman steps in on 12-days notice with no proper fight camp, coming off back-to-back losses from a weight class below. Stylistically though, this is bound to be competitive. The wrestling capabilities of each man will likely cancel out that factor. But Chimaev possesses an edge in the power and speed department (bar his lack of head movement), making this quite the test for the former welterweight champion. I wouldn’t be shocked if this goes the other way, but this is one of those highly competitive fights that leans the advantage of the megastar in Chimaev.
Prediction: Khamzat Chimaev via Decision
Light Heavyweight Bout: #2 Magomed Ankalaev vs. #7 Johnny Walker
Anik: Johnny Walker was once one of the best prospects in the game. Using his newfound discipline and improved fight IQ, he has smothered his last 3 opponents. Despite not performing his best at UFC 282, Ankalaev is the most well-rounded light heavyweight. His counterstriking and defense is impeccable, as he rarely gets hit. Many need to remember that he could be the best wrestler in his division, and his takedown threat will make Walker slightly hesitant on the feet.
Due to this, Ankalaev will cruise to a decision victory and fight for the belt after Jiri Prochazka and Alex Pereira go to war at UFC 295.
Prediction: Magomed Ankalaev via Decision
Mishal: Easily, and sadly, the most overlooked match on the card. Due to how stacked the top of the card has become, it was inevitable that a match of this importance just wouldn’t receive the recognition it deserves. Essentially a contenders match, with the winner likely to be lined up against the victor of Alex Pereira vs. Jiri Prochazka at UFC 295, the stakes don’t feel all that large but are. Walker has undergone an unexpected career resurgence, altering his style to become a more calculated giant as shown against Anthony Smith, also managing to piece together a nice little win streak adding 1st round KO wins over Paul Craig and Ion Cutelaba.
His opponent in Ankalaev, however, is on a level he is unfamiliar with until now. The fantastic blend of wrestling alongside surgically precise striking makes him a threat absolutely everywhere a fight goes. Against an opponent like Johnny Walker who has shown weaknesses in his game and IQ, this is a difficult fight for the Brazilian across the board. Magomed has superior fight IQ, stamina, and technical striking, which should be enough to work with to avoid the sheer carnage Walker drags into the octagon. That being said, Walker is no slouch in any fight, and should Magomed let his guard down, a world of pain awaits from countless directions.
Prediction: Magomed Ankalaev via Decision
Middleweight Bout: Ikram Aliskerov vs. Warrley Alves
Anik: I would have liked to see Aliskerov tested against Paulo Costa at UFC 291 or Nassourdine Imavov at this event. Unfortunately, those fights fell through. While Warrley Alves deserves credit for moving up a weight class to take this short-notice fight, I do not think fans will learn much about Aliskerov’s potential. Alves has won 1 fight in the last 4 years and is by far the smaller man.
Aliskerov showed his striking ability with a brutal knockout of Phil Hawes at UFC 288 and is a 4-time world champion in sambo. I believe the Dagestani will finish this fight within 1 round, in whatever way he wants.
Prediction: Ikram Aliskerov via 1st Round KO/TKO
Mishal: Ikram Aliskerov is one of those unknowns in the UFC’s middleweight division. He debuted with a ton of hype behind him following a vicious KO over Phil Hawes, boasting a 14-1 professional record, and only being toppled by Khamzat Chimaev himself. The UFC clearly sees potential in the man, which is why seeing his initial fight with Nassourdine Imavov fall through was a sad blow to this card.
Credit to Warlley Alves for stepping in Imavov’s place because this is no easy fight to take, especially on short notice. Alves is 1-3 in his last 4 and hasn’t exactly looked like the force needed to halt someone as intimidating as Aliskerov. He’ll likely serve as yet another highlight reel for the up-and-comer.
Prediction: Ikram Aliskerov via 2nd Round KO/TKO
Bantamweight Bout: Said Nurmagomedov vs. Muin Gafurov
Anik: Gafurov has lost 3 out of his last 6, and only the best have beaten Nurmagomedov. Despite coming off a close loss to Jonathan Martinez earlier this year, Nurmagomedov is a strong finisher. I expect him to get the early takedown and submission victory before he can gas out in the later rounds.
Prediction: Said Nurmagomedov via KO/TKO
Mishal: This is more or less a stepping stone to help Said build up his octagon momentum after a controversial split decision loss to Jonathan Martinez earlier in 2023. It’s a fight I still believe he had the edge in winning…
Muin Gafuroz is coming off a decision loss to John Castaneda over the summer and is looking to bounce back into the win column, with quite the obstacle in front of him. Once you have the Nurmagomedov last name, you know you’re in for something special. I don’t believe Said is any different. His unorthodox striking combined with stellar ground reminds me of Zabit back in the day, recently showing his ballistic style in his fight against Douglas Silva. While Said does know how to get his opponents out of the octagon, Gafuroz’s record demonstrates a solid chin and should be difficult for the Dagestani to get out of there without something flashy.
Prediction: Said Nurmagomedov via Decision