UFC 298 expert picks, fight card predictions for Alexander Volkanovski vs. Ilia Topuria 2024

Alexander Volkanovski puts it all on the line when he defends the UFC featherweight title against Ilia Topuria at UFC 297 on February 17. The fight in Anaheim airs on ESPN+ PPV in the U.S.

Volkanovski turned pro in 2012. Joining the UFC in 2016, he is 13-2 with the promotion. Since beating Max Holloway in 2019 for the UFC featherweight title, Volkanovski has defended the belt five times, twice against Holloway. The Aussie attempted to become a double champion when he faced Islam Makhachev for the UFC lightweight title. Volkanovski lost the 2023 Fight of the Year in February and lost the rematch via knockout as a replacement opponent in October.

Born in Germany, Topuria turned pro in 2015. He beat Brian Bouland in 2018 in a fight for the Cage Warriors bantamweight title but didn’t win the belt after he missed weight. Topuria joined the UFC in 2020 and is 6-0 for the promotion. In his last contest in June, “El Matador” beat Josh Emmett via unanimous decision. 

WATCH: UFC 298: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Ilia Topuria, exclusively on ESPN+

The card also has former champions, fighters looking to become contenders, and the future in Robert Whittaker, Ian Machado Garry, Merab Dvalishvili, Henry Cejudo, Mackenzie Dern, Justin Tafa, and more.

Here are SN’s official picks for every fight on the card, along with full betting odds for UFC 298, courtesy of Bet MGM

UFC 298 expert picks, fight card predictions

Alexander Volkanovski (c) vs. Ilia Topuria for the UFC featherweight title

Per Bet MGM, Alexander Volkanovski is the -125 favorite, while Ilia Topuria is the +105 underdog. 

Volkanovski lands 6.19 significant strikes per minute and has a strike accuracy mark of 57%. When he is on, he’s dangerous, as seen by the five fights in a row from 2019 to 2022 with triple-digit significant strikes. “The Great” also averages 1.84 takedowns per 15 minutes, landing seven against Yair Rodriguez, four against The Korean Zombie, and three in a second fight against Max Holloway. 

Topuria immediately made himself known in the octagon, landing 4.44 significant strikes per minute with a strike accuracy mark of 46%. He averages 2.19 takedowns per 15 minutes, with three against Josh Emmett. “El Matador” also landed 152 significant strikes against Emmett. 

Age may be a concern regarding the 35-year-old champion, just coming off his first knockout loss since 2013 in a last-minute fight. Topuria is a bully who can pounce like a shark if he smells blood. However, Volkanovski still has that fighting spirit in him. If he can avoid Topuria’s sharp shots or even counter them with some of his own, the champion should retain the title. He will survive the initial storm of flurries, adapt, and secure the win. 

Sporting News prediction: Volkanovski via split decision

Robert Whittaker vs. Paulo Costa; Middleweights

Per Bet MGM, Robert Whittaker is the -250 favorite, while Paulo Costa is the +200 underdog. 

Whittaker is 1-2 in his last two fights and hasn’t lost consecutive fights since 2013-2014. The former champion lands 4.27 significant strikes per minute and has a 42% strike accuracy mark. “The Reaper” also averages 0.85 takedowns landed. Climbing his way back up the ladder after Israel Adesnaya beat him for the UFC middleweight title, Whittaker has fought less but looks to prove he is still a force. 

Costa is 2-2 in his last four fights but hasn’t fought since August 2022. “The Eraser” lands 6.50 significant strikes per minute. He also absorbs a lot of damage, landing 163 strikes against Marvin Vettori, who landed 190. 

It has been a tough road back to contendership for both men, but Costa hasn’t fought as recently. That doesn’t mean Whittaker will walk all over him. It should be a close contest. The two could even turn back the clock and make it a fight to remember. In the end, Whittaker should get his hand raised. 

Sporting News prediction: Whittaker via unanimous decision 

Geoff Neal vs. Ian Machado Garry; Welterweights

Per Bet MGM, Ian Machado Garry is the -250 favorite, while Geoff Neal is the +190 underdog. 

In his short time in the octagon, Ian Machado Garry has landed 6.67 significant strikes per minute (5.22 for Neal). He has a strike accuracy mark of 56% (50% for Neal). “The Future” landed 91 significant strikes against Neil Magny, 127 against Song Kenan, and 116 against Gabe Green. Neal landed 121 significant strikes against Vicente Luque but Shavkat Rakhmonov landed 113 against him. 

