Islam Makhachev (@islam_makhachev/Instagram page)

UFC 284: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski Preview and Predictions

On Saturday, Feb. 11, the UFC heads to the Land Down Under for a pay-per-view event headlined by Aussie star Alexander Volkanovski taking on Islam Makhachev with the lightweight title on the line. Makhachev claimed the lightweight title when he submitted Charles Oliveira via arm-triangle choke in their clash back in Oct. 2022. For his first title defense, Makhachev looks to stop Volkanovski from becoming a simultaneous two-division champion.

Coming into this fight, both main eventers have extended winning streaks. Makhachev has won 11 fights in a row, dating back to 2015, where he was knocked out by Adriano Martins in his sophomore appearance inside the UFC. Volkanovski’s winning streak is even longer, rattling off an almost unfathomable 22 consecutive victories. Not only do these two stalwarts have impressive winning streaks, they both have only one loss on their professional records. On top of both of those accolades, they currently sit at No. 1 and No. 2 in the official UFC pound-for-pound rankings, with Volkanovski looking to hold onto his top spot. Suffice it to say, there is more than just gold on the line when these two men throw down in Western Australia on Saturday night.

The division that Volkanovski reigns over is highlighted in the co-main event as Josh Emmett and Yair Rodriguez will fight for an interim featherweight title. Emmett has made the move to contender rather late in his career, as he fights for a belt for the first time at age 37. The Team Alpha Male product has put together an impressive 9-2 record inside the UFC, including five consecutive victories leading into this matchup against Rodriguez. For his part, Rodriguez has won three of his last five fights, with a no-contest in his first fight against Jeremy Stephens and a decision loss in a “Fight of the Night” performance against former champion Max Holloway. In his most recent outing, Rodriguez scored a TKO victory over two-time title challenger Brian Ortega, after Ortega suffered a shoulder injury in the first round.


Also on the main card is Dana White’s Contender Series alumnus Jack Della Maddalena. Quickly becoming one of the promotion’s brightest young stars, Della Maddalena has won all three of his UFC bouts by TKO and has won “Performance of the Night” bonuses in his last two outings. He takes on UFC veteran Randy Brown who has won four straight fights, the longest such streak since he joined the promotion back in 2016. A win over Brown could be the stepping stone that Della Maddalena needs to move from prospect to contender and if Brown is able to come out on top and stop Della Maddalena’s momentum it could vault “Rude Boy” into that same contender status.

UFC 284: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski goes down inside the RAC Arena in Perth, Western Australia. The early prelims air live on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ starting at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the preliminary card on ESPN and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The action shifts to ESPN+ pay-per-view for the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Alexander Volkanovski looks to become only the fifth fighter to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously; does he have a path to victory over Islam Makhachev?

Kuhl: On the positive side, Volkanovski is a well-rounded fighter, who is winner and a champion for a reason. He has a relatively high striking output, he has decent takedown defense, he has effective offensive wrestling, and he is an overall hard-nosed grinder. The featherweight champion drags his opponents into deep water, and, in 12 UFC fights, he has only finished two opponents in the second round. Nine of those fights went the distance, and two fights ago, he was able to TKO “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung-Jung in the fourth round. However, while his long, drawn-out, grinding style has been effective against previous opponents, this could actually be more of a problem when facing Islam Makhachev.

Makhachev, like his mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov, has a nearly invincible Sambo style. He has a high takedown rate, and once he gets his opponent down, the fight is usually over. Statistically, he doesn’t land a lot of strikes, but he doesn’t throw many either, and he hardly ever gets touched. This will be an even bigger problem for Volkanovski, as he might have a slight reach advantage, but he will have a four-inch disadvantage in height. For him to get close enough to put gloves on Makhachev, he will be opening himself up for clinch work and takedown, which is exactly what the Dagestani champion wants.

Volkanovski has fought everywhere from welterweight to featherweight, and he was once a lightweight champion in a smaller promotion, but I don’t see that happening at this level. Nurmagomedov essentially passed the torch to his protege, and Volkanovski will not likely be the one to take that away. It would be great to see the Aussie become the next two-division champion, but this is not the fight to get there.

The featherweight champ will come out pushing the pace, trying to tag up Makhachev, but the lightweight champ will get Volkanovski to the mat and grind on him, until picking up a submission victory in Round 2.

Petela: There’s a reason they have weight classes, not height and reach classes. Islam Makhachev is a perfect example of that. He’s not the tallest or longest lightweight in the promotion, but he is damn sure one of the strongest. As previously mentioned, Alexander Volkanovski has fought as high as welterweight, and once weighed over 200 pounds back in his rugby days, but, at the risk of sounding like a Makhachev fanboy, he’s never been in the cage with a fighter like the Dagestani phenom.

There’s just something different about the combination of strength and technique that Makhachev possesses. Just ask Charles Oliveira, Bobby Green, or Drew Dober, to name a few. He just ragdolls his opponents and doesn’t let them get any momentum going. Volkanovski will struggle to get out of first gear, even as he is buoyed by the Australian fans.

