Alexander Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski/Instagram page)

UFC 298: Volkanovski vs. Topuria Preview and Predictions

The Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. plays host to the UFC, this weekend as the promotion’s featherweight title is on the line. Incumbent champion Alexander Volkanovski returns to his natural division, as he meets the hard-charging Ilia Topuria. Prior to this fight, Volkanovski spent two of his last three fights looking to become a two-division champion. He came up short in a very close decision in his first encounter with lightweight king Islam Makhachev. But, the second time had disastrous results for the consensus featherweight GOAT.

Just over three minutes into the first round, Makhachev landed a head kick that floored Volkanovski and then punctuated the finish with a few hammerfists. Now back down at 145 pounds, Volkanovski will set out to prove that he is still a force to be reckoned with and is ready to hold off the next generation of challengers.

For his part, Topuria earned his shot at the title by remaining undefeated, as he marched his way through some of the best talent in the division. Bryce Mitchell didn’t make it to the final bell before Topuria submitted him with an arm-triangle choke. Topuria then outdueled Josh Emmett to score a unanimous decision victory over five rounds in his first main event. Topuria has remained cool as a cucumber – unlike other challengers who have broken out in hives and dry heaved – in the lead up to this fight and is very confident that he will be leaving with the belt wrapped around his waist.


In the co-main event, former middleweight title challenger Paulo Costa returns to action for the first time since his brawl with Luke Rockhold at UFC 278. That win snapped a two-fight skid for Costa, and he will look to avoid ring rust and continue to build momentum back towards another run at gold. Standing in his way is former champion Robert Whittaker. Whittaker is looking to rebound from his last performance where he lost via second-round TKO to the current champion, Dricus du Plessis. A win over Costa puts Whittaker right back in the mix of potential future opponents for DDP in a rematch with the belt at stake.

Also on the main card, undefeated rising star Ian Machado Garry looks to add another veteran name to his resume as he takes on Geoff Neal. The pair was originally slated to square off at UFC 292 but Neal was forced to withdraw from the fight and Neil Magny took his place. Garry destroyed the legs of Magny with low kicks on his way to a wide unanimous decision victory. Should he get past Neal, Garry will have silenced nearly every doubter and proved that he is more than just a Conor McGregor knockoff and that he has the talent to one day become champion.

There is also a high profile bantamweight showdown on the pay–per-view card, as Merab Dvalishvili looks to extend his winning streak to ten by beating former two weight class champion Henry Cejudo. Cejudo came out of retirement with hopes of reclaiming his bantamweight crown but came up short in his contest against Aljamain Sterling. Now he has Sterling’s teammate in his sights as he looks to get into the win column for the first time in this second act of his career.

The UFC 298 early prelims air live on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass starting at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the preliminary card on ESPN+ and ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. The main card airs on ESPN+ pay-per-view 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 comes into this fight with Ilia Topuria after a devastating knockout loss to Islam Makhachev; will the featherweight kingpin be recovered enough to take out the rising star?

Kuhl: If it wasn’t for the devastating knockout loss to Islam Makhachev in his last fight, I would have Volkanovski winning this one with ease. Regardless of Ilia Topuria’s background, skills, and everything else he brings to the table, including his undefeated record, Volk is the featherweight GOAT at this point, and he is definitely one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world right now. But, those knockouts can change a person.

Volkanovski’s only two losses, since his fourth pro fight in 2013, were in two of his last three fights, and both were in bids for the lightweight title against Islam Makhachev. In his first fight against the Dagestani, Volk showed tremendous grit and skill, as he held off his opponent en route to a unanimous decision loss, even though many thought the Aussie did enough to pull off the win. What was most impressive was his amazing defense on the ground and his usual impressive striking. This was after cleaning out the featherweight division for over six years straight, including three wins over Max Holloway and wins over Brian Ortega and former divisional champ Jose Aldo.

Now, Topuria may be undefeated, but he only has six UFC fights spanning about three and a half years, and the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has mostly fought grapplers, including Bryce Mitchell, Damon Jackson and Ryan Hall. His last win over Josh Emmett was his first real striking challenge in the Octagon. While he won, the fight went the distance, and he was not able to earn a knockout, like in his previous three outings. Volkanovski’s striking is much more technically proficient than Emmett’s.

With all that being said, I do have Volkanovski winning this one, but after a devastating knockout loss in his last fight with Makhachev, I expect him to be a bit more cautious. Topuria has nowhere near the level of big-fight experience that Volkanovski does, but he does have momentum on his side, having never been beaten. Volk is coming off a tough loss, and he needs to build back up.

Volkanovski should pull off the decision victory, but I expect it to be closer than I would have before his second loss to Makhachev.

