After a three year absence the UFC returns to London and the O2 Arena for a huge UFC London fight card, headlined by heavyweights Alexander Volkov and Tom Aspinall.
A stacked card will see the two heavyweights competing to get title contention with a win, while we’ll also see the likes of Arnold Allen take on Dan Hooker, Paddy Pimblett makes his UK return while Jack Shore, Nathaniel Wood and Muhammad Mokaev also compete too.
Jai Herbert (11-3) vs Ilia Topuria (11-0) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A banger of a fight to open the main card in the 155-pound division. Herbert earned his first win in the octagon with a first-round KO against Khama Worthy at UFC Vegas 41, while Topuria is an undefeated prospect with his last win coming via brutal KO against Ryan Hall at UFC 264. This is Topuria’s debut at lightweight.
Herbert is a boxer with good power in his hands, but his defensive grappling isn’t great and that’s a big problem in this fight. Topuria is a super talented grappler with great cardio and also some solid boxing skills with knockout power. Topuria’s only disadvantage in this fight could end up being size, because he’s not the biggest in this weight class.
Topuria will trade on the feet until an opportunity for a takedown presents itself and he will take it immediately. Topuria will land nasty elbows on the mat, pass guard and eventually work to the back before snatching up the neck for an impressive win in quick fashion. PICK – Ilia Topuria via Submission, Round 1
Molly McCann (11-4) vs Luana Carolina (8-2) – (Flyweight/135lbs)
‘Meatball’ is back and she’s back in London for this women’s flyweight bout on the main card. McCann suffered back-to-back defeats to Taila Santos and Lara Procopio before getting back in the win column against Ji Yeon Kim at UFC Vegas 36 most recently. Carolina has won her last two via decision, beating Poliana Botelho at UFC Vegas 25 and Lupita Godinez at UFC Vegas 40.
McCann is a pressure fighter who looks to use low kicks and boxing to force her opponent backwards and make them crumble. Carolina is a lengthy boxer herself, but she struggles to make the most of her reach advantage. Her takedown defence is good, but when it comes to mixing it all up she tends to be troubled and that’s what McCann is best at.
The Brit will be relentless with her forward pressure, will land strikes and will almost certainly mix it up with takedowns against teh cage and she’s good enough to hold Carolina down and control her for long periods of time. If Carolina is able to make reads and defend it though, her reach and speed should see her pick McCann apart. For my money, ‘Meatball’ comes forward enough to slip the reach disadvantage, get takedowns and win rounds. PICK – Molly McCann via Decision
Gunnar Nelson (17-5-1) vs Takashi Sato (16-4) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A strange welterweight bout up next on the main card between two guys returning from lengthy lay offs. Nelson is on a two-fight losing streak after defeats to Leon Edwards and Gilbert Burns back in 2019, while Sato lost via submission to Miguel Baeza back in November 2020 at UFC Vegas 15.
Nelson is a brilliant submission fighter with a karate stance where he looks to counter strike to land on his opponents clean. Sato on the other hand is a solid striker with an excellent jab and good combinations, and is confident in the grappling but mostly struggles against elites in that field. Nelson is elite in that field, but he’s been away for so long it’s hard to get a proper read on him.
Sato is coming in on very short notice in this bout, which goes against him, and if Nelson is at least not completely rusty and done then he should be able to get a pretty convincing win here. PICK – Gunnar Nelson via Decision
Paddy Pimblett (17-3) vs Kazula Vargas (12-4) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The most popular fighter on the card by a distance makes a return to the UK fight scene to take on Rodrigo Vargas. Pimblett earned a massive comeback knockout win at UFC Vegas 36 against Luigi Vendramini, while Vargas snapped a two-fight losing streak against Rongzhu at UFC 261 last time out.
Pimblett is a solid all-rounder, with excellent submissions skills and much improved striking in recent years with great knockout power. Vargas on the other hand is a decent boxer with plenty of experience but while he has a bigger frame and could overpower Pimblett, the trouble is he’s outmatched in skill.
‘The Baddy’ is a great kicker from range and has got the ability to take this fight wherever he feels he has the most advantage. He has promised a first-round finish, so who am I to go against that. Pimblett lands a hard right hand to drop Vargas and then jumps on the neck for a quick finish. PICK – Paddy Pimblett via Submission, Round 1
Arnold Allen (17-1) vs Dan Hooker (21-11) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A truly brilliant fight in the featherweight division in the co-main event as both guys look to become a serious contender at 145-pounds. Allen is on a ten-fight win streak, including a big decision of Sodiq Yusuff last time out at UFC Vegas 23. Hooker on the other hand has lost three of his last four to Dustin Poirier (UFC Vegas 4), Michael Chandler (UFC 257) and Islam Makhachev (UFC 267) most recently with a win against Nasrat Haqparast just before that at UFC 266. He returns to featherweight for the first time since 2016.
Allen is a tremendous wrestler and solid defensive fighter on the feet who knows exactly what he’s good at and goes straight to it. Hooker on the other hand is a striker who doesn’t want to be on the ground, but is capable of holding his own down there and battling to get it back into a striking battle. Allen will not allow that.
‘Almighty’ is strong in the grappling, good enough to hold his own in the striking, has constant volume, is younger, fresher and won’t be struggling with the weight cut. This is his chance to make a real impact on the division and I think he does just that. PICK – Arnold Allen via Decision
Alexander Volkov (34-9) vs Tom Aspinall (11-2) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Heavyweight main event in what should be an absolute banger. Volkov has won three of his last four, with defeat to Ciryl Gane at UFC Vegas 30 splitting up wins over Walt Harris, Alistair Overeem (UFC Vegas 18) and Marcin Tybura (UFC 267) most recently. Aspinall is an undefeated 4-0 in the UFC with stoppage wins over Jake Collier (UFC Fight Island 3), Alan Baudot (UFC Fight Island 5), Andrei Arlovski (UFC Vegas 19) and Sergei Spivak (UFC Vegas 36).
Volkov and Aspinall are both tremendous boxers, with brilliant jabs and combinations as well as legitimate knockout power. The difference between the two fighters is that Aspinall is a true grappler also, with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and some solid wrestling too. Aspinall has a speed advantage and with a five-year age gap, his cardio has looked good so far. He has never fought in front of a live UFC crowd though and has never had a five-round fight in his career.
This fight will stay on the feet for the early exchanges as Aspinall looks to test the chin and make reads. His jab is more than good enough to land despite the size advantage but it’s the submission and grappling threat that will open up a big opportunity for him to land a combination. That could be enough to put Volkov out, but if not he’ll take the neck and secure a submission as a result to claim the biggest win of his career. PICK – Tom Aspinall via Knockout, Round 3
UFC London has got it’s main event as British heavyweight contender Tom Aspinall will take on number five ranked Alexander Volkov at the O2 Arena on March 19th.