I have a feeling this one is going to be ugly. Makhachev will get an early takedown and begin to batter Volkanovski in the first round. A credit to the featherweight champion’s toughness, he will survive the first round and make it back to his corner, but, in Round 2, it will be more of the same, especially as he is already compromised from the beating he took in the first round. Whether it is an arm-triangle choke that forces him to tap or an onslaught of ground-and-pound that forces the referee to step in and wave off the fight, this fight doesn’t make it a full 10 minutes.

Josh Emmett earned his shot at an interim title by rattling off five straight wins; can he get past Yair Rodriguez to claim the belt?

Petela: Simply put, no. I like Josh Emmett but I don’t like his odds of coming away with the interim belt. He has certainly earned the shot with his winning streak, and it isn’t like he has beaten slouches on his road to the showdown, but I just don’t see him being able to close the distance to unleash his big power against someone as elusive and fleet-footed as Yair Rodriguez.

The biggest name on Emmett’s resume is Calvin Kattar, a fight that he won by split decision, which could have gone Kattar’s way. Against a boxing-focused fighter like Kattar, Emmett was able to land enough looping punches with authority to squeak out a win, but Rodriguez isn’t going to stand in boxing range with the heavy-handed Team Alpha Male standout.

Expect this one to stay on the feet. Despite having a substantial wrestling background, Emmett likes to stand and trade, and Rodriguez will be a willing dance partner. Rodriguez will be able to keep the fight at kicking range, using his Taekwondo background to pick apart Emmett. As the rounds go on, Emmett will grow increasingly frustrated, as he is playing the unsuccessful bull to Rodriguez’s matador. By the time the game plan changes for Emmett, and he wants to try and score a takedown, he won’t have the explosiveness to get Rodriguez down to the mat.

In my humble opinion, this is going to be a showcase of how talented Yair Rodriguez has become, and I expect him to win a lopsided decision, if he doesn’t score a late TKO finish.

Kuhl: I tend to agree with my colleague’s overall assessment, and I do believe Yair Rodriguez will use his dynamic striking to pick Josh Emmett apart and earn the interim strap. However, I will play a bit of Devil’s advocate as well.

Like Rodriguez, Emmett has earned a handful of performance bonuses. The aforementioned Kattar fight was a super entertaining banger, as was Emmett’s fight with Shane Burgos in Jun. 2020. He also earned a bonus when he handed Mirsad Bektic his first of three losses that effectively ended the Bosnian’s career. Prior to that, he knocked the crap out of two tough veterans in Ricardo Lamas and Michael Johnson. If Emmett can hang tough as the fight progresses, Rodriguez will always be one punch away from seeing staring at the sky.

I do have Rodriguez winning this one with a more technical striking game, but if Emmett can drag him into a grinding match, his chances of getting a finish will always be there.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 284?

Kuhl: Jack Della Maddalena is set up to have one hell of a night. The fast-rising welterweight is on a 13-fight winning streak, having not lost since his second pro bout. He’s still only 26 years old and has finished his last three UFC opponents by first-round knockout. He will be facing longtime UFC veteran Randy Brown as the last pay-per-view bout before the co-main event, which puts this one right in the spotlight.

Brown will be no easy task, as he is a finisher in his own right. He will also have a big size advantage with a frame closer to that of Jon Jones rather than that of Della Maddalena. He has been a bit of a UFC journeyman, having only beat a couple decent names, but he has crisp striking and submission skills. But, I have the Aussie coming out big against a raucous home crowd, and adding another first-round finish to his streak.

Petela: Yair Rodriguez. UFC 284 will be a win-win for the Mexican standout. Not only will he become the interim featherweight champion, but he will also get to take on a forever-changed Alexander Volkanovski in a title-unification bout. The type of beating that Islam Makhachev is going to put on Volkanovski is one of those career altering thuddings that can happen when a fighter dares to be great. The lightweight title is a bridge too far for Volkanovski, and, when his career is all said and done, fans will look back at this fight as the beginning of the downside of his career. It will unfortunately be eerily reminiscent of Rory Macdonald when he moved up to middleweight to try and challenge Gegard Mousasi for the Bellator championship.

On top of that, cutting weight to try and get back down to 145 pounds will become even harder for Volkanovski. When he does eventually face Rodriguez, he will be a substantially compromised version of himself. All in all, Rodriguez will come away from UFC 284 with the biggest win of his career, and a very winnable next fight, as he looks to become the undisputed featherweight champion.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 284?

Petela: Outside of the two men who come up short in the title fights, Alonzo Menifield is going to have the roughest night. He enters the fight having won his last two fights via knockout, over Askar Mozharov and Misha Cirkunov. A showdown against Jimmy Crute is a big step-up in competition, not to mention that he has to travel to Crute’s home country of Australia to take on one of the nation’s favorite fighting sons.

Crute stumbled a bit when he reached the upper echelon and has dropped back-to-back fights. This home game for him is exactly what he needs to reset, and, unfortunately, his bounce back win is going to come at Menifield’s expense. A momentum stopping loss is going to sting a little bit extra for Menifield as he gets on the plane for his long flight home to the United States.