The fight has some emotion to it. Garry made shirts with Neil’s mugshot on it. They were supposed to fight at UFC 292 until Neal withdrew. Due to his polarizing nature, Garry’s missed a few media days.

While he is playing games, is Garry finally ready to face Neal? The Sporting News believes various factors can come into play here. Neal will have to leave his emotions outside the cage and can’t try and attack Garry right away, or else the Irish fighter will have him right where he wants him. The Sporting News believes this will be a game of cat and mouse, but Magny should earn the win in a fight going the distance. 

Sporting News prediction: Magny via split decision

Merab Dvalishvili vs. Henry Cejudo; Bantamweights

Per Bet MGM, Merab Dvalishvili is the -210 favorite, While Henry Cejudo is the +175 underdog. 

Friends with former UFC champion Aljamain Sterling, Dvalishvili lands 4.46 significant strikes per minute, landing 147 against Petr Yan. “The Machine” is also a ground specialist, averaging 6.55 takedowns per 15 minutes. Dvalishvili landed eleven takedowns against Yan, four against Marlon Moraes, and five against Cody Stamann. Cejudo is an Olympic gold medalist who averages 2.07 takedowns landed per 15 minutes. However, he has not gotten a win since 2020 against an older Dominick Cruz. 

MORE: Ranked: The 25 best MMA fighters under the age of 25

The fight is considered a contender fight. Dvalishvili can finally compete for the title he refused to challenge Sterling for if he wins. Cejudo needs a win, or he retires again. That mindset may play a factor, as well as the overall skills of Dvalishvili. Both will use wrestling to their advantage, making it a ground clinic. However, Dvalishvili should be the fresher fighter and inflict more damage in the eyes of the judges. 

Sporting News prediction: Dvalishvili via unanimous decision

Anthony Hernandez vs. Roman Kopylov; Middleweights

Per Bet MGM, Anthony Hernandez is the -250 favorite, while Roman Kopylov is the +200 underdog. 

Hernandez lands 4.33 significant strikes per minute and has a 62% strike accuracy mark. “Fluffy” also lands an average of 6.79 takedowns per 15 minutes, landing 22 in his last three fights. Kopylov lands 4.72 significant strikes per minute and has a 53% strike accuracy mark. With eleven wins via knockout, Kopylov is a five-time Sambo world champion.

Kopylov’s striking ability is elite but struggles while on the floor. And if Hernandez can bring the Russian down, as history has shown, it should be all over. Don’t expect it to be a one-sided affair, but Hernandez should get the win. 

Sporting News prediction: Hernandez via submission (round two)

Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Lemos; Strawweights

Per Bet MGM, Amanda Lemos is the -140 favorite, while Mackenzie Dern is the +115 underdog. Lemos was supposed to fight Tatiana Suarez, who backed out due to injury. 

Lemos, ranked second in the rankings, lands 3.54 significant strikes per minute. She also averages 0.82 takedowns landed per 15 minutes but absorbs damage, with Zhang Weili landing 163 significant strikes against her to go with six takedowns. Dern, ranked seventh, is 2-2 in her last four fights. She lands 3.49 significant strikes per minute and averages 0.77 takedowns landed. The Brazilian landed 126 significant strikes against Angela Hill but lost her last fight via knockout against Jessica Andrade. 

Dern can take an opponent to the ground but doesn’t quite have Zhang’s dominant ability. Lemos is susceptible to getting hit, and Dern will have to focus on that if she can. If Dern maintains her distance while using her reach, she can earn a surprise win. She can also trip up Lemos and earn a win on the floor. That is, only if Dern has improved since her last fight. 

Sporting News prediction: Dern via unanimous decision

Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs. Justin Tafa; Heavyweights

Per Bet MGM, Marcos Rogerio de Lima is the -140 favorite, while Justin Tafa is the +115 underdog. 

de Lima has traded wins and losses over the last few years. “Pezao” has landed 3.61 significant strikes per minute and averages 1.34 takedowns landed per 15 minutes. Tafa is 3-1 in his last four fights, knocking out his opponents in the first round. He lands 5.13 significant strikes per minute. 

