UFC 298 predictions – MMA Fighting

Alexander Volkanovski and Ilia Topuria headline a top-heavy card at UFC 298 with a final four fights that all qualify as must-see matchups.

Saturday’s UFC 298 main event sees Volkanovski go for a sixth straight successful defense of his featherweight title, which he’s held for more than four years. “The Great” has never lost in 26 fights at 145 pounds, and his only stumbles in the UFC took place in a pair of bouts against lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. Simply put, Volkanovski has been untouchable when he fights in his division.

The undefeated Topuria looks to make history by dethroning Volkanovski and ushering featherweight into a new era. Topuria has already positioned himself to be a global star with his cool confidence and high-class presentation — all he has to do now is beat one of the greatest fighters of this era. No pressure.

In the co-main event, former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is out to prove that his dispiriting loss to Dricus du Plessis was a blip on the radar and not the beginning of the end for his title hopes. He takes on Paulo Costa, another contender with plenty to prove. Is Costa just an impressive puncher with a brilliant social media manager or can he actually compete for the title again?

Also on the main card, welterweights Geoff Neal and Ian Machado Garry settle their grudge, Merab Dvalishvili puts a nine-fight win streak on the line against Henry Cejudo in an all-or-nothing fight for the former two-division champion, and streaking middleweights Anthony Hernandez and Roman Kopylov make their cases to be included in an increasingly crowded title picture.

What: UFC 298

Where: Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

When: Saturday, Feb. 17. The card begins with a three-fight early prelims portion on ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m. ET, with continuing coverage of the four-fight prelim card on ESPN and ESPN+ beginning at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.

(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)

Alexander Volkanovski (1) vs. Ilia Topuria (3)

Out with the old, in with the new? Not quite.

Unquestionably, one of the most enjoyable gimmicks leading up to this event is Alexander Volkanovski nailing the “Old Man Volk” bit in the face of talk that he’s past his prime and that his championship belt is ripe for the picking. It’s been repeated ad nauseam how difficult it is for any fighter 170 pounds or under to find success in UFC title fights as they creep into their 30s, but Volkanovski has been the exception to that rule in recent years. He has successfully fended off younger challengers in Max Holloway, Yair Rodriguez, and Brian Ortega, scoring dominant wins over Holloway (in their third fight) and Rodriguez, and outlasting a lively Ortega.

Few are expecting Volkanovski to have an easy time with Topuria, and for good reason. “El Matador” has lived up to the hype since making his UFC debut at just 23 years old, with six impressive octagon outings that have shown his knockout power, technical acumen, and maturity. If Volkanovski was to pass the torch on to anyone, the UFC couldn’t ask for a much better challenger than Topuria.

So we get back to the question of can Topuria actually do the damn thing? He has the skills and youth on his side, and even showed he can battle back from adversity in his tricky lightweight fight with Jai Herbert. No, Topuria hasn’t been tested against the top five of the division and that’s a fair hit, but he’d be favored against any of them, wouldn’t he? We have to project a lot if we’re going with Topuria, that’s for sure.

For now, it’s a bridge slightly too far for me and I’m picking the champ to retain. Volkanovski is freakishly strong so I expect him to win the grappling exchanges. The striking will be much closer and there will be plenty of tense moments for the champion, but Volkanovski has deceptively long reach and can also bully his opponents inside, so Topuria will have difficulty setting up traps and combinations. It’s a chess match on the feet, one that Volkanovski’s experience gives him the edge in.

A finish either way would surprise me, so I have Volkanovski coming out on top after five amazing rounds of action.

Pick: Volkanovski

Robert Whittaker (4) vs. Paulo Costa (8)

Not only am I sticking with Volkanovski, I’m not ready to get off “The Reaper” train either.

It’s entirely possible that Dricus du Plessis’ bulldozing of Robert Whittaker was a grim portent. We’d just never seen such sustained dominance over Whittaker before. It was shocking, though less so now that du Plessis has UFC gold around his waist. Maybe it just wasn’t Whittaker’s night, or maybe he’s fallen off ever so slightly from his prime.

Regardless, I still believe he has enough left to outwork Paulo Costa. Du Plessis and Adesanya, that’s it, that’s the list of guys who have scored a W over Whittaker in the past decade. Costa has shown he’s near that level, but he falls just short in my estimation as I’m not convinced that his combination of raw power and physicality is enough to get past the more skilled Whittaker. Then again, is it possible that middleweight meatheads could be Whittaker’s kryptonite at this stage of his career? Can’t rule it out.

