The UFC returns to the United States on Saturday for UFC Vegas 18 on ESPN+, which will be the first of four events this month. Fighters from 10 countries will compete Saturday. These athletes arrive in Nevada possessing every form and fashion of modern mixed martial arts weaponry. Note that at the Apex in Las Vegas, the fighters are returning to the substantially smaller octagon.
Main event: Alexander Volkov -190 vs. Alistair Overeem +155, heavyweights (265 pounds)
Fifth-ranked Overeem is 40 years old, but is a highly decorated, diverse and intelligent mixed martial artist. With a record of 47-18 and a 22-year professional career, it’s safe to say Overeem has seen everything. He has competed against the best athletes of his generation and is still viable as a top-10 talent in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
Overeem’s striking, grappling and Muay Thai diversity in past bouts have given way to tactics in the octagon that most recently have become limited and predictable to pressing opponents against the cage and using powerful knees to the body to soften them up.
Overeem’s training at Elevation Fight Team was inspired by the thorough whuppin’ he took at the hands of Curtis Blaydes several fights ago. It was clear to Overeem then as it is to many now that for him to remain relevant in the heavyweight division, he was going to have to effectively wrestle, grapple and smother opponents to eliminate their ability to fight him from the outside and in space.
Speed, quickness, the ability to evade strikes are no longer strengths for Overeem, and if he has a glaring weakness it’s that he can be extremely chinny. Overeem has lost seven times since 2013, and each loss has been by a knockout or TKO.
Volkov, the sixth-ranked heavyweight, is the younger man by eight years, the taller fighter by three inches and he also holds a three-inch leg-reach advantage. Volkov possesses a wealth of professional experience and has been improving in each bout.
Volkov steps up in class to fight Overeem. But the class does not fight, the athlete does and, in this bout, I believe Volkov’s advantages are his youth, his speed and the experience gained last year in a loss to the aforementioned Blaydes, who is a top-three talent in the division as well as Overeem’s training partner.
I see Overeem attempting to clasp, maul and fight Volkov from close quarters, up against the fence and from inside position, even eventually attempting to drag the 6-foot-7 Russian to the mat. This plan allows Overeem to both protect his balsa wood beak and limit Volkov’s length and striking-kicking effectiveness.
Volkov will need to press Overeem and attack him with strikes, elbows and leg kicks from distance. Volkov proved in his last bout against Walt Harris that by sitting on his punches he can deliver profuse power.
Best strategy mandates that Volkov deliver damage to Overeem via striking while maintaining distance via movement while Overeem must try to close distance and make this an ugly, mauling, groping, grappling affair.
I believe this fight is going to be a relatively uneventful five-round decision. Therefore my best advice is to play Over 2.5 rounds (-125 at BetMGM), or for the bold like myself, “fight goes to decision” (+200).
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