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Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2: Where’s the Smart Money Going at UFC 294?

This article originally appeared at FanDuel Research

Lock in for a stacked fight card with a big Volk vs. Islam prediction, plus the latest UFC 294 odds and betting insights from FanDuel.

If you crave violence, artistry, and competition in its purest form, the Ultimate Fighting Championship might be for you.

Better known as UFC, the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion holds around a dozen MMA fights a vast majority of the weekend throughout the year. The promotion has fathered some of the biggest combat-sport stars of the 21st century, including Conor McGregor and Jon Jones.

There are plenty of ways to get in on the action every Saturday. FanDuel Sportsbook provides MMA odds including moneylines, round totals, and prop bets for each fight, and FanDuel Fantasy has several UFC daily fantasy contests with lucrative prizes. Regardless of your preferred way to play, we’ll break down the environment, chances for each fighter to win, and matchup specifics for each bout.

Without further delay, let’s break down the 13 fights at UFC 294 from the Ethiad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Saturday, including a big Makhachev vs. Volkanovski prediction.

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Makhachev vs. Volkanovski Prediction, Odds & Best Bets

All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook and subject to change.

Lightweight (155 pounds)
Five-Round Title Fight

FighterOdds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)FanDuel Salary HeightReachStriking Success Rate (SSR)FanDuel Points Per Minute (excl. bonuses)
Islam Makhachev-260$205′ 10″70″1.083.07
Alexander Volkanovski+205$175′ 6″71″2.894.56

Alexander Volkanovski is a man of his word. He loves challenging himself and believes it’s for the best.

On 10 days notice, Volkanovski steps in for the injured Charles Oliveira for his second crack at the lightweight title. Of course, the longtime featherweight champion had no issues defending his own belt in July, but this one eluded him. Islam Makhachev took a unanimous decision in a fight that was far closer than any of us expected it.

With that said, I think we may have done as UFC consumers what we always do with overperforming underdogs. There were cries of a poor decision, but Makhachev landed a significantly higher percentage of his significant strikes (60%) with four takedowns and over seven minutes of control time. Analytically, he was still fairly dominant in most rounds. Volkanovski’s knockdown and crafty final-round sweep aside, he definitely lost.

Makhachev has landed 3.24 takedowns per 15 minutes with 62% accuracy. He’s truly emulated Khabib Nurmagomedov’s unstoppable wrestling from the same camp, and Makhachev’s striking accuracy (59%) and defense (61%) are absurd. His 91% takedown D also largely removes that weapon from his opponents. He’s easily a top-three fighter in the promotion.

The problem here is that Volkanovski had an entire camp planning to be at lightweight before this duo’s first fight. This fight comes as he was likely preparing for Ilia Topuria at 145 pounds, so I’m not sure his base weight is what it was in the first bout. Plus, that was near his backyard in Australia, and this will be on Makhachev’s turf in Abu Dhabi.

As a supreme advocate of Volk and his +2.89 SSR (which is just absurd at a championship level), he fought as well as he could have in the first fight and still lost. Makhachev has more arrows in his corner this time around, and I’m concerned this bout also puts Volkanovski’s 145-pound title in jeopardy come January.

There’s challenging yourself, and then there is believing the impossible is possible. I hate to doubt the Aussie, but I think this is the latter.

Betting Verdict

  • My model has Makhachev at 54.2% to win this fight, but fighters older than 35 (Volk) facing a fighter younger than 35 (Islam) are 2-29-1 in their last 32 UFC title fights. Add in the negative change in weight class for Volkanovski, and the favorite is a worthy one.
    • I probably won’t get to the window, though. Even in such a big fight, I just don’t have an extreme desire to wager against Volk, the greatest MMA fighter of all-time.
  • I’ve got this fight at -120 to go the distance (or +120 to not), and that’s right about where this line is hovering.

DFS Verdict

  • Makhachev’s wrestling-heavy style produced just 78.2 FanDuel points in the first fight, and Volkanovski’s overall defense is exceptional. I think Islam is viable on FanDuel at $20 while other, better MVP options exist.

