UFC 298 fight card — Alexander Volkanovski vs. Ilia Topuria: Top stories to watch in Anaheim

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After a slow start to the new year for combat sports, things are heating up in a big way heading into Saturday’s UFC 298 pay-per-view card from Anaheim, California.

A must-see full featherweight title is at the top of the bill as defending champion Alexander Volkanovski looks to end a recent losing streak at 155 pounds when he welcomes the dangerous Ilia Topuria in in what could be the Australian champion’s toughest title defense to date.

There is no shortage of star power in the main supporting rounds as former champions Robert Whittaker and Henry Cejudo return in separate bouts with future title considerations at stake.

As we get closer to this weekend’s action, let’s take a closer look at the biggest storylines ahead of the card.

1. Ilia Topuria appears on the verge of breakout stardom

At the age of 27, with as much power and technique as he has, Topuria enters his first UFC title fight with an undefeated record (14-0) and a trace of terror left in him after six appearances in the Octagon. Even better for the promotion, Topuria just shows star power. In fact, he’s so confident he’ll finish the biggest featherweight in UFC history on Saturday that he’s already updated his social media accounts to say, “Undefeated 15-0. UFC World Champion.” A native of Germany but born of Georgian descent, Topuria has called Spain home since the age of 15 and has immersed himself in that country’s celebrity culture, rubbing shoulders with some of football’s stars. most from another passionate nation that UFC would like to take on. over. And the good news for Topuria is that he has used his last three fights over the past two years to showcase his complete skill set. Topuria cut Jai Herbert in half with punches in a knockout win, beating Bryce Mitchell so badly on the ground en route to a submission that he left his opponent exposed to the considered retiring after that and then went five hard rounds to show off his cardio in celebrating Josh. Emmett.

2. The legendary reign of Alexander Volkanovski has never been so vulnerable

Let’s be honest, this is new territory for “Alexander the Great.” Despite being 18-0 in his career at 145 pounds, Volkanovski remains the title betting favorite entering Saturday’s sixth defense of his featherweight title by the slimmest of margins in this virtual election. Not only has Volkanovski lost two of his last three fights coming in (albeit to both pound-for-pound king and lightweight champion Islam Makhachev), the rematch came in October ended with a penalty shootout loss. Volkanovski’s gamble of accepting the bot on notice less than two weeks ago backfired in a big way. Although he will have a full camp this time as he moves back to his favorite division, Volkanovski’s age (35) seems to be the only thing people are talking about. If Volkanovski wins, he would defend one title shy of Jose Aldo’s UFC featherweight record. But a loss would open up a whole new set of questions for one of the biggest fights in the history of the promotion.

3. Will Robert Whittaker ever fight for the UFC middleweight title again?

It’s an interesting question to consider going into the main event of the former 185-pound champion against the very tough Paulo Costa, which gives the winner more hope for a comeback into the title picture. Whittaker is still just 33 and has said in the lead up to UFC 298 that he still feels like he’s in his prime. But in October, it will be five years since Whittaker won UFC gold and he enters the Costa fight having lost two of his last three, including a humiliating loss in the second round of TKO to recently crowned champion Dricus du Plessis last July. Whittaker’s biggest problem in this fight was that he was not competitive at all and was overwhelmed by the power and size of his less skilled opponent, which is not unlike the a difference in style he will have against Costa. With former champion Israel Adesanya – who is 2-0 against Whittaker in title matches – no longer atop the division, he could help Whittaker clinch a big fight if he beats him Costa. But just like Volkanovski, it could be devastating to his future plans if Whittaker drops his third fight over his last four, especially as the division continues to refill with a new series of top fighters like DDP, Sean Strickland, Khamzat Chimaev and Bo Nickal.

4. Merab Dvalishvili-Henry Cejudo could be its own main event

Talk about an unmissable fight in the sport’s deepest and richest division. In a fight likely to produce the next title challenger at 135 pounds, the uncrowned champion in Dvalishvili, whose teammate and good friend Aljamain Sterling is not slowing down his title dreams his, accepting the 37-year-old legend in Cejudo that gives. one more attempt to prove that he is still at the top. Although Cejudo came up just short in a split decision title loss to Sterling last May, the fight came straight from a three-year layoff and the rust of the cage showed as Cejduo got off to a slow start. In order to correct the mistakes that forced the former two-division champion to regain glory, Cejudo has replaced the coaching staff for this fight and will need every advantage he can get. it against the superhuman motor that Dvalishvili brings to the table. However the fight plays out, the matchup is fantastic. Dvalishvili will have to prove that if former Olympic gold medalist Cejudo keeps his spamming efforts down, he can handle himself just as well with his hands. If his last two fights are any indication, as Dvalishvili extended his win streak to nine with wins over former champions Jose Aldo and Petr Yan, he will likely get a shot at the winner of the UFC rematch 299 between champion Sean O’Malley and Marlon Vera. But even in his twilight years, few can plan on the same level as Cejudo, who should benefit wisely from this being only a three-round fight.

5. MacKenzie Dern could be out of luck with another high-profile loss

After a disastrous TKO loss to former champion Jessica Andrade in November, Dern has never faced a bigger set of questions about her future at age 30 than she is entering Saturday. Her outburst against Andrade showed the technical mistakes that Dern still makes despite experiencing 12 trips to the Octagon. However, it was her former trainer Jason Parillo leading up to the fight that grabbed most of the headlines as Dern’s apparent comeback in a disastrous performance left her to just 3-3 since 2021. If the recent flipflopping pattern of wins and losses is any indication, one could assume that Dern should be headed for victory when she faces Amanda Lemos. But the fact that Dern took the fight on short notice against a dangerous fighter fresh off a title loss doesn’t help restore confidence. While it’s still too early to call this a “win or go home” for Dern, we’re getting closer to a “now or never” situation.

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