Kuhl: I was initially tempted to go with Alexander Volkanovski on this one, but that is not right. Israel Adesanya moved up to try and capture the light heavyweight belt from Jan Blachowicz, and that loss didn’t affect his career in a negative way at all. I feel the same way with Volk. However, Jamie Mullarkey could have a really bad night.

Mullarkey is the -255 favorite over promotional newcomer Francisco Prado, and he is fighting in front of his home crowd. I’m pretty sure he is expecting a big win, but I don’t think he has as good of a chance as the bookmakers seem to.

The 20-year-old Argentinian is 11-0 and has finished every single one of his fights. All but three of those wins came in the first round. This kid is a dynamic striker with crazy submission skills, and I think he is going to finish the Aussie, staking his claim in the UFC.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Kuhl: Elise Reed needs to pick up a win to stay in the UFC – at least for the time being. The 30-year-old strawweight entered the promotion with a 4-0 pro record, but has gone 2-2 since. With both losses coming by finish, and both wins coming by decision, she hasn’t really made a strong case for her spot on the roster. This weekend, she faces Loma Lookboonmee, who is 4-2 in the promotion, and has beaten some tougher competition. A loss this weekend could send Reed down to an LFA or Invicta FC to further develop her career before possibly moving back up.

Petela: Don Shainis. Typically, it is three losses in a row that get you booted from the promotion. But any fighter who starts their tenure 0-2 is on the proverbial chopping block. Shainis was submitted in just 30 seconds in his UFC debut, so, if he comes up short again, and doesn’t at least make a decent account of himself, this is probably the end of the road for “Shameless.”

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: Jamie Mullarkey vs. Francisco Prado. Mullarkey has had his two previously scheduled bouts canceled, and he’s surely itching to get back to action. His opponent, Prado, is an undefeated Argentinian fighter who fought four times in 2022 and won all of those fights by finish – three by knockout and one by submission. That made his overall record 11-0 with every single one of his wins coming by stoppage. The UFC must believe in this 20-year-old’s talent to put him up against a fighter of Mullarkey’s caliber in his debut. Mullarkey is never in a boring fight, win or lose, so this one has all the makings of a barnburner on the prelims.

Kuhl: I’m going with Joshua Culibao vs. Melsik Baghdasaryan. Australia’s Culibao suffered his sole professional loss in his UFC debut in Feb. 2020. Since then, he had a split draw against Charles Jourdain and scored wins over Sayilan Nuerdanbieke and Seung Woo Choi. Armenia’s Baghdasaryan lost his pro debut in 2014, and he has not lost an MMA fight since. He is 2-0 in the UFC, in addition to winning on the Contender Series in Sep. 2020. The two featherweights will meet on the preliminary card in what is sure to be a great war.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Kuhl: If Islam Makhachev finishes Alexander Volkanovski in the main event, that would be Volk’s first loss in 10 years. This would most certainly earn the lightweight champ a little extra money. That would be his second bonus in a row, as he earned one with his submission of Charles Oliveira in his first title win.

Petela: Justin Tafa. When he wins, he does it in bold fashion. All five of his pro victories have come by knockout, and, when he adds a sixth knockout to his record over Parker Porter in front of the home crowd, the place will erupt, and the monstrous heavyweight will be rewarded by Dana White and company with an extra fifty-thousand dollars.

Pair this card with…

Petela: Blueberry pie. Frankly, it is an underrated pie. Apple and pumpkin get all the credit but there’s something special about a nice, homemade blueberry pie. That’s kind of how I feel about this fight card, even as a pay-per-view it is living in the shadows of the heavyweight mega fight at UFC 285. Enjoy this fight card with a nice slice of blueberry pie and be pleasantly surprised with both of them. If you can get someone to make you one from scratch, that’s perfect, just know that they must really love you because it will make their kitchen an absolute mess!

Kuhl: An event of this magnitude in Australia calls for Sheaf Stout. This is an easy drinking sweet stout brewed by Australia’s Carlton & United Breweries, which is more known for lackluster lighter beers. But, at 5.7% ABV, this rich stout can be enjoyed during a long event, full of rich and exciting fights.

Fight Kuhl’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
LW Championship: Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski Makhachev Makhachev
Interim FW Championship: Yair Rodriguez vs. Josh Emmett Rodriguez Rodriguez
WW: Randy Brown vs. Jack Della Maddalena Della Maddalena Della Maddalena
HW: Justin Tafa vs. Parker Porter Tafa Tafa
LHW: Jimmy Crute vs. Alonzo Menifield Menifield Crute
Preliminary Card (ESPN/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
LHW: Tyson Pedro vs. Modestas Bukauskas Pedro Pedro
FW: Joshua Culibao vs. Melsik Baghdasaryan Baghdasaryan Culibao
FlyW: Kleydson Rodrigues vs. Shannon Ross Rodrigues Rodrigues
LW: Jamie Mullarkey vs. Francisco Prado Prado Mullarkey
Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
FW: Jack Jenkins vs. Don Shainis Jenkins Shainis
StrawW: Loma Lookboonmee vs. Elise Reed Lookboonmee Lookboonmee
FW: Blake Bilder vs. Shane Young Bilder Bilder
FW: Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Elves Brenner Tukhugov Tukhugov