The UFC announced it’s return to the UK earlier this week with a big event in March, but the fight was without a main event at the time.
It’s now been revealed however by UFC president Dana White that it will be two heavyweights going toe-to-toe in the octagon.
Volkov has been in-and-around the top five of the division for a while but while he’s beaten up-and-comers, he has struggled against the elite of the elite.
‘Drago’ has been beaten by Derrick Lewis, Curtis Blaydes and Ciryl Gane in his last seven fights, while earning victories over Greg Hardy, Walt Harris, Alistair Overeem (UFC Vegas 18) and Marcin Tybura (UFC 267).
Aspinall has been on a roll in the UFC since joining the company in 2020 and is currently on a seven-fight unbeaten streak including four wins in the UFC with four finishes.
He beat Jake Collier via knockout at UFC Fight Island 3, before returning with a stellar KO against Alan Baudot at UFC Fight Island 5 in his next fight. He then secured a brilliant submission win over veteran Andrei Arlovski at UFC Vegas 19, and most recently knocked out Serghey Spivak at UFC Vegas 36.
Aspinall was originally scheduled to fight against Shamil Abdurakhimov on this card, with Darren Till expected to headline against Uriah Hall.
But with Till yet to be medically cleared for the event, the UFC have bumped Aspinall up to the headline spot and give his opponent a facelift too.
Aspinall is currently ranked number ten in the company and a win would shoot him into the top five, meaning only huge fights going forward. If Volkov can earn victory, he will put himself back into title contention and earn another crack at the top ranked fighters in the division.
Tagir Ulanbekov def Allan Nascimento via Split Decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
A couple of hard low kicks early from Nascimento to start the fight, but Ulanbekov taking the centre and flicking his jab out nicely. Another nice leg kick from Nascimento and then he follows that up with a nice right hand. Flying knee attempt just misses but Ulanbekov grabs a body lock and takes the fight to the ground immediately. Nascimento defending really well on the ground and threatening with an armbar, then sweeps to the top but Ulanbekov immediately gets up and tries to get the fight back down against the cage. Ulanbekov battling against submission attempts and ends up in a mounted guillotine and it’s tight! Nascimento fighting it and eventually pops his head out to survive! Amazing! Ulanbekov gets back to top position and is resting in a controlling position, with Nascimento threatening with a guillotine of his own. He now moves to a kimura trap to try and get to his feet but the round ends. Great round. 10-9 Ulanbekov for me.
Good start to the round again from Ulanbekov with his jab landing well, before he shoots in deep for a takedown. Nascimento defends it well against the cage but eventually Ulanbekov is able to change levels and get the fight down. Nascimento threatening with a kimura from the bottom, but Ulanbekov defending it well and eventually gets back into full guard without the threat. Nascimento being very active off his back, but Ulanbekov trying to stifle him from the top to control him. Nascimento tries for a triangle but Ulanbekov deals with it easily, before Nascimento lands a huge elbow from the bottom. Nascimento goes for an armbar and starts smashing him with elbows from the bottom to see out the round. Close, but I edge to Nascimento there for attacking more despite being on the bottom. 19-19.
Big knee attempt from Nascimento early on but Ulanbekov gets the fight to ground once again immediately. Nascimento went for a kimura trap immediately and swept him to get on top but once against Ulanbekov raced to the next position to maintain control. Ulanbekov in full guard just stalling and looking for a bit of ground and pound, but Nascimento seems happy enough on his back to look for submissions. Ulanbekov trying to pass guard but Nascimento is looking to make him defend as much as possible. He finally passes into half guard now and starts looking for some short elbows from the top. Big left hand lands but Nascimento still being active and trying to sweep him. Final minute and Nascimento goes for another kimura, but Ulanbekov defends it excellently again. Nascimento goes for a triangle armbar but Ulanbekov defends it and ends the round with some big ground shots to likely claim a win. 29-28 Ulanbekov.
Andre Petroski def Hu Yaozong via Submission (Arm Triangle Choke), Round 3 (4:46)
Lots of feinting early on from both guys, before Petroski flies in with a big left hand that just misses. Petroski lands two big left hands and then Yaozong goes for a head-kick that gets blocked and he ends up on his back. Petroski goes straight for the neck and jumps on a mounted guillotine but it’s not quite in yet. He lets go and takes the back, rains down some big ground and pound. He goes for the rear-naked choke and it’s tight but Yaozong explodes out and Petroski goes for a d’arce but Yaozong gets back to his feet. Petroski lands a big left hand again but Yaozong is still coming forward. Petroski throws two big strikes that lands clean but Yaozong eats it. Three huge left hooks land from Petroski but Yaozong is still standing and Petroski is exhausted. Single leg takedown from Petroski but Yaozong gets straight back up and keeps coming forward. One more left hand lands for good measure as the round ends. Crazy round. 10-9 Petroski.
Immediate takedown from Petroski and he goes for a guillotine again, but Yaozong scrambles out quickly and gets back to his feet. Petroski lands a huge left hand and then a couple more, before another takedown where he now looks to control the position. Another attempted guillotine from Petroski before he looks to control again. Petroski moves to side control and looks for a head-and-arm choke but Yaozong grabs his own leg to defend it. Petroski looks to move to his back but Yaozong defends it again, but Petroski is controlling him much better now. Petroski moves into full mount and then goes for the head-and-arm choke again, but once again Yaozong defends it. Yaozong gets back to his feet but Petroski keeps a body lock and takes him down once again. Petroski flows on the mat and takes Yaozong’s back again and is looking for a rear-naked choke. Petroski controls until the buzzer goes. 20-18 Petroski.
Petroski lands a big left hand as Yaozong pressures him to the cage early in the final round, but Petroski shoots for a takedown and then runs him the entire way across before getting him down. Petroski takes control and looks to move to his back, then lands a few big ground strikes before pulling Yaozong backwards onto the mat. Petroski flowing well and looks for a guillotine, before Yaozong gets back to his feet. Yaozong sprawls and slips and then Petroski lands a huge one-two Douglas Lima style. Petroski gets another takedown and ends up in full mount, landing big elbows but Yaozong refusing to give up. Another huge elbow from Petroski and he works to control again. Petroski moves to side control and locks up a head-and-arm choke once again and forces the tap with 15 seconds left! Great win from Petroski.
