The UFC returns to the APEX in Las Vegas for the first time in 2021 after a successful trip to Fight Island kicked the year off.
Alistair Overeem looks to continue his final run en route to UFC gold when he takes on Alexander Volkov in the heavyweight division in the main event, with both men knowing they need a win to enter the top five conversations.
In the co-main, Cory Sandhagen takes on the legendary Frankie Edgar in the bantamweight division with both guys believing a win could set them up with a title shot against the winner of UFC 259’s title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling.
Last time out we went 4/10 at UFC 257 with three perfect picks for a bad night, to take us to 216/337 (64.09%) with 96 (44.44%) perfect picks. We look to improve that record with this card.
Diego Ferreira (17-2) vs Beneil Dariush (19-4-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A really fun fight in the lightweight division between two of the dark horses in the 155lbs division. Diego Ferreira has won his last six, defeating Anthony Pettis by submission last time out in January 2020, while Dariush has won his last five in a row including a spinning back fist against Scott Holtzman last time out in August.
These two met seven years ago, with Dariush coming out on tap in a grappling match essentially for a decision win. Since then, Ferreira has become a top pressure fighter with good punching power too. Dariush’s striking has improved too in that time, but not like Ferreira’s. That said, he still maintains the grappling advantage so Ferreira will look to keep the fight standing. It should be a fantastic fight between these two and a contender for fight of the night, and I’m backing another win for Dariush.
PICK – Beneil Dariush via Decision
Cody Stamann (19-3-1) vs Askar Askar (11-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs) A short notice fight between two bantamweights fighting at featherweight, as Cody Stamann takes on highly rated UFC debutant against Askar Askar. Stamann went 1-1 in 2020, beating Brian Kelleher in June at UFC 250 before losing on Fight Island against Jimmie Rivera, while Askar won his last fight in the LFA with a decision victory over Kevin Wirth in October. Stamann is a straight up wrestler, who looks to get the fight down to the ground early and control from the top position for decision wins while Askar is a striker who has great leg kicks and good power punches, but is also a fantastic wrestler looking for top control. It’s really going to be a battle of who can cope better with the pressure and it’s hard to go against Stamann considering the level of competition he has beaten previously in comparison. I think it’ll go the distance and will be well contested, but Stamann will take the win.
PICK – Cody Stamann via Decision
Alexandre Pantoja (22-5) vs Manel Kape (15-4) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An incredibly fun fight in the flyweight division between two fighters looking to get into the title conversation at 125lbs at some point in 2021. Pantoja was expected to be one of the lead contenders in 2020 but two defeats in his last three have pushed him down the pecking order, including his decision loss to Askar Askarov on Fight Island in July. Manel Kape was the Rizin champion before moving to the UFC and served as the back up for the UFC 256 title fight and is tipped for a huge 2021.
Pantoja is a really good kickboxer but an even better submission grappler, while Kape is a fantastic boxer with incredible footwork. They have a a common opponent, where Kape was beaten and Pantoja strangled him within a round but Kape has improved immensely since then. Kape has a speed and power advantage in this fight and if he can deny Pantoja’s takedowns he should be able to get the win on the feet in a potential fight of the night.
PICK – Manel Kape via Decision
Michael Johnson (20-16) vs Clay Guida (35-17) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Two veterans of the UFC octagon meet in the lightweight division as Michael Johnson looks to return to the win column after losing six of his last eight and each of his last three. He’ll take on the legendary Clay Guida who has lost three of his last four including both of his last two, including against Bobby Greene back in June 2020.
Johnson has struggled in the past against pressure fighters but has had incredible knockout power in his hands throughout his career. That said, his last knockout win came all the way back in 2016 when he stopped Dustin Poirier. Guida is a grinder who loves to use his volume punches to apply pressure and get takedowns with his wrestling. Guida has the wrestling advantage while Johnson’s power is greater, but stylistically it’s not a fun fight for Johnson. He doesn’t like being forced to fight at a pace and without a knockout in nearly five years, I don’t know if he has that one punch power anymore. Guida will overwhelm him with volume and score takedowns to take a decision win.
PICK – Clay Guida via Decision
Cory Sandhagen (13-2) vs Frankie Edgar (23-8-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
This fight could easily be a main event in it’s own right, as two bantamweight contenders face off looking for title contention with a win. Sandhagen bounced back from an embarrassing 88 second defeat to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 250 with a spinning heel kick knockout over Marlon Moraes. Edgar bounced back from defeat in the featherweight title fight with a win in his bantamweight debut over Pedro Munhoz in a close fought fight.
Sandhagen is a lengthy striker, with fantastic jabs and a great kicking game while Edgar is a wrestler by trade who can more than hold his own in the striking realm too. He’s finally fighting in his natural weight class too, after being a champion at 155lbs before becoming a contender at 145lbs. It’s a really interesting fight, because Sandhagen has shown a flaw in his game by being taken down in the past but Edgar has been wobbled before by clean strikes and isn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore.
It’s a really fun fight and one that I don’t see ending early, but I think Sandhagen can use his length and strikes to outland Edgar and keep off the mat for a decision win.
PICK – Cory Sandhagen via Decision
Alistair Overeem (47-18) vs Alexander Volkov (32-8) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Main event time and it’s a fight that will shape up the heavyweight division going forward. Alistair Overeem has been open in saying this is his final run in the UFC, and he is currently on a run of four wins in his last five with the defeat pretty controversial. Volkov is in a similar boat, having won three of his last five with one of those defeats being a knockout to Derrick Lewis with 11 seconds left after dominating the entire fight.
Overeem beat Walt Harris and Augusto Sakai most recently, while Volkov was beaten by Curtis Blaydes back in June before beating Walt Harris with a knockout at UFC 254. Both men are excellent kickboxers with power in their hands and feet. Volkov has struggled with takedowns in the past, something Overeem will likely try to exploit but Volkov has shown an ability to get back up to his feet. Both are great strikers and they match up really, really well.
‘Demolition Man’ has got great ground and pound but also legit submission skills and I think the takedown ability and change in style over recent years will lead him to getting a win once again, potentially via stoppage with that ground and pound.
PICK – Alistair Overeem via Decision