Petela: Dan is right that knockouts change people. We have seen numerous examples of fighters getting knocked out and never being the same again, most notably Ronda Rousey. In Rousey’s case she wasn’t the same fighter even after over a year away from fighting. Volkanovski fought just four months ago, he hasn’t given himself nearly enough time to properly recover. While I’m sure the doctors have done their due diligence to ensure he isn’t suffering any post concussion issues, there is no test in the world to tell whether or not his chin will be the same. At 35 years old and entering his 30th professional fight, I have a feeling he won’t be able to take a punch nearly as well as he has throughout his career.

For Volkanovski’s sake, it is fortunate that he is taking on a fighter like Ilia Topuria who doesn’t pose the biggest risk of a one punch knockout and prefers to get the fight to the canvas but the ground and pound capabilities of Topuria will prove to be the deciding factor in this one. Volkanovski was able to escape trouble on the mat when he defeated Brian Ortega but Topuria is a different kind of grappler than “T-City.” Whereas Ortega would sell out looking for a submission, Topuria is much more apt to take what his opponent gives him. It is going to come down to whether or not Volkanovski can stay upright and I do not think he will be able to long enough to avoid getting stopped.

Rounds one and two will probably be light on action as the two men try to read each other’s movements and it stands to reason that Volkanovski may jump out to an early lead as the more technically proficient striker. However, once Topuria takes it up a notch realizing that he is likely behind on points the fight will change drastically. Likely from the clinch, Topuria will get Volkanovski off balance and trip him to the mat. Working from top position, I expect Topuria to find himself in half guard looking for a submission and while Volkanovski defends the opening will come for some short elbows and punches to start landing. If Volkanovski’s chin is compromised like I expect it to be, those will be damaging blows and he will be forced to turtle and then a few hammerfists will land and the referee will be forced to halt the contest. Ilia Topuria leaves Anaheim with the featherweight belt around his waist.

Paulo Costa returns to the cage for the first time since 2022; how does the long layoff affect his performance against former champion Robert Whittaker?

Petela: For a fighter who has been away from the cage for so long, Costa has had a superfluous presence on social media with his litany of excuses for not fighting. Whether it is an injury or a contract dispute, there always seems to be something that stops him from actually making the walk to the Octagon. With that being said, I still am unsure if on Saturday this fight will even take place.

If this contest goes down, I don’t see Costa putting on a particularly impressive performance. Robert Whittaker is the more well-rounded athlete, and he won’t be sucked into a brawl the way Luke Rockhold did when he took on Costa. Whittaker is going to keep Costa away from him, staying light on his feet throughout the fight and playing a bit of a bull-and-matador game with his Brazilian opponent. You know how sometimes you just have a gut feeling about someone?

Well, with Costa I have a feeling that ring rust will be a real thing. Dominick Cruz may say that it doesn’t exist, but it really depends on the fighter. Something is telling me that Costa will not respond well to the bright lights after the long layoff, and he will exhaust himself chasing after Whittaker, setting himself up to be knocked out with a check hook or counter punch as Whittaker evades the heavy punches hurling at him. But I think I’m getting ahead of myself, as I sometimes do, because if I had to place a bet on whether or not this fight happens I would bet against it.

Kuhl: I agree with my colleague entirely on this one. We don’t even know if Costa makes the walk to the cage, let alone whether or not he performs even remotely well. He’s only fought four times in the last five years, and has been on the bench since Aug. 2022. In that time, he went 2-2, and hasn’t knocked anyone out since Jul. 2018. He’s only 32, so maybe he still has some of his best fights ahead of him, but he is long removed from his four-knockout winning streak in the Octagon, which kicked off his UFC career.

You can never count Robert Whittaker out. The former middleweight champ has been through a lot of adversity, both in and out of the cage. He has always pushed through, and I expect him to do it again, coming off a tough TKO loss to Dricus du Plessis, who has since gone on to become the titleholder. As Matt said, Whittaker knows Costa has been sitting on the sidelines, and it will be his job to play the counter game and not get caught. I believe Whittaker will pick his Costa apart for the full three rounds to earn the unanimous decision.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 298?

Kuhl: Merab Dvalishvili. The Georgian was sitting on the backburner as teammate Aljamain Sterling sat at the top of the bantamweight heap. Now that Aljo’s reign is over, Dvalishvili is next in line for a title shot. While the UFC put newly minted champ Sean O’Malley up against Marlon “Chito” Vera for his first title defense next month, Dvalishvili faces former two-division champ Henry Cejudo. In Cejudo’s return from retirement last May, he certainly seems to have lost a step. So if Dvalishvili gets past him, and O’Malley gets beat up a bit, even in victory, by Vera, Dvalishvili will have a ton of momentum behind him on the way to a quite probable bantamweight title win.

Petela: Geoff Neal. He is going to be the one to stop the hype train of Ian Machado Garry. There is enough tape out there on Garry now that Neal and his team at Fortis MMA will be able to come up with a gameplan to neutralize the long range striking attacks of Garry and force this fight into becoming an ugly, gritty slugfest where Neal will thrive. I expect him to stop Garry inside the distance and capture much of the momentum of his Irish opponent in the process.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 298?