Lerone Murphy def Makwan Amirkhani via Knockout, Round 2 (0:14)
Early takedown in the opening round from Amirkhani as soon as Murphy switches to an orthodox stance. Amirkhani controlling him against the cage and looking to advance to three-quarter mount, but Murphy doing relatively well to defend so far. Amirkhani keeping the body lock tight and Murphy is trying hard to break the lock, but Amirkhani keeping it tight and keeping the fight as grappling heavy as possible as we enter the final minute. Amirkhani completely controlling the action through the first five minutes as the buzzer goes. 10-9 Amirkhani.
Amirkhani goes for an early takedown as soon as Murphy switches to orthodox again but Murphy blasts a HUGE knee and Amirkhani is out!!! Oh my word what a KO!!
Michal Oleksiejczuk def Shamil Gamzatov via Knockout, Round 1 (3:31)
Great first round from Oleksiejczuk who keeps the fight standing for the most part, before landing a crisp right uppercut that puts Gamzatov down. He follows it up with some big ground and pound and that’s all she wrote!
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos def Benoit Saint-Denis via Unanimous Decision (29-26 x3)
Saint-Denis opens with a body kick, then Zaleski lands a nice one-two. Nice body kicks from Zaleski and some hard low kicks, but Saint-Denis coming forward still and then creates an angle for a takedown and slams Zaleski down. Zaleski gets back up relatively easily though and lands another hard low kick. Saint-Denis ripping some strong kicks to the body, but Zaleski responding with leg kicks. Big exchange of punches and Zaleski lands a hard right hand that rocks him, but Saint-Denis shoots in for a double leg to buy himself some time. Zaleski gets back up again quickly and continues to chop the lead leg. Level change from Saint-Denis but Zaleski keeps it standing, then just slips a big uppercut. Great round, 10-9 Zaleski for me.
Fast flurry of strikes between the two leads to Zaleski landing a big counter-right hand. Saint-Denis keeps coming and eats another huge right hand and then Zaleski lands a flush knee to the head. Saint-Denis is badly hurt but Zaleski keeps coming forward and landing big strikes. Saint-Denis won’t go down but Zaleski is pouring it on! Huge strikes and another big right hand and Saint-Denis is just refusing to go down. Zaleski is battering him and the entire arena is screaming for the referee to stop the fight but he won’t. Zaleski is lighting him up but he won’t go down and then he shoots for a takedown. Somehow, the round goes the full five minutes. Unreal. 20-17 at least.
Somehow they come out for the final round and Zaleski lands a hard low kick. Accidental eye poke from Zaleski causes a pause of the action. Saint-Denis tells the referee he can’t see , but the referee restarts the fight anyway without bringing in a doctor??? Zaleski lands a right hand that wobbles Saint-Denis, who shoots for a takedown that gets sprawled. Zaleski sitting on the top in full guard before they get back to the feet. Head-kick from Saint-Denis is blocked and Zaleski comes forward again with a right hand. Big left hand from Saint-Denis lands before a takedown attempt, but Zaleski is able to scramble to switch the position and then get back up. Final minute now and there’s an accidental low blow by Zaleski to cause another pause in the action. The referee takes a point away from Zaleski (???) who now steps forward with some more aggression. Round comes to an end with Zaleski chasing Saint-Denis down, but that should be that. 29-26.
Albert Duraev def Roman Kopylov via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-27 x2)
Kopylov starting off confidently in the centre, landing hard low kicks and one that even drops Duraev momentarily. Duraev explodes with a one-two and then a leg kick of his own. Duraev lands a right hand down the middle, then lands a low kick and left-hook combo that stuns Kopylov. Another hard leg kick from Duraev as he starts to pressure Kopylov back against the cage. Big elbow strike lands but Kopylov is giving as good as he’s taking so far. Duraev currently just too quick for Kopylov at the moment, but no great damage being done. Kopylov catches a high kick and lands a few uppercuts before they separate and Duraev goes for some more jabs. 10-9 Duraev at the end of the first.
Kopylov lands a big left hand early in the second and drops Duraev! Duraev manages to survive with good movement and then shoots in for a takedown against the cage. Duraev goes for a takedown and Kopylov grabs the fence to deny it! The referee stops the action, gives a hard warning and resets them which allows Duraev to get an immediate takedown. Duraev then transitions straight into full mount and starts attacking with ground and pound and threatening with a head-and-arm choke. Big ground and pound from Duraev and Kopylov is trying to fight back but getting hurt bad. Duraev landing big, heavy elbows from the top in full mount and Kopylov is getting beaten up bad. Duraev going for a head-and-arm choke but Kopylov defends it and Duraev goes straight back to the big elbow strikes from the top. Kopylov turns on to his belly and Duraev takes his back to look for a choke, before smashing in more ground and pound. Duraev goes for a rear-naked choke and it’s in deep but Kopylov is saved by the bell! 20-17 Duraev.
Nice body shot from Kopylov and a head-kick is blocked, before Duraev goes straight back for a takedown against the cage. Kopylov defends it well but Duraev keeps trying until they separate and reset in the middle of the octagon. Nice body kick from Kopylov again, but Duraev lands a big right hand and then goes back in for a takedown. Kopylov defending it excellently though and as he escapes, Duraev goes down with exhaustion. Kopylov lands a big left hand and Duraev is exhausted, but so is Kopylov. Kopylove with his hands on his knees, trying to invite Duraev towards him. Duraev just taking his time to circle as we enter the final minute but both men are just waiting for the final bell at this point. Duraev goes for a takedown but gets caught and then Kopylov goes for a big takedown of his own to end the round. 30-26 Duraev.
Zubaira Tukhugov def Ricardo Ramos via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Fast start to this one as Ramos comes out very kick heavy, with low kicks and body attempts while Tukhugov just staying calm and patient. Nice left hand counter lands from Tukhugov that stumbles Ramos, which immediately makes the Brazilian think twice. Tukhugov forcing Ramos against the cage with his pressure and lands a big left hand. He follows it with a big right hand that opens up a huge cut! Tukhugov throws a big body shot and is pressuring Ramos hard now. Low kick from Ramos but Tukhugov counters with a nice one-two down the pipe. Big right hand swings wildly and misses but Ramos is very focused on avoiding rather than causing damage right now. Big counter-right hand from Tukhugov lands again. Tukhugov goes in for a left hook but Ramos counters with a spinning reverse elbow that opens a big cut up on Tukhugov! What a round! 10-9 Tukhugov for me.
Start of the second similar to the first, with Ramos trying to be first and Tukhugov trying to counter. Big right hand from the Russian lands but Ramos continuing to be on the front foot. Tukhugov slips a big combination and points at Ramos, before Ramos slips a counter one-two straight back. Nice low kick from Ramos lands and then a big one-two down the pipe. Tukhugov goes for a single leg but lets it go and lands a right hand of his own. Tukhugov starting to pressure Ramos against the cage but the Brazilian doing well to move and circle. Big right hand from Tukhugov lands and he follows up with two nice jabs. Tukhugov fires in with a blast double leg and gets a back trip to take the fight down with ten seconds left and likely take the round. 20-18 Tukhugov for me.