Said Nurmagomedov vs. Muin Gafurov

Men’s Bantamweight (135 pounds)

FighterOdds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)FanDuel Salary HeightReachStriking Success Rate (SSR)FanDuel Points Per Minute (excl. bonuses)
Said Nurmagomedov-225$165′ 8″70″1.392.94
Muin Gafurov+180$155′ 7″68″0.172.84

Though not the largest favorite on the card by any means, I’d be most surprised by a Said Nurmagomedov loss because I can’t comprehend his opponent’s path to victory.

Nurmagomedov — not from the family of the former champion — took a loss last time out, but it was one of five in a row for opponents of the ranked Jonathan Martinez (10-3 UFC), and going the full distance certainly hasn’t aged poorly. Before that, Nurmagomedov had bested five multi-time UFC winners with his only other loss coming to Raoni Barcelos (6-4 UFC). It’s a pretty stout resumé at this stage.

Meanwhile, Muin Gafurov is 0-1 in UFC, losing to John Castaneda (4-2 UFC) in his official debut. Gafurov was penalized for multiple fouls and amassed a +0.17 SSR through that one. He showed more on DWCS against Chad Anheliger, landing five takedowns in a split decision loss. More concerningly, Gafurov has just a 47% striking D and 62% takedown D through the two appearances, which are both fully exploitable for a fighter with three wins by finish.

Said is more of a striker, and his +1.39 SSR is all the more impressive when he’s landed just 3.54 significant strikes per minute. It’s nothing sensational, but he mitigates damage with elite efficiency. On the flip side, Gafurov has proven to be inefficient and sloppy at times.

Frankly, the path I’d see Nurmagomedov losing — yet to be outstruck in a fight with distance time — is via his wrestling, but even then, he defended 7 of 12 takedowns against the sensational Saidyokub Kakhramonov (2-1 UFC) before cinching a choke on the challenger. I see Gafurov as a level below Nurmagomedov’s last four opponents; that’s usually when special happens.

Betting Verdict

  • Nurmagomedov’s inside-the-distance prop (+135) is wholly undervalued when he’s a proven finisher against multi-time winners. Gafurov might wrestle himself into immense danger, and he’s also been knocked down in both UFC-affiliated appearances.
  • With a near coin flip on the total, I prefer under 2.5 rounds (-108) while also acknowledging I don’t believe Gafurov has inside-the-distance upside.

DFS Verdict

  • Said ($16) is a guy I’ve generally shied away from, but in hindsight, it was attached to a lot of talented, decision-oriented bantamweights themselves. This matchup could unlock his true upside.

Magomed Ankalaev vs. Johnny Walker

Light Heavyweight (205 pounds)

FighterOdds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)FanDuel Salary HeightReachStriking Success Rate (SSR)FanDuel Points Per Minute (excl. bonuses)
Magomed Ankalaev-355$196′ 3″75″1.402.53
Johnny Walker+270$116′ 6″82″1.272.85

This fight was quite the ride to model.

Frankly, I’ve kind of forgot what an uninspiring run Magomed Ankalaev has been on despite being tabbed as the future of this division. Now at 31, he’s exiting a draw (that was a poor decision) against Jan Blachowicz, which was so ugly that UFC re-racked the title fight with two new combatants less than a month later. That was one of four decisions in his last five bouts, and the exception was Anthony Smith breaking his leg on the other side.

Still, one odd note is that Ankalaev’s knockdown rate (1.24%) does just exceed that of Johnny Walker (1.19%) in a fight where most view the Brazilian underdog as a knockout-or-bust option. I’m not sure of that; he just took a convincing decision from Smith in May that followed first-round finishes of Ion Cutelaba and Paul Craig. Walker’s last loss was to the vacated champion, Jamahal Hill, by first-round KO.

Though Ankalaev’s stiking defense (59%) is signifcantly higher, he and Walker get it done in different ways with SSRs of +1.40 and +1.27, respectively. Many are scared to engage with the 6’6″ Walker, who will have seven inches of reach on Ankalaev. If Magomed tries to exploit Walker’s 60% takedown D, he better be careful. He’s 0-1 via submission in UFC, and Walker — out of nowhere — used three submission attempts to dispatch Cutelaba.