Petela: Mackenzie Dern. She has a very tough outing against Amanda Lemos and it isn’t one that I see her winning. That will be two straight losses for the jiu-jitsu ace and once again she will be exposed as a one trick pony. If she can’t get the fight to the mat, she’s almost helpless because her striking defense is so porous. Her chin is always way up in the air and she lunges as she throws punches. That is not a recipe for success against the top of the strawweight division and it will probably relegate Dern to a middle of the pack ranked fighter for the duration of her career.

Kuhl: Paulo Costa. I honestly don’t know how he even sits at No. 6 still in the UFC rankings, but I don’t expect that to last much longer. He has guys like Brendan Allen, Nassourdine Imavov, and, of course, Khamzat Chimaev sneaking up behind him, and when he loses to Robert Whittaker, I expect him to take a big fall in the rankings.

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

Kuhl: Andrea Lee cannot afford a fourth loss in a row. In 2019 and 2020, she had three fights go to decision, and she lost all three. Then, she had two stoppage victories, before dropping her last three fights, all by decision. Lee is up against Miranda Maverick, who is 3-1 in her last four fights, and she is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who also has power in her punches. I think Maverick takes this one, and Lee may soon be off the UFC roster.

Petela: Henry Cejudo. The low fuel light is on and he’s quickly running out of gas at 37 years old. The former two-division champion’s decision to end his retirement and try to capture gold once again will go down as a failed experiment. Not only does he have a monster as an opponent in Merab Dvalishvili, the Serra-Longo team has studied Cejudo extensively since his last opponent was Dvalishvili’s stablemate Aljamain Sterling. “Triple C” drops his second straight fight and go back into retirement, this time for good.

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

Petela: Val Woodburn vs. Oban Elliott. The first time we saw Val Woodburn in the UFC he was basically a short notice sacrificial lamb for Bo Nickal to take out. Now we get to see what Woodburn has to offer after a full camp. Elliott makes his UFC debut this weekend and he comes out of one of the most premier international promotions in Cage Warriors. These two should put on a show early in the night and set the tone for the rest of the show.

Kuhl: I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself, but I’m going with the heavyweight battle between Marcos Rogério de Lima and Justin Tafa. Traditionally, when I pick a heavyweight sleeper match-up, it usually ends up being a fight to fall asleep to. However, Tafa and de Lima are both finishers, who are not afraid to take the fight to the opponent. They also are not just pure strikers, as both men can work the ground as well. I think this will actually be a fun one to watch.

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

Kuhl: Ian Machado Garry. I believe tenth-ranked Garry will turn the screws on No. 8 Geoff Neal to earn a fun victory. Not only will Garry win a bonus, but he might jump the line to an even higher spot than Neal has.

Petela: Anthony Hernandez. He is on a hot streak having won four fights in a row and he will make it five by toppling Roman Kopylov this weekend. These two combatants are a couple of the most talented names on the roster that casual fans don’t know about. Kopylov will have the striking advantage but Hernandez is a more well-rounded fighter and he will score a submission win, extending his win streak and taking home an extra pile of cash along the way.

Pair this card with…

Petela: A trip to the arcade. One of the gems that has kind of been lost with the home video game revolution is the good, old-fashioned arcade experience. Playing some classic games with good company is something everyone should try if they have the opportunity. Just like the arcade, this pay-per-view is sort of lost by the monster fight cards of UFC 299 and UFC 300 coming up in the next few months. So prepare for this card by a little trip to the arcade with that special someone.

Kuhl: This card would pair well with a Vegemite on a high-quality thick toasted slice of bread with a sunnyside-up egg on top. It’s an Aussie classic that is salty and savory with a bit of spice to compliment the silky smooth texture of the broken egg yolk. The sandwich has it all, just like the card, which will end with Volkanovski bringing gold once again to the Land Down Under.

Fight Petela’s Pick Kuhl’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
FW Championship: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Ilia Topuria Topuria Volkanovski
MW: Robert Whittaker vs. Paulo Costa Whittaker Whittaker
WW: Geoff Neal vs. Ian Machado Garry Neal Garry
BW: Merab Dvalishvili vs. Henry Cejudo Dvalishvili Dvalishvili
MW: Anthony Hernandez vs. Roman Kopylov Hernandez Kopylov
Preliminary Card (ESPN+/ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)
Women’s StrawW: Amanda Lemos vs. Mackenzie Dern Lemos Lemos
HW: Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs. Justin Tafa Tafa Tafa
BW: Rinya Nakamura vs. Carlos Vera Nakamura Nakamura
LHW: Mingyang Zhang vs. Brendson Ribeiro Zhang Ribeiro
Early Prelims (ESPN+/UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Josh Quinlan vs. Danny Barlow Quinlan Barlow
WW: Val Woodburn vs. Oban Elliott Woodburn Elliott
Women’s FlyW: Andrea Lee vs. Miranda Maverick Maverick Maverick