Tukhugov looking to take the initiative early on again and stepping forward with his jab. Ramos looks like he’s tiring but is landing his right hand well. Ramos lands a big knee with his back against the cage and then explodes forward with more strikes. Tukhugov stays calm though and continues to land his jab, while avoiding Ramos’ bigger strike attempts. Another stiff jab by Tukhugov but Ramos just misses with an elbow. More jabs from Tukhugov, who is pressuring Ramos backwards consistently. Ramos lands a right hand and then a low kick but Tukhugov still coming forward and then shoots for a takedown with 30 seconds to go. A few trip attempts but the buzzer goes and Tukhugov should earn the decision win.
Amanda Ribas def Virna Jandiroba via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Jandiroba shoots straight in for a takedown but Ribas sprawls and denies it immediately. Ribas fires a one-two down the pipe after slipping Jandiroba’s strike attempt, before Jandiroba sees another takedown attempt denied. Big one-two lands from Jandiroba and then she shoots for a takedown and secures it into full guard. Jandiroba goes for body-head strikes but Ribas throws her legs up and looks for a very unique submission, but Jandiroba stays calm, escapes and goes back to the ground and pound. Jandiroba scoops her over to the cage and stacks her up, looking for some strikes then launches down with a huge elbow. Jandiroba completely controlling on the ground right now with relentless pressure but then the referee stands them up. Jandiroba lands a big right hand that drops Ribas but the buzzer goes and potentially saves her! 10-9 Jandiroba.
Lots of bouncing to open the second round and then Ribas lands a big right hand straight down the pipe. Jandiroba responds with a right hand of her own before a spinning back kick from Ribas lands to the body. Nice counter right from Ribas again as both women stand toe-to-toe. Lots of big actions from both women but not much landing as of now, with Ribas pushing the action and Jandiroba on the back foot. Jandiroba goes for a single leg takedown but Ribas reverses the attempt and ends up on top, before they scramble up to their feet again. Lots of tough grappling to end the round, but Ribas takes it. 19-19.
Ribas pressuring hard in the third now with nice combinations and ending them all with a kick. Jandiroba is slowing up quite clearly and she shoots for a lazy takedown that Ribas stuffs then tries to trip her herself. Nice left hand from Jandiroba before Ribas counters the next strike with a nice left hand. Spinning kick to the body doesn’t land clean, before Jandiroba goes for another takedown but is denied. Big head kick from Ribas lands and Jandiroba is hurt! She goes for a spin kick that misses and that allows Jandiroba to recover her senses, but she’s very tired. Ribas still fresh and being first with her strikes as the fight winds down to a close. Should be a comeback 29-28 win for Ribas.
Ankalaev opening up early with some speedy strikes down the pipe, but Oezdemir staying calm in front of him. Oezdemir throws a wicked left hook that lands, then follows up with a left uppercut that wobbles Ankalaev. Oezdemir goes for a flying knee but misses and Ankalaev gets a body lock and puts him up against the cage. Oezdemir has Ankalaev backing up against the cage but both men are just missing with their strikes. Big one-two down the pipe from Ankalaev and he drops Oezdemir! He goes to finish but Oezdemir gets back up quickly and they reset. Another jab and left hand from Ankalaev lands and he’s now taking the centre. Oezdemir looks hesitant and Ankalaev’s left hand is landing at will almost. One-two followed by two more right-hands by Ankalaev as the round ends. 10-9 Ankalaev.
Oezdemir tries to rush in with his right hand but Ankalaev escapes, clinches up and then lands a big left hand on the break. Hard low kick from Oezdemir before Ankalaev throws another combination that just misses. Oezdemir steps forward with a right hand but Ankalaev counters with a hard right hook that cuts Oezdemir above the eye. Oezdemir’s only success really coming from low kicks but Ankalaev controlling the range and throwing his left hand well. Uppercut from Ankalaev lands and then he locks up a body lock against the cage, throwing hard knees to the thigh of Oezdemir. Ankalaev tries to get a takedown but Oezdemir defends well, then blocks a big left hand on the break. 20-18 Ankalaev.
Ankalaev staying very calm and jabbing well in this final round. Nice jab and a big right hand lands but Oezdemir eats it well. Oezdemir goes for a takedown but Ankalaev denies it and then lands a hard right hand. Ankalaev turning up the pressure a little now with a left head kick but Oezdemir still trying to find a moment. Big right hand lands from Oezdemir but Ankalaev eats it and steps to the side before returning to his jab. Entering the final minute now and both guys seem to have accepted the result of this one, with not much happening. Hard body kick from Ankalaev before a stiff right jab lands too. Takedown attempt from Ankalaev as the round ends, in what should be a 30-27 win for him.
Khamzat Chimaev def Jingliang Li via Submission (Rear-Naked Choke), Round 1 (3:16)
Chimaev ducks under a right hand and goes straight for a takedown on Li, who defends it well before eventually getting lifted, slammed and controller. Chimaev throwing some ground strikes again but Li defending well, although Chimaev is controlling him with wrestling so far. Heavy ground and pound from Chimaev as he puts a hook in and starts searching for a choke. Chimaev goes on the back and flattens Li out and starts smashing him with ground and pound! Huge shots from Chimaev but Li is still trying to fight him! Chimaev switches to the back and goes for a choke and sinks it in! Li fighting the submission but Chimaev switches sides, readjusts the grip and puts Li to sleep! Wow!! What a performance! The hype is real!
Alexander Volkov def Marcin Tybura via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
Great start from both guys as Volkov comes forward with some body shots and stiff hooks, but Tybura replies with a big left hand of his own. Volkov using his length well to land straight shots and avoid Tybura’s returns so far, before Tybura changes levels on him to no avail. Tybura gets inside and goes for a takedown, but Volkov denies him really well before breaking with an elbow attempt. Big one-two from Volkov but Tybura steps forward again with pressure to close the distance. Tybura changes levels on Volkov but he turns him and ends up on top, landing a big elbow early. Tybura stalling on the ground by just holding Volkov tight to him and Volkov goes for a forearm to the throat to try and disrupt the breathing. Volkov lands a few more ground strikes to end the round in control and take it on the cards, 10-9.
Volkov using his front kick well once again and the big right hand following behind it. Tybura pressing the pace and forcing him backwards, but his takedown attempts are being denied quite comfortably. A few uppercuts in the clinch from Tybura land before another takedown attempt is denied. Volkov throws a knee that is caught and Tybura tries for another takedown, but Volkov denies him again and lands a right hand as they separate. Nice one-two from Tybura lands and Volkov is starting to tire now. Left hand misses from Tybura again and then Volkov lands a beautiful right hook. Tybura fakes a jab and goes for another takedown but Volkov denies it and sees out the round. Hard to score, but it’s probably even going into the third.
