UFC 266: Prelims Preview

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The last UFC championship fight, albeit interim, was over a month ago on the 7th of August 2021, and fans are geared up for two championship fights and the return of the legendary Nick Diaz at UFC 266 which takes place on 25 September 2021 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The long-awaited battle between the UFC featherweight champion Alex “The Great” Volkanovski and the popular contender Brian “T-City” Ortega headlines the card and “Lucky” Lauren Murphy challenges the flyweight champion Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko in the co-main event. However, before the title bouts, two legends, Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler will be competing in a rematch 17 years in the making.

Although the main card has garnered hype, the prelim card has many notable fighters and there will be no shortage of skill and violence on display. In the featured bantamweight prelim bout, the surging, hardworking Merab “the Machine” Dvalishvili who is on a 6-fight win streak takes on “Magic” Marlon Moraes who is looking to put an end to his two-fight losing skid.

Roxanne Modafferi (25-19, W-L) vs Taila Santos (17-1, W-L)

A women’s flyweight bout between former title challenger Roxanne Modafferi and Taila Santos is set to start the action for the UFC 266 prelims. Modaferri and Santos were expected to share the octagon on the 8th of May 2021, but Modafferi suffered a meniscus injury, and the bout was canceled.

Despite being known as “The Happy Warrior”, Modafferi is the 9th ranked women’s flyweight and holds wins over the likes of Andrea Lee and the upcoming young prospect Maycee Barber. However, she has failed to put two wins together since 2017 and lost her last fight against Viviane Araújo earlier this year.

Modafferi is fighting professionally for 18 years and has finished 9 of her opponents in her 25 wins. She is 168 cm tall and has a reach of 175 cm but has received criticism for her striking in the past. John Eric Poli reported that Modafferi is not just looking for a win in her fights, but she wants a “glorious battle” in her upcoming fights.

Taila Santos is the 12th ranked women’s flyweight and she has ambitions to breach the top 10 of the division with a win over Modaferri. Santos is the daughter of a Muay Thai coach and has finished 12 of her opponents with 10 knockouts in her pro MMA career that started 8 years ago.

Santos who is 168 cm tall with a 173 cm reach looks to extend her two-fight win streak at UFC 266 however she has a tough challenge against Modafferi who has only been knocked out once. Both fighters have similar physical attributes but varying fighting styles. This fight has the classic strike vs grappler backstory but with Taila’s striking and Modaferri’s resilience and ground game this is going to be a glorious battle.

Shamil Abdurakhimov (20-5, W-L) vs Chris Daukaus (11-3, W-L)

The heavyweights Shamil “Abrek” Abdurakhimov and Chris Daukaus look to finally face off at UFC 266 after their bout was postponed two times this year. The number 7 ranked Shamil is returning to the octagon after almost two years. His last loss was to the 4th ranked Curtis Blaydes via second-round TKO. The number 10 ranked Daukaus looks to extend his winning streak to 5 with a win over Shamil at UFC 266.

Shamil is 191 cm tall with a 193 cm reach, and he is a well-rounded Wushu Sanda, freestyle wrestling and kickboxing fighter. Shamil began his training in primary school, he then joined the army and subsequently became the Sanshou Russian National Champion. He was the winner of the Abu Dhabi Grand-Prix and is the former ADFC Heavyweight champion. His notable wins in the UFC are against Andrei Arlovski and Marcin Tybura, and he holds 9 knockout wins and 4 submission wins.

Chris is 191 cm tall with a 193 cm reach, and he has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Due to a lack of competition after high school, Chris started training and he later joined the police force. Chris made his pro-MMA debut 8 years ago and he holds 10 knockout wins, and he looks to get his third performance of a night bonus at UFC 266.

Both fighters have similar physical attributes, but Chris has been actively fighting while Shamil is making his return to the octagon after almost two years. The tension in the octagon will be high once these two hard-hitting heavyweights start throwing hands. Shamil holds a wrestling advantage and may use takedown threats to promote his striking. However, Chris holds a blackbelt in BJJ, so this is going to be a well-balanced fight from start to finish.

The fight may however end in a quick finish if Chris gets his way since he finished all four of his last wins in the first round. Nevertheless, these two heavyweight law enforcement officials will be trying to defend themselves from the heavy blows of their opponents.  

Dan Hooker (20-10, W-L) vs Nasrat Haqparast (13-3, W-L)

The number 8 ranked Dan “The Hangman” Hooker is set to take on Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266. Dan is a skillful striker who fought Mike Chandler in the co-main slot of McGregor vs Poirier. He now finds himself on the prelim card of UFC 266 after back-to-back losses against the former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier and Mike Chandler who fought Charles Oliveira for the vacant UFC lightweight belt in May this year. Nasrat on the other hand is looking to extend his winning streak to three and enter the top 15 of the competitive lightweight division with a win over Hooker.

