Ranking the UFC 284 fights: There's no debating which fight is No. 1
By Jeff Wagenheim,2023-02-06
Rankings are opinions. Opinions are debatable.
Except for this one: Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski is the No. 1 fight to watch at this weekend's UFC 284 . There's simply no other way to stack up the event in Perth, Australia.
Makhachev, 23-1 and a winner of his past 21 fights, will make his first defense of the lightweight championship he won in October. His challenger, the 25-1 Volkanovski, has won 22 in a row and is a champion himself, having ruled the featherweight division since 2019. In ESPN's pound-for-pound men's rankings , Volkanovski is No. 1, Makhachev No. 2.
Rankings and records and runs of invincibility are just the foundation and framework of this matchup. Building upon that are some architectural elements that show off why each of these fighters is sublime. Makhachev represents the continuation of Khabib Nurmagomedov 's legacy of no-frills command; like the former champion, Makhachev turns a canvas mat into a dungeon from which there does not appear to be an escape hatch. If there is an escape, though, Volkanovski will find it, just as he did twice when caught in the finishing clutches of submission ace Brian Ortega a couple of years ago. Yes, he has been the nail at times, but Volkanovski has always finished the job as the hammer.
Go ahead and debate where the Chiefs, who will play in their third Super Bowl in four seasons Sunday, belong in the hierarchy of this century's dominant NFL franchises. Speaking of Kansas City, there's room to argue over whether that city's barbecue ranks higher on the food chain than Austin's. And while out to dinner in either of those cities, a multigenerational table full of Batman fans can sort out who wears the pointy-eared suit best: Ben Affleck vs. Christian Bale vs. George Clooney vs. Michael Keaton vs. Adam West.
All fair game for verbal sparring.
But there's no debate over whether the main event will be the top attraction at RAC Arena on Sunday morning local time, Saturday night in the United States (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV, with prelims at 8 p.m. on ESPN/ESPN and early prelims at 6 p.m. on ESPN+).
However, the champ vs. champ superfight will not be the only worthy attraction on a fight card packed with nearly a dozen Aussies, a pair of undefeated Octagon debutants and a matchup of top-10 featherweights vying for an interim belt.
Here's a top-five ranking ... with four-fifths of it up for debate.
1. Islam Makhachev (c) vs. Alexander Volkanovski
The last time -- and only time -- Makhachev lost was in October 2015, his second UFC appearance. Volkanovski has not been defeated since May 2013, long before his Octagon days, when he dropped the fourth fight of his professional career. Someone's run of success is about to crash into a brick wall.
One oddity: The pound-for-pound No. 1 is a 3-1 betting underdog. Volkanovski has shown his mettle in three victories over Max Holloway and a win over the greatest 145-pounder of all time, Jose Aldo . But moving up to 155 to take on Makhachev, a man who has been bullying fighters his own size, is an outsized challenge.
Volkanovski goes by the nickname "Alexander the Great," after the historical figure who, centuries ago, established the largest empire the ancient world had ever seen. By that measure, the task set ahead is minuscule. But Volk, of New South Wales, Australia, has an opportunity to cement his command of the MMA world, and he will have 15,000 of his countrymen cheering him on in that endeavor.
2. Jack Della Maddalena vs. Randy Brown
I'm elevating this welterweight fight above the co-main event, despite that one being an interim title bout, for two reasons. The first is that interim belts don't mean anything to me; they're just trinkets to serve the narrative of a promotion's marketing department. My second, and most important, reason for spotlighting this fight is that the Perth crowd will be ecstatic supporting hometown guy Della Maddalena.
He will ride into the Octagon on a 13-fight winning streak after dropping the first two bouts of his career in 2016. Della Maddalena joined the UFC a year ago and has reeled off three straight first-round knockouts, enough for ESPN to name the 26-year-old its 2022 rookie of the year .
Brown, who has won four in a row, won't be a pushover. If Della Maddalena hopes to impress his home peeps, he will have to earn it.
3. Yair Rodriguez vs. Josh Emmett
OK, so I smashed the significance of this bout into bits right above. Now allow me to pick up the pieces and build them back up. This is an excellent fight between high-level 145-pounders who are one fight -- this fight -- away from a real title challenge. Local ties and electrified arena vibe aside, this one could outshine the Della Maddalena contest in terms of skill sets and stakes.
Though Rodriguez and Emmett are different fighters, stylistically, they are unified in their determination to meet in the middle of the Octagon and throw down. Rodriguez has the flashier technique, Emmett the power and the potential, if he seizes it, to be more well rounded in his attacks. Brace yourself for a thrill ride.
This is one of the few bouts at UFC 284 without an Aussie in either corner. The Perth crowd still will feel wildly entertained.
4. Jamie Mullarkey vs. Francisco Prado
I love the mysteriousness of watching an undefeated fighter facing a step up in competition. No one has seen any evidence of where the ceiling is for Prado, a 20-year-old Argentine lightweight making his UFC debut. He's 11-0 with all finishes -- six submissions and five knockouts. What are his go-to moves? Where are his strengths and weaknesses? Who knows?
Australia's Mullarkey will test him. A veteran of six UFC fights, most recently a win over Michael Johnson last July, he will enter the familiar cage with the added comfort of having a building full of his fellow citizens backing him.
5. Jimmy Crute vs. Alonzo Menifield
Maybe it was too much too soon for Crute. He won four of his first five UFC fights, all finishes over veteran fighters, and by the end of 2020, he was 12-1 and a serious light heavyweight prospect. At age 24, he was named the sport's No. 1 fighter at age 25 or younger by ESPN in 2020 . Since then, though, Crute has lost two in a row, suggesting he might have reached his ceiling.
If so, it is a high ceiling, to be sure. Those losses came against the current champ, Jamahal Hill , and onetime title challenger Anthony Smith . Both finished him in a round. So stepping down a rung on the 205-pound ladder seems like a good idea, and that's where Menifield resides. He represents a strong enough challenge to let Crute know where he stands.
The full UFC 284 fight card
PPV via ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET
Lightweight championship: Islam Makhachev (c) vs. Alexander Volkanovski
Men's featherweight interim championship: Yair Rodriguez vs. Josh Emmett
Welterweight: Jack Della Maddalena vs. Randy Brown
Heavyweight: Justin Tafa vs. Parker Porter
Light heavyweight: Jimmy Crute vs. Alonzo Menifield
ESPN/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Light heavyweight: Tyson Pedro vs. Modestas Bukauskas
Men's featherweight: Josh Culibao vs. Melsik Baghdasaryan
Men's flyweight: Shannon Ross vs. Kleydson Rodrigues
Lightweight: Jamie Mullarkey vs. Francisco Prado
ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET
Men's featherweight: Jack Jenkins vs. Don Shainis
Strawweight: Loma Lookboonmee vs. Elise Reed
Men's featherweight: Shane Young vs. Blake Bilder
Lightweight: Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Elves Brenner
(c) = defending champion
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