Tybura on the front foot once again in this final round, almost chasing Volkov but neither doing much damage. Volkov lands a hard knee to the body before Tybura goes for another takedown that gets stuffed. Nice one-two from Volkov as they separate but it’s still Tybura pushing forward. Big left uppercut followed by a right hand from Volkov lands and then he denies yet another takedown! Short left hook from Tybura lands and then he goes in for a takedown again that Volkov defends routinely at this point. Tybura tries a hip toss but Volkov holds a body lock and has the back, landing big knees to the thigh. Big right hands from Volkov land and then some nice combinations as Tybura starts to tire. Big one-two from Volkov but Tybura responds with a big left of his own. Final minute now and both guys are breathing heavy. Volkov lands a big right hand, slips Tybura’s strikes and lands a nice combination to back Tybura up. Straight right hand each as the round comes to an end, should be a Volkov decision win 29-28.
Islam Makhachev def Dan Hooker via Submission (Kimura), Round 1 (2:25)
Hooker trying to keep length nice and early here with a few low kicks as Makhachev takes the centre and just looks for his moment. Makhachev throws a nice hook then dips low and catches Hooker’s leg to get an immediate takedown and move straight to half guard in his own corner. Makhachev throws a nice elbow in tight and is now attacking a kimura! Makhachev readjusts the grip, steps over and twists the arm behind the back and secures the tap out! Unbelievable performance from Makhachev!
Petr Yan def Cory Sandhagen via Unanimous Decision (49-46 x3)
An exchange of leg kicks between the two in the opening minute, as Yan takes the centre and Sandhagen looks to circle on the outside and use his length. Yan lets a left hand fly but it just misses, before a nice low kick followed by a body shot from Sandhagen. Low kick from Yan and Sandhagen counters with two nice left hands before changing levels to go for a takedown. Yan defends it well though and they go back into a close exchange of striking. Hard low kick from Yan lands before Sandhagen steps forward and just misses with a left. Sandhagen forces Yan to the cage and lands a few touching shots, before a nice kick to the body. Hard strikes from Sandhagen land but Yan returns with a big right hand of his own before Sandhagen changes levels again. Big flying knee from Sandhagen lands and the round ends. 10-9 Sandhagen.
Hard low kick from Sandhagen to open up the round, before both guys use their feints really well. Body kick from Yan lands but he misses with the follow up right hand and Sandhagen responds with a right hand of his own. Huge body kick from Yan lands clean and then Sandhagen responds with a nice left hook to the body himself. Head kick attempt from Yan is caught and Sandhagen throws a nice right. Yan responds with a low kick and then a big left hand to the chin. Sandhagen moving well still and touching Yan well, but Yan starting to counter with powerful strikes of his own. Yan just misses with a big left hand and both guys exchange body shots again. Sandhagen goes for a takedown but Yan defends it well and keeps the fight standing. Big knee from Sandhagen again but Yan eats it well. Yan pushing forward and putting his pace on this fight, but Sandhagen using his length well to stay out of real danger. 19-19.
Soft left hands from Sandhagen before he checks a leg kick and lands a beautiful left down the pipe to wobble Yan. Yan comes forward with a spinning kick to the body before Sandhagen lands his jab again. Huge left hook to the body from Yan lands but Sandhagen comes forward again with his jab and circles on the outside. Hard leg kick but Yan checks it and then he lands a big left uppercut. He goes for a combination but Sandhagen avoids it and lands a one-two of his own. Yan trying to turn the pressure up but Sandhagen slipping shots well and avoiding clean hits. Big one-two from Yan lands but Sandhagen staying calm and circling on the outside. Body kick from Yan but Sandhagen moves forward to trade with him. Yan throws a big hook and then a spinning back fist and drops Sandhagen! He goes for vicious ground and pound but Sandhagen stays calm and after some scrambles, they get back to the feet and the round ends. 29-28 Yan.
Yan starting to walk Sandhagen down a bit now but he isn’t going anywhere. Nice jabs again and a nice knee attempt just misses, but Yan is throwing big left hands and landing clean. Another big left from Yan lands flush but Sandhagen still standing. Body shot from Sandhagen gets a big left straight reply from Yan, but Sandhagen continuing to poke at him with jabs. Yan with a body kick and then a beautiful one two lands. Sandhagen shoots for a takedown and gets it, but both guys go for a heel hook before they scramble back to their feet. Yan ducks under a spinning back fist then lands some big combinations to the head and body. Yan continuing to march forward and the big hooks are landing, but Sandhagen responds with a big elbow. Yan steps forward and blasts Sandhagen with a huge right hand, but Sandhagen just eats it. Yan stuffs a takedown and they start scrambling again, with Yan throwing big combinations. 39-37 Yan.
Final round and Sandhagen still trying pick his shots while Yan is walking him down. Hard low kick from Yan gets a big reaction from Sandhagen, before he tries another jump knee that Yan blocks. Yan looking to close distance again but Sandhagen still fresh and moving well, flicking out his jab. Yan goes for three hooks but misses them all thanks to good movement, before Yan tries for a takedown and Sandhagen denies him. Huge head kick from Yan lands but Sandhagen shakes his head and says no, before Yan goes for more big hooks. Final 90 seconds and Yan is still coming forward. Right jab from Yan before Sandhagen makes him miss several times. Big left hand from Sandhagen lands and then he avoids the spinning back fist. Big knee from Sandhagen with ten seconds left but Yan responds with a spinning kick to the chin and they go wild with seconds remaining to end the fight. What a bout! 49-46 Yan for me.
Glover Teixeira def Jan Blachowicz via Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 2 (3:02)
Hard leg kick from Blachowicz opens up the fight as Teixeira looks to take the centre. Teixeira changes levels and goes for the takedown, before spinning him off the cage and securing it. Straight into full guard as Blachowicz looks to tie him up and avoid that vicious ground and pound game of Teixeira’s. Teixeira pulling the head up and making Blachowicz very uncomfortable on the bottom, grinding his elbows and head against him too. Teixeira goes for an elbow but just misses, then cranks the neck up again and then lands a short elbow. Final minute and Teixeira starting to be more active from the top position and that’s the round. 10-9 Teixeira.
