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Answering the Biggest Questions for UFC 266

Is there any reason to doubt Alexander Volkanovski? Could Lauren Murphy upset Valentina Shevchenko? Answering those and more before Saturday's fights.

UFC 266 is upon us this Saturday, headlined by two title fights in featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski against Brian Ortega and Valentina Shevchenko putting her flyweight title on the line against Lauren Murphy. But the show-stealer here is a middleweight bout featuring a rematch from UFC 47, which took place in 2004, as Nick Diaz once again stands across the Octagon from Robbie Lawler.

The last Diaz-Lawler bout was a welterweight fight, though a lot has changed over the past 17 years. But Diaz spits as much venom as ever, and the trash-talking phenom is looking to knock out Lawler for a second straight time. Lawler has dropped his last four fights, and he is in desperate need of a victory.

The 266 card also includes Curtis Blaydes seeking to re-establish himself in the heavyweight division, which he will be able to do if he can defeat Jairzinho Rozenstruik. The opener is Jéssica Andrade against Cynthia Calvillo, as the two flyweights vie for a shot at Shevchenko’s title.

Here are some of the most pressing questions entering UFC 266:

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Is there any reason to doubt Alexander Volkanovski?

Volkanovski has given the fight world absolutely no reason to doubt him. Volkanovski (22–1) has been on a dominant tear, winning his last 19 bouts. Ortega is one of the most skilled jiu-jitsu artists in today's game, so you can’t count him out, but the odds are not in his favor. This is a tough matchup for Ortega (15–1, 1 NC), who needs to bring Volkanovski down to the mat to compete here. Volkanovski is looking to stand and box, pushing the pace on Ortega, and this has a TKO written all over it.

The winner here should run it back with Max Holloway, and that certainly appears to be Volkanovski.

Could Lauren Murphy upset Valentina Shevchenko?

Realistically, no.

Murphy is the best opponent for Shevchenko, yet this should be a one-sided affair.

Expect Shevchenko (21–3) to maul Murphy (15–4), which will make things a bit complicated. Shevchenko is simply running out of viable opponents as she continues to clean out the division.

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Moving forward, the best opponent for Shevchenko is a third bout against Amanda Nunes.

If Jéssice Andrade wins, could she be next in like for Shevchenko?

Andrade is the best hope for a challenger to emerge that can compete against Shevchenko. Andrade (21–9) just lost to Shevchenko in April, but could be in line for another title shot if she can use her power to put away Calvillo.

If Calvillo (9-2-1) wins the bout Saturday, the lack of contenders for Shevchenko will be even more glaring.

Can Curtis Blaydes put himself back into title contention with a win?

Blaydes will help erase the pain of his loss to Derrick Lewis if he can return to the Octagon and soundly defeat Rozenstruik.

Rozenstruik (12–2) is a one-dimensional fighter, albeit with exceptional power in that one particular area. But Blaydes (14–3, 1 NC) has every tool needed to win this bout, especially with his wrestling. He also has a lot to prove, and he needs to turn up the pressure and put together a convincing win against Rozenstruik.

How is a rematch from 2004 exciting? 

I am always excited to watch either of the Diaz brothers, and we have Nick Diaz running it back against Robbie Lawler 17 years after Diaz defeated him by KO.

Neither Diaz (26–9, 2 NC) nor Lawler (28–15, 1 NC) are the fighters they once were, but old-school fans should relish this encounter. And after a six-year layoff, what will Diaz look like as a fighter?

Ultimately, this fight will come down to whose chin holds up better. My money is on Diaz.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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