MORE: Whittaker puts ‘time limit’ on himself with Costa fight looming

An advantage for de Lima is takedowns, though Tafa hasn’t been brought down in his UFC career. He does absorb plenty of damage, which is an issue. However, Tafa is resilient enough to fight out of whatever de Lima has in store. The Sporting News believes “Bad Man” can pull off the upset and start a good run for the Aussies competing on the card. 

Sporting News prediction: Tafa via KO (round one)

Zhang Mingyang vs. Brendson Ribeiro; Light Heavyweights

Per Bet MGM, Zhang Mingyang is the -120 favorite, while Brendson Ribeiro is the +100 underdog. 

Zhang is on a nine-fight win streak with seven wins via knockout and two via submission. His last contest was a Road to UFC event in 2022, where he landed 35 significant strikes against Tuco Tokkos. Ribeiro is on a three-fight win streak, and Dana White’s Contender Series alum landed 32 significant strikes against Bruno Lopes in 2023. 

Zhang has an impressive range, and “Mountain Tiger” looks to be the next big MMA star from China. He can use his strikes to punish Ribeiro and his takedown offense to bully him. It may seem closer on paper, but Zhang winning the fight and cementing his status early in the UFC is likely. 

Sporting News prediction: Zhang via TKO (round one) 

Rinya Nakamura vs. Carlos Vera; Bantamweights

Per Bet MGM, Rinya Nakamura is the -1400 favorite, while Carlos Vera is the +775 underdog. 

Nakamura had three wins via knockout before joining the Road to UFC series. He has won two fights via knockout and one via submission, his last contest going the distance. “Hybrid” lands 4.23 significant strikes per minute and has a takedown average of 4.23 landed per 15 minutes. Vera is on a four-fight win streak, with two straight wins for Fury FC ending via submission. “Pequeno” is making his UFC debut. 

An upset would be massive here. However, SN strongly advises against betting for it, especially given Nakamura’s dominant ground game and striking. A threat on all fronts, expect Nakamura to win the fight in brutal fashion.

Sporting News prediction: Nakamura via TKO (round two) 

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Josh Quinlan vs. Danny Barlow; Welterweights

Per Bet MGM, Danny Barlow is the -200 favorite, while Josh Quinlan is the +165 underdog. 

Barlow impressed on Dana White’s Contender Series with a knockout in round one. “LeftHand2God” has won four fights via knockout, with only two contests going the distance. Quinlan is 1-2 in the octagon. While he has some pop, he has absorbed some damage, with Trey Waters landing 104 significant strikes against him. 

Quinlan’s inability to close the gap and Barlow’s ability to land vicious blows in the clinch may be a factor. That is especially true when seeing Barlow has a near-eight-inch reach advantage. Barlow should win here, and The Sporting News believes it will via knockout. 

Sporting News prediction: Barlow via KO (round one)

Oban Elliott vs. Val Woodburn; Welterweights

Per Bet MGM, Oban Elliott is the -300 favorite, while Val Woodburn is the +250 underdog. 

Elliott thrived under the Cage Warriors banner, and “The Welsh Gangster” impressed on Dana White’s Contender Series against Kaik Brito, landing 58 significant strikes and four takedowns. Woodburn is known for Combat Night Pro and lost his undefeated streak in less than a minute against Bo Nickal. 

Comparing the two, the resume of Elliott indicates he should take home the win. An upset is likely, but only if Elliott makes a severe mistake, which The Sporting News isn’t predicting here. 

Sporting News prediction: Elliot via unanimous decision 

MORE: MMA Awards 2023: Best Knockout, Submission, Upset

Andrea Lee vs. Miranda Maverick; Flyweights

Per Bet MGM, Miranda Maverick is the -200 favorite, while Andrea Lee is the +165 underdog. 

Lee is on a three-fight losing streak and hasn’t had a win since 2021, while Maverick is 2-1 in her last three contests. The former lands 4.91 significant strikes per minute and has a strike accuracy mark of 47%. Maverick lands 3.71 (46% accuracy mark). “KGB” Lee may have an edge on the feet, but she struggles on the floor, getting taken down six times in her last four fights. Maverick averages 2.41 takedowns landed per 15 minutes. “Fear The” has landed 12 in her previous four. 

It may not be an easy win, but Maverick should pull it off. If Lee is on the floor, Maverick can tire her out. 

Sporting News prediction: Maverick via unanimous decision


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