Blachowicz comes out with the jab early and lands a nice left hand combination, before denying Teixeira’s takedown attempt. Big left uppercut from Blachowicz before Teixeira closes the distance and rushes Blachowicz against the cage with a clinch. Blachowicz denies another takedown attempt and is just popping his jab. Teixeira goes wild and lands a big left hand that wobbles Blachowicz! Blachowicz responds with a nice right hand combination that staggers Teixeira himself, but the Brazilian gets a takedown quickly and moves into mount immediately! Teixeira flattens him out and gets the arm under his neck and gets the tap!!! Unbelievable!! AND NEW!!
Magomed Ankalaev (15-1) vs Volkan Oezdemir (17-5) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A light heavyweight banger to open up the main card! Ankalaev is on a six-fight win streak with knockout wins over Ion Cutelaba twice including at UFC 254 and then a decision against Nikita Krylov at UFC Vegas 20. Oezdemir on the other hand saw his two fight win streak snapped by a violent knockout by Jiri Prochazka at UFC 251.
Ankalaev is a violent kickboxer with stunning power and great technique on his side. Oezdemir on the other hand is a good striker too with legit one-punch knockout power and good grappling defence skills (except against Daniel Cormier). Ankalaev likely has the power and technique advantage in this fight, but Oezdemir is a slick mover and I think he has the speed edge here.
Oezdemir will need to use his calf kicks well and hope to land with one of his powerful looping hooks, but those hooks will likely be countered by the crisp, straight strikes of Ankalaev and I expect he’ll turn the lights out midway through the fight. PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Knockout, Round 2
Li Jingliang (18-6) vs Khamzat Chimaev (9-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A super exciting welterweight banger between Li Jingliang and the returning Khamzat Chimaev. Li is coming off a stunning knockout win over Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC Fight Island 7 where he was a huge underdog, while Chimaev is fighting for the first time since his third win in 60-odd days at UFC Vegas 11 where he KO’d Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds.
Li is a very powerful striker with great low kicks and crisp boxing, while Chimaev has shown great power in his hands but also a relentless ground game that just completely crumbles his opponents. Chimaev’s background is also in kickboxing and on the regional scene he was knocking guys out for fun.
If Li is to earn a victory in this one he needs to keep the fight standing and exchange on the feet. Unfortunately for him, Chimaev’s power is enough that he won’t be scared to exchange on the feet but also his wrestling game is just too good to be able to avoid for 15 minutes. Chimaev takes his time but eventually storms a takedown and pummels Li until the referee steps in. PICK – Khamzat Chimaev via Knockout, Round 2
Alexander Volkov (33-9) vs Marcin Tybura (22-6) – (Heavweight/220-265lbs)
A very fun heavyweight bout between two guys looking to stay in-and-around the top five. Volkov started the year with a knockout win over Alistair Overeem at UFC Vegas 18 but then got dominated by Ciryl Gane at UFC Vegas 30. Tybura on the other hand is on a five-fight win streak currently with KO’s over Greg Hardy at UFC Vegas 17 and then Walt Harris at UFC Vegas 28.
Volkov is a power, technical boxer who stands at 6ft 8′ and is very mobile and athletic. Tybura on the other hand is a powerful striker who uses his leg kicks really well and throws good combinations with his hands. His previous toughest opponent was arguably Derrick Lewis and he got stopped in the third round, while Volkov dominated Lewis until a literal last second KO in the fifth.
With his size advantage and technical prowess, this fight seems to play into Volkov’s hands. He’s got a pretty good chin on his own, good knees to the box and enough power to end it early. In the end, I think he pieces Tybura up for 15 minutes and gets a wide decision win. PICK – Alexander Volkov via Decision
Islam Makhachev (20-1) vs Dan Hooker (21-10) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A really fun fight at the top of the lightweight division as Islam Makhachev takes on Dan Hooker on short-notice. Makhachev is on an eight-fight win streak, with stoppages against Drew Dober at UFC 259 and Thiago Moises at UFC Vegas 31 most recently. Hooker was on a two-fight losing streak after defeats to Dustin Poirier at UFC Vegas 4 and Michael Chandler at UFC 257, but bounced back with a decision win over Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266. He replaces Rafael Dos Anjos on just a few weeks notice.
Makhachev is the prodigy of former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and his style in the cage shows that. He is a terrific wrestler with brilliant pressure and a decent array of strikes too, while Hooker is a kickboxer with amazing cardio and good knockout power in his hands too. Hooker loves to throw knees up the middle and he is always game for a fight, but this seems like a stretch too far.
Makhachev is comfortable on the feet but he will look to shoot in for the takedown and grind on Hooker. ‘Hangman’ is a good scrambler, but Makhachev is by far the best wrestler he’s fought and the likelihood of him getting back up could be slim. Islam may get caught once or twice but once he gets the reads he’ll take him down and dominate him for a wide and dominant decision. PICK – Islam Makhachev via Decision
Petr Yan (15-2) vs Cory Sandhagen (14-3) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
One of the best fights of the year on paper for the interim bantamweight title. Petr Yan was unstoppable in the UFC, claiming the title with a KO win over Jose Aldo at UFC 251 before his disqualification loss to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259 meant he lost the belt. Sandhagen was on a tear and earned a shot himself with KO’s over Marlon Moraes at UFC Fight Island 5 and Frankie Edgar at UFC Vegas 18 before a razor close defeat to TJ Dillashaw in July.
Yan is a brilliant all-rounder, with excellent boxing, tremendous footwork and good wrestling too. He has fight-changing power on the feet but is also patient enough not to rush in and commit himself. Sandhagen is a brilliant striker with great range and length, with a decent wrestling game in his back-pocket too. Yan is the smaller guy by some way here, but he is a clean, technical fighter who is in his prime right now.
Sandhagen will no doubt look to use his length and spinning techniques to keep the fight in his world, but Yan’s forward pressure and wrestling ability means he just has a little edge. Sandhagen has struggled in later rounds in the past and I think Yan can outwork him over 25 minutes for a thrilling win. PICK – Petr Yan via Decision
Jan Blachowicz (28-8) vs Glover Teixeira (32-7) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A light heavyweight title fight between the top two ranked guys in the world. Blachowicz is coming off the back of five-fight win streak including winning the belt with a KO of Dominick Reyes at UFC 253 before a dominant win over Israel Adesanya at UFC 259. Teixeira earned himself a title shot with a five-fight win streak of his own, ending in a dominant KO win over Thiago Santos at UFC Vegas 13.
Blachowicz is a really well-rounded fighter with his ‘legendary Polish power’ matched up with great wrestling and excellent cardio. Teixeira on the other hand has got crisp boxing and excellent power, while his ground game is among the nastiest in the UFC in any weight. Blachowicz and Teixeira are both veterans of the sport, but the four-year age gap does certainly help the champion.
