The first UFC event at the APEX in 2021 lived up to the hype as both co-main events delivered with spectacular knockout finishes.
Cory Sandhagen fought Frankie Edgar in the bantamweight division while Alexander Volkov took on veteran Alistair Overeem in the main event of UFC Vegas 18, with both of the elder statesmen on what is likely to be their final run at UFC gold.
The 135lbs clash was widely accepted to essentially be a number one contender bout, with champion Petr Yan set to defend his belt against Aljamain Sterling next month at UFC 259. While many were expecting a close fight between the rising star Sandhagen and legendary figure that is Edgar, that is far from what we got.
It took just 28 seconds for ‘Sandman’ to finish the fight, landing a flying knee flush on Edgar’s chin and leaving him lying unconscious with a walk-off KO.
It was the second highlight reel knockout in a row for Sandhagen, after his spinning heel kick win over Marlon Moraes back in October on Fight Island earned him this fight.
While some, including the champion Yan himself, have suggested that former champion TJ Dillashaw should get an immediate rematch following the end of his suspension, Sandhagen disagrees. In his post-fight interview he made it very clear what his plans are, calling out the winner of the upcoming title fight.
“I heard Yan doing an interview, saying he wants to fight TJ [Dillashaw] after. TJ’s coming off some of the most dangerous PED’s you can do in the sport. That seems disrespectful to the sport, and I’ve been working. I’ve been working for the belt and I think I’m better than Yan, so if he wins I want Yan, same as Sterling too.“
Sandhagen’s last defeat came at UFC 250, when Sterling submitted him in just 88 seconds to earn himself a title shot against the winner of the fight between Yan and Jose Aldo at UFC 251 the following month. ‘Sandman’ is confident that if they fought again for the belt, that it would be a different outcome.
“You guys have seen I’m a different animal since that fight with Sterling. I’m grateful he taught me a lesson but the next time we fight I’m gonna hurt Aljamain. I want to fight the winner of that fight in July, or whenever they want really, but I’ve got to be next for the title. There’s no-one else even in the conversation, especially after a performance like that.”
In the main event, Overeem was blasted by ‘Drago’ and knocked out in the second round after a super display of power striking from the Russian.
An early jab rocked Overeem and his strikes throughout the first round ended up breaking the nose of Overeem and causing a lot of blood and problems for the Dutch fighter. He came out for the second round but Volkov was too strong physically and too accurate with his punches and put him down several times before the referee waved it off.
While it marked the end of Overeem’s final run towards UFC gold, it marked the beginning of serious conversations around Volkov’s road to the belt.
With Stipe Miocic defending the title against Francis Ngannou at UFC 260 next month, with the winner already likely to face Jon Jones in the summer, Volkov’s chances of his next bout being for the belt are incredibly slim.
Dana White won’t want him to be inactive in the hope he can get a title shot, especially while the likes of Derrick Lewis, Curtis Blaydes, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and co are all fighting still.
While Lewis and Blaydes will meet later this month at UFC Vegas 19 in a rescheduled bout from last year but the fight that Volkov should be keeping an eye on is March’s bout between Rozenstruik and Cyril Gane.
The two are looking to build up some momentum to join in the title picture themselves and with Lewis and Blaydes already having wins over Volkov, his best bet is a fresh opponent. If Volkov can get a quick turnaround to fight the winner of Rozenstruik and Gane before the halfway point of the year, a win could see him position himself to take on the winner of Miocic/Ngannou vs Jones at the end of the year.
The title pictures of two more UFC divisions are starting to become a little clearer, which can only lead to positive match making.