UFC 298 – Football & Racing News – Star Sports

The UFC rolls into Anaheim, California this weekend with long reigning featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski defending his belt against rising star Ilia Topuria writes JORDAN NEILD.

The rest of the card is stacked with huge matchups and includes Irish prospect Ian Machado Garry.

Alexander Volkanovski has already cemented his legacy in the featherweight division and when all is said and done, he will be inducted into the UFC hall of fame but the 34-year-old is not interested in slowing down just yet and remains adamant that he is still the best 145lb fighter on the planet.

The Australian has been faultless at featherweight and after running out of challengers, he made the step-up to 155lb in 2023 to take on dominant champion Islam Makhachev in a bid two become a two-division champion. The first fight between the pair was close, with many thinking Volkanovski won, but he was knocked out inside a round in the rematch and now finds himself rebuilding from a knockout loss for the first time in his career.

Losing to Makhachev is nothing to be embarrassed about but the way ‘Volk’ lost that second fight will have hurt his ego and although he refuses to show it, it will had an impact on his confidence. In his defence, he took that rematch on short notice and by his own admission, he wasn’t living the life of an athlete in the build-up.

Naturally, the doubters are now circling around the Australian with claims he is now ‘old and vulnerable’ but it’s dangerous to write off a man who has wiped out every featherweight contender since he won the belt in 2019.

Ilia Topuria joined the UFC a year after Volkanovski became champion and he has looked like a future title contender since his debut. In four years, he has racked up six UFC wins, four inside the distance and in his last two fights he beat ranked contenders in Josh Emmett and Bryce Mitchell.

The fascinating thing about Topuria is it feels like he has barely scratched the surface. The 27-year-old is a true martial artist and is as effective on the mat as he is in the stand-up and as the sport continues to evolve, he is the flag bearer for the new generation.

The Georgian, who bases himself in Spain, has cut an incredibly confident figure during fight week, even posing with the belt he is trying to win and it’s surprising to see someone so dismissive of Volkanovski. Although the challenger is on record saying how much he respects the current champ; he is adamant that he will win in devastating fashion and start his reign as king of the featherweight division.

This is a fascinating fight, two fighters from different generations clashing and although Volkanovski is hard to write off, the confidence of Ilia Topuria is infectious. The 27-year-old is the most exciting prospect on the entire UFC this weekend and there is a real chance he moves from prospect to champion this weekend at the expense of the greatest featherweight we have ever seen.

In the co-main event, former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is looking to get his career back on track against Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa. Whittaker was stopped last July by Dricuss Du Plessis and knows a win is vital here if he is to remain in the title picture at middleweight.

Costa is a talented middleweight in his own right but lacks the professionalism to be a real contender. He has regularly missed weight during his UFC tenure and this will be his first fight since 2022.

This is two men fighting to remain relevant but it’s Whittaker who has the most upside. The former champion has a point to prove and he has the class and pedigree to get this done but he could be vulnerable after that knockout last year. Costa has a lot to prove but he will go for the knockout from minute one here and with all those factors in mind, fight to not go the distance is a good bet.

Also on the main card, Irish prospect Ian Machado Garry has the biggest test of his UFC career against Geoff Neal at welterweight. The Irishman was heckled heavily at the press conference due to his divisive character but he is talented inside the octagon and looks ready for this type of step-up.

Geoff Neal has been a part of the UFC since 2018 and is a fighter that can beat anyone on his day. 60% of his UFC victories have come via knockout which highlights the power the American possess and he will have confidence knowing Machado Garry has been dropped by lesser punchers in recent fights.

Machado Garry is a confident man and has spoken about going for the knockout in this fight but trading with a puncher like Neal wouldn’t be wise. The Irishman is the bigger and more technical fighter and if he keeps this fight at distance, he can win handily via decision.

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Author: Eugene Morris