Teixeira will likely want to use his clean technique on the feet to land his big strikes, while Blachowicz will look to close the distance and make it dirty to use his physical style before unloading his big right hand. Teixeira will also look to get this fight to the ground to use his jiu-jitsu, but if Blachowicz ends up on top he’ll have the edge there too because of his physicality. Blachowicz for me has a power and speed edge on the feet and I think he lands one of those big shots early and gets the finish with some ground and pound. PICK – Jan Blachowicz via Knockout, Round 3
Elsewhere on the card in the co-main event, Ovince Saint-Preux moves up to heavyweight to take on short-notice opponent Tanner Boser while Raoni Barcelos gets back in the octagon to take on Timur Valiev in an absolute banger at bantamweight.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 29, we went 8/12 on the night with four perfect picks to go up to 346/542 (63.84%) with 155 perfect picks (44.8%).
We’ll look to improve on that here with this 13-fight card and after starting off with the early prelims here, and predicting the rest of the prelims here, here are our main card picks.
Renato Moicano (14-4-1) vs Jai Herbert (10-2) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Moicano is a super technical striker with some brilliant jiu-jitsu skills, while Herbert is a fine striker of his own accord but seems to have left his chin behind at Cage Warriors after his last outing. Herbert has good power on his feet too but Moicano’s grappling is so far and away from Herbert’s that it makes it incredibly lopsided.
Moicano can work his way in to grappling range with his striking and can end up getting the fight down and working for a submission. Herbert is technical enough to avoid the submissions on the ground, but Moicano should control on the ground for a wide decision win. PICK – Renato Moicano via Decision
Tim Means (31-12-1) vs Nicolas Dalby (19-3-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Means is a fantastic boxer on the feet but he also has some good wrestling skills, while Dalby is a solid wrestler with some okay boxing skills too. Means doesn’t have top level power but he has enough to put a hurting on someone who doesn’t excel at striking, just like Dalby. Dalby is durable though but even his most recent performances haven’t been too convincing.
Means should pick Dalby apart using his jab and power strikes following them up but I don’t expect he’ll get the knockout. PICK – Tim Means via Decision
Andre Fili (21-8) vs Daniel Pineda (27-14) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Both these guys are really well rounded, but have their main strengths at opposite ends. Fili’s solid grappling is usually his starting spot for game plans, with good volume to his striking and a good ability to mix it up. Pineda is a boxing heavy guy who has some decent grappling skills to fall back on if needed, as seen with his stunning 18 submission wins. It’s a really, really interesting fight that will likely be in the conversation for fight of the night.
With that said Fili is the master of the decision and I think he’s capable of riding out the storm and using his good striking to earn a win. PICK – Andre Fili via Decision
Raoni Barcelos (16-1) vs Timur Valiev (17-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Barcelos is a stunning fighter, with brilliant striking, jiu-jitsu, scrambles and footwork. Valiev is a black-belt in jiu-jitsu too with good kicks but he’s a striker first and foremost and both these guys will come forward and trade. Unfortunately for Valiev, that fight against Jones did happen and you can’t overlook it.
Both guys are fantastic prospects, but Barcelos has the knockout power and durability to stop this one early if it does become a war. PICK – Raoni Barcelos via Knockout, Round 2
Tanner Boser (19-8-1) vs Ovince Saint-Preux (25-15) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Boser is a boxer with a decent kicking game in his arsenal, while OSP is a laboured striker with terrific grappling skills including his own patented choke. OSP has fought at heavyweight before but made his name at 205lbs and Boser is not a small heavyweight fighter. Considering OSP has been KO’d at the smaller weight class before, that doesn’t pose too well against heavyweights.
OSP is likely to try and use his grappling skills in this one but Boser’s takedown defence is good and his striking is better than OSP’s, so I think he’ll take the win after 15 minutes. PICK – Tanner Boser via Decision
Ciryl Gane (8-0) vs Alexander Volkov (33-8) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Gane is a Muay-Thai fighter with some good grappling skills in his weaponary too, while Volkov is a rangy boxer standing at 6ft 7′ tall. Volkov’s performance against Overeem was arguably his best, as he used his jab brilliantly and stuffed some takedown attempts to keep the fight standing while against Blaydes he really struggled to do that. Blaydes is a far better grappler than Gane though, who is very patient and accurate with his striking.
Volkov’s got real knockout power in his hands and uses his body kicks well, while Gane’s stoppages come more from volume than just putting people away. It’s a really intriguing fight but having never seen Gane lose, it’s hard to know how he reacts to adversity. Volkov will land strikes and he has lots of experience, so I think Volkov is able to get the job done at this stage of their careers. PICK – Alexander Volkov via Knockout, Round 4
The heavyweight division right now is in the best place it’s been in for the last decade and there are two European giants looking to make their way to the top.
Ciryl Gane and Alexander Volkov are the guys who are propping up the top five right now, with Volkov ranked at number five and Gane at number three. On Saturday night they fight each other with a make-believe European title on the line to show who the top guy from our continent is.
But more than that, the winner will have a more than legitimate claim to the world heavyweight title in their next bout.
Gane is currently 8-0 and has beaten some top level talents on his run. After making his debut in the company at just 3-0, Gane has picked up three stoppage wins on his run in the UFC on his current five fight win streak including a heel hook submission and a knockout over former champion Junior Dos Santos.
Volkov’s run hasn’t been as dominant, but he has shown that he is absolutely one of the elite in the division. He made his debut in 2016 for the organisation and is currently 9-2 with the company. His only defeats came with a late knockout by Derrick Lewis in a fight he largely dominated and a grapple-heavy affair against Curtis Blaydes at UFC Vegas 3.
But he bounced back from both of those losses with impressive victories and he’s now established himself as one of the best around when it comes to the striking game at the top of heavyweight division.
The fight between the two will be a showcase of Europe’s greatest exports, with both fighters preferring to strike and show their skills on the feet. But Gane has got a grappling skillset too which he could use to his advantage.
A win for either moves them into the top two of the rankings and it’s hard to see how their next fight wouldn’t be a title shot against the winner of Francis Ngannou vs Derrick Lewis, which is likely to take place at some point this summer.
Gane is a previous training partner of Ngannou’s so that fight instantly has a back story to it too, but it would just be the best performing heavyweights going head-to-head with each other.
Jon Jones still lurks in the background with a title shot his to claim whenever he so wishes, but other than a fight against former champion Stipe Miocic there is nothing that should come between the winner of this bout and the world heavyweight champion next time out.
European MMA has really come on leaps and bounds over the last half-decade with the likes of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Valentina Shevchenko, Jan Blachowicz, Petr Yan, Giga Chikadze, Leon Edwards, Darren Till, Marvin Vettori, Jiri Prochazka, Aleksandar Rakic making real waves in the UFC.