My model checked my bias here. I would have called Walker the power puncher, but his underrated win condition might also be a submission with Ankalaev yet to offer an official attempt in UFC. Ankalaev’s own hesitancy — offering just 6.83 significant strikes per minute — might also help Walker’s defensive shortcomings just as it did his previous opponents’.

I see Walker as the toolsier fight that is notably improving, so I wouldn’t totally doubt his power and athleticism at this betting number.

Betting Verdict

  • I was pretty surprised to show value on Walker here. I’ve got him at 43.1% to win this fight when these odds imply a 27.0% chance.
  • Oddly, Walker’s submission prop is approximately +925 in my model. It’s +2200 on FanDuel with most assuming the Dagestani wrestler wouldn’t lose that way.
  • As another oddity, I’m actually showing this fight at 63.5% to go the distance. That seems crazy when it’s +152 at FanDuel, but Ankalaev has been a decision machine inside the top 10 at light heavyweight.

DFS Verdict

  • If this fight simply goes the distance regardless of outcome, it’ll ruin plenty of lineups pegging Ankalaev ($19) as one of the card’s best bets for a quick finish. Walker ($11) is the side I’ll nervously target.

Khamzat Chimaev vs. Kamaru Usman

Middleweight (185 pounds)

FighterOdds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)FanDuel Salary HeightReachStriking Success Rate (SSR)FanDuel Points Per Minute (excl. bonuses)
Khamzat Chimaev-300$186′ 2″75″3.327.14
Kamaru Usman+235$136′ 0″76″1.713.89

Kamaru Usman is likely getting compensated handsomely for such a tall task on 10 days notice, but this has disaster written all over it to me.

The latest version we saw of the former dominant welterweight champ was a shell of himself at 36 years old in March. He landed just 4 of 15 takedown attempts on Leon Edwards, and Edwards landed a whopping 74% of his significant strikes. “Rocky” Edwards was a fighter my model believed was wildly overrated entering his two battles with Usman, but that second act elevated his profile closer to divisional averages.

The aforementioned model would have had Khamzat Chimaev north of -1200 against Edwards before that last Usman-Edwards clash, so with the full expectation that “Borz” is a better fighter, this lopsided moneyline makes more sense. The enigmatic Russian missed weight by nine pounds last fall but still crushed ranked welterweight Kevin Holland when UFC got done shuffling chairs to find him a bout. He’s now only allowed to compete at middleweight, per the promotion.

Overall, Chimaev’s “vulnerability” was shown from a -11 striking differential to Gilbert Burns (15-6 UFC) in which he still won by unanimous decision. I’m still concerned about Chimaev’s 41% striking D in the future, but he waded through all of Burns’ power punches with no sort of wobble or danger.

I actually think Chimaev’s striking, which has produced 7.30 significant strikes per minute with lethal 59% accuracy, is an underrated element of this fight. Much of the discussion is whether or not he can exploit Usman’s elite 97% takedown defense; I still think he could, but Chimaev won’t be out to lunch on the feet given how much success Edwards had.

The problem for me is that I no longer can trust Usman’s +1.71 SSR and excellent wrestling stats. He showed a sharp decline from even the first Edwards bout in March, and my model still has Chimaev at -295 to win when giving full credit overall to those metrics.

The future middleweight champion of the world fights on Saturday; I’d tune in to watch.

Betting Verdict

  • My model absolutely helped check my bias in this fight. Chimaev’s growing sample is seemingly not human, and even the overall, prime-weighted version of Usman would have a tough task here. I think this reduced version is toast.
  • This fight is -200 to not go the distance, and I’m on the same page, projecting it 82.2% to finish before the final bell.

DFS Verdict

  • Chimaev ($18) is usually the maximum salary on the slate, so I appreciate Usman’s legacy providing some value here. He sprints for the finish from the opening bell and didn’t slow down in the Burns fight. Cutting less weight, another monstrous effort could be on the way.

— Austin Swaim

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