It's time once again for a major UFC PPV event. After going nearly six weeks in between PPVs, the promotion is back in a big way with two title fights atop the UFC 266 fight card in Las Vegas. Capping off International Fight Week, UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will look to extend his winning streak to 20 when he takes on top contender Brian Ortega in the main event from the T-Mobile Arena. Plus, women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko is back to take on Lauren Murphy in the co-main event.
And then there's the bout hardcore fans can't wait to see. Nick Diaz, after nearly six full years out of the Octagon, returns to take on a familiar foe in former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler. Diaz has not fought since a decision loss to Anderson Silva in January 2015 and a lengthy battle with the Nevada State Athletic Commission over marijuana use. Lawler, meanwhile, has hit a real low point in his career with four straight losses and five defeats in his last six.
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Also, heavyweight brawlers Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Curtis Blaydes are also set to meet in a battle of men with a combined 21 knockouts in 26 victories. Both men are looking to maintain their place in the heavyweight pecking order after suffering setbacks in previous opportunities. A win by either man can keep them in the future title challenging conversation.
With so much happening on Saturday night, let's take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.
UFC 266 fight card, odds
- Alexander Volkanovski (c) -190 vs. Brian Ortega +160, featherweight championship
- Valentina Shevchenko (c) -1500 vs. Lauren Murphy +850, women's flyweight championship
- Robbie Lawler -155 vs. Nick Diaz +130, middleweights
- Curtis Blaydes -340 vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik +270, heavyweights
- Jessica Andrade -220 vs. Cynthia Calvillo +180, women's flyweights
- Merab Dvalishvili -270 vs. Marlon Moraes +220, bantamweights
- Dan Hooker -150 vs. Nasrat Haqparast +125, lightweights
- Chris Daukaus -210 vs. Shamil Abdurakimov +175, heavyweights
- Talia Santos -400 vs. Roxanne Modafferi +310, women's flyweights
- Uros Medic -125 vs. Jalin Turner +105, lightweights
- Nick Maximov -135 vs. Cody Brundage +115, middleweights
- Matthew Semelsberger -490 vs. Martin Sano +370, welterweights
- Omar Morales -150 vs. Jonathan Pearce +125, lightweights
With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer, co-host of "Morning Kombat"), Matthew Coca (producer), Jack Crosby (editor), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).
UFC 266 picks, predictions
|Volkanovski (c) vs. Ortega||Ortega||Volkanovski||Ortega||Ortega||Ortega||Volkanovski|
|Shevchenko (c) vs. Murphy||Shevchenko||Shevchenko||Shevchenko||Shevchenko||Shevchenko||Shevchenko|
|Lawler vs. Diaz||Lawler||Lawler||Diaz||Diaz||Diaz||Lawler|
|Blaydes vs. Rozenstruik||Blaydes||Blaydes||Blaydes||Rozenstruik||Blaydes||Blaydes|
|Andrade vs. Calvillo||Andrade||Andrade||Andrade||Andrade||Andrade||Andrade|
|Records to date (2021)||30-14||27-17||29-15||30-14||27-16||22-22|
Campbell on why Ortega will win: Finding the perfect balance between the relentless brawler he was in his 2018 title loss to Max Holloway and the striking technician he became against Chan Sung Jung upon his return from a two-year injury layoff will be key for Ortega in order to solve the mystery of Volkanovski. The defending champion is typically two steps ahead of his opponents by setting traps and relying on footwork to always retain control of the fight's terms. The good news for Ortega is that he has the size, skill and finishing ability to potentially offset that. Although Volkanovski has publicly criticized Ortega's fight IQ after the two got to know each other well as coaches on "The Ultimate Fighter," Ortega proved against "The Korean Zombie" that we still haven't seen the very best of him yet. The more Ortega can remain unpredictable, the more effective his striking can potentially be. Holloway came as close as a fighter can to solving that riddle. Ortega has become enough of a student of the game that one final leveling up could be enough to gain the judges' approval in a close decision.
Brookhouse on why Volkanovski will win: Questionable judging in the rematch with Max Holloway has unfairly rewritten who Volkanovski is as a fighter for many. Holloway is an exceptional fighter, as everyone knows, and Volkanovski landed more significant strikes in both of his fights with Holloway, not just the first clash. Volkanovski is a legit talent on the feet beyond what many are giving him credit for, plus he has the ability to mix in wrestling. Ortega looked improved in his one fight since returning but that was against Chan Sung Jung, who isn't exactly a difficult puzzle to figure out. Even that improved version of Ortega isn't on the level of Volkanovski and it's going to make for a long night for the challenger.
Campbell on why Shevchenko will win: As the author of five dominant title defenses at 125 pounds recently said in a cold and calculated tone in a guest spot on "Morning Kombat," her job "is to destroy my opponent." If the betting odds are any indication, expect Shevchenko to do just that against Murphy, despite her recent five-fight win streak. Shevchenko is simply on another level than any other female fighter not named Amanda Nunes. And if it was once thought that wrestling might be the only aspect of her game not up to par with the rest, her grappling tour de force against Jessica Andrade in April left no further arguments. It's Shevchenko's world, we just live in it.
Brookhouse on why Lawler will win: There's not a ton of logic that can be applied to this fight. Lawler is a shell of the fighter he once was and Diaz hasn't fought in years. The Vegas odds on the fight swung hard toward Lawler late in the week, seemingly a product of some odd Diaz interviews, but it's really about Lawler being used to the experience of the fight these days. Diaz isn't a normal person and he'll likely come out and fight like he always has. Still, time catches up to people and Diaz hasn't been in the cage to see how that time has affected his ability to operate like he used to, Lawler has and therefore has a better understanding of how to approach the battle.
Wise on why Lawler will win: It's really tough to understand why this line hovered at pick'em for so long. With over five years of inactivity, there really is no reason to believe in Nick Diaz on Saturday being something special. Outside of pure fandom, that much inactivity is so hard to overcome against anybody. While Lawler is very much faded at this point in his career, his losses have come against elite fighters who prefer to wrestle and clinch. Diaz will want to stand and trade, which has to favor Lawler at this point. Without knowing what Diaz's chin looks like, plus how disinterested Diaz seemed to be all week with the fight, it's tough to go anywhere other than Lawler in this fight.
Wise on why Blaydes will win: The odds on this fight are long for a reason. While Rozenstruik possesses some obliterating knockout power, he remains incredibly passive while looking for exactly the right shot to finish a fight. Blaydes, on the other hand, is unrelenting in his forward pressure as he looks to take the legs and deliver ground and pound. While Blaydes has shown proven susceptible to knockout shots on entry from Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis, Rozenstruik is not that level of talent. Expect Blaydes to get to work early to prove why he's still an elite challenge at heavyweight.
Who will win Volkanovski vs. Ortega? And how exactly does each UFC 266 fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks from Kyle Marley, who's up over $14,000 on MMA picks in the past 31 months, and find out.