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UFC 294: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2 Betting Preview & Picks | Johnny Covers

Kanpai Media Bet. By Johnny Covers

In typical UFC fashion, the promotion not only avoided disaster by two late scratches in their main and co-main event, but called on the two of the best to ever do it to step in on short notice. Let’s take a look at the three spots I think provide the most value this week in my top UFC predictions for UFC 294.

Abu Azaitar (+190) vs. Sedriques Dumas (-200)

Those who follow my UFC Prediction newsletter on Substack know that I love betting on two specific angles; age gaps of 6+ years and fighter layoffs of more than one year.

Abu Azaitar will make his ring walk for the first time in nearly three years Saturday, as he’s battled one injury after another, as recently as March (knee) when he had to withdraw from this fight initially. In fact, since his UFC debut in 2018, he has fought just one time, a third-round loss to Marc-Andre Barriault in early 2021.

In steps middleweight prospect Sedriques Dumas, who joined the UFC over the summer with a statement win on DWCS. Dropping his first fight to Josh Fremd, he beat Cody Brundage in June in a fight he looked worlds better in than his first. It’s also worth noting Dumas lost his only fight (Fremd) via submission, not a route he’ll have to worry about against the striking-happy Azaitar.

Back to my age angle, while younger fighters by six years cash at 60%, younger fighters by nine years historically cash at 70%. Add in just 12 minutes of live cage time for Azaitar since 2018, and I like for Dumas to get this one done.

Pick: Sedriques Dumas (-200 at BetMGM Sportsbook)

Magomed Ankalaev (-350) vs. Johnny Walker (+285)

In a fight that could very well see the winner get the next shot at the light heavyweight belt, Johnny Walker steps up to take on the LHW boogeyman Magomed Ankalaev.

The last time we saw Ankalaev he fought Jan Blachowicz to a draw in December, a fight which afterwards he frustratedly said might be his last with the UFC. Waiting nearly 11 months to fight again, he was likely given the guarantee a win here puts him first in line for a title shot; a spot that could very well have him looking ahead.

Despite his relatively low profile with the promotion, Johnny Walker isn’t a guy you can look past. For me, Walker turned a corner with his pedigree in the octagon at the end of last year, picking up three straight wins since September 2022, two of which have come in the first round.

While fights aren’t fought on the stat sheet, with plenty of common opponents and 20+ combined fights in the UFC, I’m leaning on them here. Even where it seems Ankalaev would have the edge, on the ground, Walker edges him slightly with 1.03 submissions per 15 minutes and a takedown accuracy of 100%. On the feet, it’s Walker again, with slight edges across the board in striking accuracy, significant striking volume, and knockdown average per 15 minutes.

Add in the smaller Ankalaev absorbs 18x more shots per minute (2.15 vs 0.12), and I have this fight much closer to even than the odds suggest.

Pick: Johnny Walker (+285 at DraftKings Sportsbook)

Islam Makhachev (-260) vs. Alexander Volkanovski (+210)

In a fight that easily had Fight of the Year written all over it, Islam and Volk fought a five-round war in February, with Islam narrowly winning via decision. I’ve watched that fight back three times now, and as well as Volk fought that night in Perth, Islam was the rightful winner, clearly taking three of the five rounds.

And that was in Volk’s backyard with a full fight camp and months upon months of strategizing.

He’ll now try to repeat that effort on less than two weeks’ notice, admitting this week that when he got the call he was walking around at 181 pounds, a full 26 pounds heavier than where he’ll be by Friday. Despite what he might be saying (and even believing), if this fight goes deep into the later rounds, this will be a major issue against the #3 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.

All of that to say, and he’s even alluded to it himself in interviews this week, I expect Volk to go full throttle out of the gates to try and catch Islam early. For me, that’s the only strategy I see as potentially viable for Volk, and it either succeeds or he gets caught in the process.

Pick: Fight to go the Distance – No (-110 at DraftKings Sportsbook)

Abu AzaitarSedriques DumasSedriques Dumas -200
Magomed AnkalaevJohnny WalkerJohnny Walker (+285)
Islam MakhachevAlexander VolkanovskiFight to the Distance – No (-110)

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Johnny Covers

Johnny has been covering the sports betting markets and handicapping UFC for the better part of the past decade. Along the way, he has written for publications such as Oddschecker, Betting Pros, Sportsbook Review, Yardbarker, and many more. Johnny runs giving out free UFC analysis and picks on every card, going 56% in 2021, 65% in 2022, and trending at 60% for 2023. He has also made multiple appearances on UFC's official betting show "On the Line" along side head MMA oddsmaker at Circa Sportsbooks Nick Kalikas and professional sports bettor Gianni the Greek .