Dan Hooker is 183 cm tall and has a 191 cm reach, fighting for 12 years, and holds a purple belt in BJJ. His fast hands could be attributed to his kickboxing record (9 Wins). Furthermore, he has 10 KO, and 7 submission wins in MMA.  Dan holds wins over the likes of Gilbert Burns, Paul Felder, and former lightweight title challenger Al Iaquinta. Dan is the former Australian Fighting and Supremacy Fighting Championship lightweight champion. He also holds three UFC erformance of the night and two UFC fight of the night bonuses.

Nasrat on the other hand is 178 cm tall and has a 183 cm reach. Despite Hooker having the height and reach advantage, Nasrat has heavy hands and good boxing. Nasrat, the former mechanical engineering student, is also technical with his hands and holds 9 KO victories. Nasrat made his UFC debut in 2017 and has obtained one Fight of the night and one Performance of the Night bonus in the UFC.

Despite Nasrat suffering a personal loss, he will still be competing against Hooker at UFC 266. Nasrat lost his mother two weeks before his fight but his manager Ali Abdelaziz confirmed that he will not back away from the fight. Nasrat posted an emotional message for his mother on social media: Haqparast wrote, “My best friend in this world. People who know me, knew that my life’s goal was to please God and my parents. Everything I did was to make you proud and give you happiness.” He will be putting his mental grit to the test by competing after suffering the loss of his mother.

Hooker commented on Nasrat’s post about the loss of his mother and wished his potential next opponent well. Hooker faced a KO loss to the former three-time Bellator lightweight champion Mike Chandler in his last fight. After the fight, Hooker placed his gloves in the octagon but has since reconsidered the emotional decision that was made after the loss. Hooker’s next fight at UFC 266 is however in jeopardy due to Visa problems.

Hooker took to Twitter to get help from the MMA community regarding the Visa problems that he is facing. Hooker said: “The embassy has my passport and all the completed documentation; all I need is it to be processed and returned. This is an absolute last resort.” He subsequently detailed his plan to obtain his Visa on Monday and reach the USA before the weigh-ins on Friday morning. Therefore, there is hope that Dan will make it to the fight on Saturday.  

Hooker was close to a title shot before his last two fights and will be looking for a win despite his travel issues. Hooker will also be trying to get back into the win column and retain his top 10 ranking. However, Nasrat will be emotional and looking to honor his late mother. This lightweight bout is going to be an action-packed, and emotional battle if both fighters make it into the cage.

Marlon Moraes (23-8-1, W-L-NC) vs Merab Dvalishvili (13-4, W-L)

The number 6th ranked Marlon “Magic” Moraes will be taking on the 11th ranked Merab “The Machine” Dvalishvili in the featured bantamweight prelim fight at UFC 266. The bantamweight staple, Moraes will attempt to get back into the win column against the surging Merab who will be looking to jump up in the rankings with a win over Marlon.

Marlon is 168 cm tall and has a 170 cm reach and is the former WSOF bantamweight champion and holds three UFC performance of the night bonuses. Marlon has a black belt in Muay Thai and BJJ and has 10 KO wins and 6 wins by submission and is, therefore, a credible threat. After a four-fight win streak with wins over current Bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and Raphael Assunção, Marlon fought and lost against Henry Cejudo for the vacant UFC bantamweight belt in 2019. Since challenging for the belt, he has only beat Jose Aldo and finds himself on a two-fight losing streak after suffering TKO losses to Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font in his last two fights.

Merab is also 168 cm tall with a 173 cm reach and a known training partner of current UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling. Merab is a Georgian fighter and trained in traditional wrestling, transitional fighting, sambo, and judo before becoming a pro-MMA fighter in 2014. After suffering losses in his first two fights for the UFC, the hard-working Merab is on a six-fight win streak and looks to extend his streak with a win over Marlon. All of his last six wins have come via decision, and Merab has only 2 KO and 1 submission win on his record.

Merab is a Sambo fighter with a black belt in Judo and will probably be looking to take the fight to the mat and get a finish. However, in an interview with Ag Fight Marlon gave Merab accolades for his wrestling but indicated that he would like to finish Merab before the fight hits the ground. Marlon acknowledged that Merab holds a record for takedowns, but he intends to dominate the fight and add another KO to his record. 

This is a high-stake fight for Marlon as he looks to finish the surging Merab. However, Merab has an opportunity to fight a big name and get closer to a title shot. Overall, this featured prelim is going to be a tactical fight with Marlon looking to use his striking to end the fight and Merab looking to take down and smother Marlon.

Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, the prelim card has some up-and-coming fighters on a winning streak, big names, and veteran fighters looking for wins. Dan Hooker and Marlon Moraes will be attempting to break their losing streaks. With this diverse group of fighters, the prelim card is sure to set the scene for the stacked main card.

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