There would be nothing more middleweighty than Costa caveman-ing his way to a win over a future UFC Hall of Famer, but on this day I choose order over chaos. Whittaker’s footwork is too good, his wrestling too solid, and his gas tank too deep to drop this one. Keep in mind, Costa hasn’t knocked anyone out since 2018. I’m not expecting that drought to end tonight.

Pick: Whittaker

Geoff Neal (9) vs. Ian Machado Garry (12)

What’s this? I’m picking the higher-ranked fighter again? We’re going all chalk here, baby!

I’m as high as anyone on Ian Machado Garry eventually breaking through and earning a title shot (love him or hate him, he generates a lot of buzz, and that’s potential dollars for the UFC), I just don’t think it’s happening against Geoff Neal. This is the right test for Garry (as it was when it was booked six months ago), and if he loses to Neal, it will only make him better.

We know how good Neal can be when everything is clicking for him. He controls distance well and knows to stick to his strengths, one of which is his sharp boxing. He did struggle with Stephen Thompson’s karate stylings, and if Garry can approximate “Wonderboy,” that might be the undefeated Irishman’s clearest path to victory.

I feel like Neal can drag Garry into a dogfight though, which is the kind of learning experience I’m referring to when I say that Garry needs to be put through the grinder before we involve him in any serious title talk. I’ll go as far as to predict that Neal knocks Garry down at some point, forcing him into a sink-or-swim situation.

Win or lose, Garry has the opportunity to win an antagonistic crowd over with a solid effort against Neal. As for the actual result, give me Neal on points.

Pick: Neal

Merab Dvalishvili (4) vs. Henry Cejudo (7)

If his narrow loss to Aljamain Sterling was any indication, Henry Cejudo still has the skill set and the mental toughness to be a champion again. It’s on the physical side of things where he may end up lacking.

Merab Dvalishvili will have his foot on the gas from second one and he’s not going to let up for 15 minutes. One could argue that a longer fight would actually favor him because he would have more time to wear Cejudo down, but I think a standard three-round fight allows him to fire on all cylinders without consequence. If one of these two is going to show signs of fatigue in the final five minutes, it’s going to be Cejudo, the man who only returned to action last year and who turned 37 last week.

Cejudo is right to doubt Dvalishvili’s ability to take him down. His wrestling is as elite as ever, and even if he goes down, he won’t stay there for long. The problem is that Dvalishvili won’t give him any room to breathe, and every time Cejudo pushes back, Dvalishvili will press on with renewed determination. I don’t see how Cejudo can keep Dvalishvili off of him long enough to mount any significant offense.

It won’t be pretty, but Dvalishvili is going to take whatever fight Cejudo has left in him and send him back to retirement.

Pick: Dvalishvili

Anthony Hernandez vs. Roman Kopylov

Alright, no more decisions.

Anthony Hernandez’s suffocating wrestling and Roman Kopylov’s power punching should result in a crowd-pleasing ending, no matter which fighter has the advantage. Though they both have a penchant for finishes, they go about it in different ways.

For Hernandez, he’s out to sap his opponents strength until they’re defenseless on the ground, leaving them open for a submission or a torrent of strikes from top position; for Kopylov, he usually takes a round to gather data before finding the perfect hole in his opponent’s defenses and firing a sniper strike through it.

I like Kopylov’s chances of keeping the fight on the feet, or at the very least not expending too much energy on the ground when Hernandez gets him there. It’s Hernandez’s questionable defense that has me picking Kopylov, because I see the Russian fighter once again finding his rhythm in Round 2 and putting this one away. For the first five minutes or so, it will look like Hernandez is on his way to grinding out another win, but the calculating Kopylov will catch him with a knockout blow when he least expects it.

Pick: Kopylov


Mackenzie Dern (8) def. Amanda Lemos (T6)

Marcos Rogerio de Lima def. Junior Tafa

Rinya Nakamura def. Carlos Vera

Brendson Ribeiro def. Zhang Mingyang

Danny Barlow def. Josh Quinlan

Oban Elliott def. Val Woodburn

Miranda Maverick def. Andrea Lee

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