Three major narratives at UFC 266: Can Murphy actually defeat ‘Bullet’?

ufc 266
June 13, 2020; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Merab Dvalishvili (Red Gloves) reacts after the conclusion of his fight against Gustavo Lopez during UFC Fight Night at the UFC APEX. Mandatory Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via USA TODAY Sports

There are several key storylines in the tale that is UFC 266 tomorrow night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Here are three of those major narratives

Can Alexander Volkanovski shut-up the remaining doubters

An undisputed UFC champion who holds back-to-back wins over Max Holloway, UFC featherweight kingpin Alexander Volkanovski has also has had to deal with a legion of doubters.

Despite the Australian’s consecutive victories over the Hawaiian — both of which came by decision — many fans have been reticent to label him the division’s best fighter and contend that Holloway should’ve emerged victorious from either one or both of the two fights.

Volkanovski, 32, hasn’t lost a professional fight since 2013 when he was competing at welterweight. His UFC tenure includes impressive victories against featherweight greats like Holloway, Jose Aldo, and Chad Mendes. In the main event of UFC 266, Volkanovski will face Brian Ortega, the division’s second-ranked contender, and his coaching rival during this past season of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV competition.

Ortega, 30, rose to prominence as a prospect in the featherweight division on the strength of his uncanny finishing ability as a grappler and has since developed a refined striking arsenal. Following a blowout TKO loss to Holloway, Ortega took a respite from the sport and returned to a thrilling, career-best performance against perennial contender and fan favorite Chan Sung Jung, “The Korean Zombie.”

The bad blood between Volkanovski and Ortega is real, but the technical competitiveness of the fight is a reason why many fans have circled this main event title fight on their calendars.

Speaking to the media, Volkanovski lambasted his foe for what he perceived to be Ortega’s lack of professionalism, stating, “Hard work gets you to where I am. Talent only gets you so far, and he’s unprofessional. He ain’t doing what I’m doing. I guarantee you he doesn’t deserve that belt. He ain’t taking it from me.”

Ortega, meanwhile, fired back at Volkanovski’s trash talk and stated that he remains focused on the fight.

“I’m not here to talk sh*t. If he has something to say, I’ll talk to him one-on-one when there’s no cameras. F*ck the bullsh*t. I’ll come get you in person if you really want to go there. I’ll come get you in the elevator if you want. I think if me and him were to be in a room and actually hang out for real, we’d be good acquaintances,” he told MMA Junkie.

Is Valentina Shevchenko Unbeatable?

In the co-main event, UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko defends her title for a record sixth consecutive time against former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Lauren Murphy.

Kyrgyzstan’s Shevchenko, 33, has looked and been simply unbeatable since dropping ten pounds after the inception of the flyweight division, where she has reigned as champion since an impressive decision win over ex-UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in December of 2018.

One of the more well-rounded fighters in the Octagon, Shevchenko has stifled, knocked out, or ground-and-pounded her way through the division’s top five in one of the more dominant runs in recent memory.

At UFC 266, she will face the third-ranked Murphy, 38. Despite a difficult start to her UFC tenure and a losing effort against inaugural UFC flyweight champion Nicco Montaño on The Ultimate Fighter Season 26, Murphy has strung together five victories en route to her first UFC title opportunity.

Speaking to the media ahead of the fight, Murphy said of Shevchenko, “You don’t get to be where she’s at by not being well-rounded and not being really, really damn good at everything, but everybody is human. Everybody has habits and things that are exploitable. Everybody has weaknesses. Anybody who thinks they don’t have a weakness, that in itself is a great weakness. Everybody makes mistakes,” Murphy said at her media day interview.

But given that Shevchenko has only lost to two women — a 2010 defeat since avenged to Liz Carmouche and two decision losses to UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes — in her career, it remains difficult to imagine her losing in the Octagon at flyweight.

The champion told the media, “For all the years that I was fighting, it’s kind of hard to surprise me with something special if you are not superhuman. I know she is well-rounded. I know she is strong. I know she is dangerous. This is everything that I have to know about her. But something special that I could put pressure on my shoulders? No,” Shevchenko said at UFC 266 media day.

Will Merab Dvalishvili break into elite status at UFC 266?

While the main card has received the bulk of media and fan’s attention, the bantamweight bout between former title challenger Marlon Moraes and surging Merab Dvalishvili on the prelims is a fight with significant implications for the division.

Georgia’s Dvalishvili, 30, is currently ranked eleventh in the rankings. The winner of six straight fights, the high-volume pace pusher has announced himself as a contender in the making in recent performances.

In his last outing, Dvalishvili overwhelmed Cody Stamann en route to a unanimous decision win that followed similar showings against John Dodson, Gustavo Lopez, and Casey Kenney. Since his first two UFC bouts — losses to Ricky Simón and Frankie Saenz — Dvalishvili has been unbeaten in the Octagon.

However, he’ll have his hands full at UFC 266 against former two-weight World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes, 33.

The Brazilian has faltered of late, dropping three of his last four including a championship defeat at the hands of retired dual-weight champion Henry Cejudo. Of the three losses, all three have come by knockout. Despite the skid, Moraes’ five UFC victories and the incredible level of opposition he has faced to date continue to see him ranked sixth in the division. As such, a victory for Dvalishvili would be massive for his career and title aspirations.

If Dvalishvili is able to put the sort of pace he has been known to push on Moraes and secure a win over his most notable opponent to date, he could very well signal his arrival as a major player in the division and break into the top-10.

–Field Level Media

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