But in the heavyweight division the only man to really break through in the modern UFC was Alistair Overeem and yet he never won the gold.
With the pay-per-view main events set for the foreseeable future, the UFC have now announced some of their Fight Night main events and some other notable bouts too.
After UFC 261, former light heavyweight title challenger Dominick Reyes returns to the octagon following his defeat at UFC 253 when he takes on Jiri Prochazka on May 1st in their main event bout. Prochazka made his UFC debut at UFC 251 with a stunning knockout win over Volkan Oezdemir to shoot himself into contention for the top five. This fight was originally scheduled for February but Reyes was forced to withdraw due to injury.
These two will now battle it out for the number one contender spot, with Yan and Sterling certain to compete in a rematch later this year. Dillashaw makes his return to the octagon after serving a two-year suspension after admitting to injecting EPO ahead of his flyweight title fight with Henry Cejudo in 2019.
The following weekend will see UFC 262, before a return to the bantamweights headlining as Cody Garbrandt takes on Rob Font in a battle of heavy hands. ‘No Love’ last fought at UFC 250 with a highlight reel knockout over Raphael Assuncao, before being scheduled to move down to 125lbs for a flyweight title fight against Figueiredo. Garbrandt was forced to withdraw with injury and ‘Deus da Guerra’ instead fought Alex Perez at UFC 255.
Moving into June, at UFC 263 welterweight jiu-jitsu king Demian Maia will make his return to the octagon for the first time since being brutally knocked out by Gilbert Burns at UFC Brasilia last year – the first event to take place without fans due to the pandemic – when he takes on Belal Muhammad.
With the top of the division currently at a standstill as Jon Jones and the UFC have a contract impasse and Derrick Lewis waiting on a decision to see if he will fight new champion Francis Ngannou next for the title, Volkov and Gane have chosen to stay busy and look improve their own situations in the running for a potential title shot in the future.
That fight will be backed up by a bantamweight banger between two of the most underrated fighters in the division as Raoni Barcelos takes on Timur Valiev. Barcelos returned after nearly a year away from the cage with a masterful performance against Khalid Taha at UFC Vegas 13 before seeing his next three bouts fall through for various reasons. He has won his last nine fights professionally and is 5-0 in the UFC.
Last but not least, the UFC also announced blockbuster welterweight co-main event for UFC 264 on July 10th when Gilbert Burns returns to the cage to take on Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson.
Burns was on a tear at 170lbs and fought Usman for the title at UFC 258 in February, only to suffer a third round TKO loss to his former teammate. He’ll be taking on former title challenger Thompson who has won his last two fights in a row, defeating Vicente Luque and then Geoff Neal most recently at UFC Vegas 17 in December. Both men are looking to get back into the title picture as soon as possible and with Leon Edwards hoping that a win over Nate Diaz at UFC 262 can earn him a fight against the winner of Usman vs Masvidal later this year. A win for either of these two competitors in July could see them challenge next for the title, especially if they can do it impressively.
Take two for this huge heavyweight clash as Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis finally meet in the main event at UFC Vegas 19 this weekend.
The fight was originally scheduled for back in November, but was cancelled just hours before the weigh-ins after ‘Razor’ tested positive for COVID-19. The fight was scrapped, with Anthony Smith and Devin Clark stepping into the main event slot on short notice in a five round fight that was won by ‘Lionheart’.
After being planned for January, Conor McGregor’s return to the fight game meant that their prospective date was turned into a pay-per-view card and they were moved back even further once again but it has seemingly worked in their favour.
With Volkov’s win, he moved into the conversation about title contention once again but both of these men have already beaten Volkov in the past. So a fight for him against one of them is unlikely, and he will likely fight the winner of Gane’s fight against Jairzinho Rozenstruik which takes place at UFC Vegas 20.
Jon Jones has already been guaranteed the next shot at heavyweight against the winner of that title fight, and with Volkov likely to get paired up with Gane or Rozenstruik that would leave the winner of this fight to take on the loser of the title fight to earn themselves a shot at the strap.
Lewis has fought for the title before, being dominated by Daniel Cormier in a second-round submission defeat back in 2018. He lost his next fight too, being knocked out by Junior Dos Santos but has since won three in a row. A win over Blaydes followed by a win over Ngannou or Miocic would almost guarantee him a shot at the crown next.
For Blaydes, the story is different though. He has lost only twice in his career, both times to Ngannou, with the first due to a doctor’s stoppage for a cut and the second via knockout in under a minute. Since then he has won four in a row and had it not been for Jones’ move up to heavyweight, he’d probably be next in line for a title shot.
Winning alone simply isn’t enough for Blaydes, after coming under fire for his style by Dana White after he beat Volkov back in June. He needs to win emphatically and make a statement in the process. With Jones’ title fight pencilled in for the summer, a win here for Blaydes could see him either wait out until the end of the year for a shot at the belt that he definitely would have earned – or take out the loser.
Whatever happens, the heavyweight title path is very clear for all involved right now. It’s a waiting game mostly unless your name is Miocic, Ngannou or Jones – or you can make a statement to try and jump the queue.
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.
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.
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.
Ode Osbourne def Jerome Rivera via Knockout, Round 1 (0:26)
Both fighters come out and meet in the centre and Rivera throws a high left kick. Osbourne rolls the kick, catching the kick on his shoulder and lands a huge left hand straight down the pipe! Rivera is down, Osbourne lands a couple of strikes on the ground but it’s over inside 30 seconds! Wow!
Timur Valiev def Martin Day via Unanimous Decision (30-25 x2, 30-26)
Good start to the round for Valiev as he comes out and attacks the legs early with a series of kicks. Day counters another leg kick with a short combo in the pocket but Valiev steps out of the way and then goes for a single leg takedown. He takes the back against the cage and has a body lock before dragging Day down to the mat, only for Day to get back up quickly. Valiev finally gets the fight down and stops the scramble attempt to end up in top position. Some nice short elbows from Valiev but Day is defending well as the round comes to an end. 10-9 Valiev.
Valiev opens the second round with some more leg kicks, before a nice one-two and a takedown have the fight on the ground in the centre of the octagon. Valiev passes into side control and Day tries to get back to his feet but it’s prevented well with some solid ground and pound. Valiev completely dominant right now with constant pressure on the ground, staying busy and landing shots to the body and head of Day. Complete domination for the entire second round, could be a 10-8 round. 20-17 Valiev.
Final round and Day starts throwing some kicks and a few strikes, knowing he needs a finish in this round. It doesn’t last long though as Valiev gets another takedown early in the round and controls the positions once again. More ground and pound strikes on the ground as Day tries to get back up, but Valiev is a nuisance and keeps a body lock and just drags him up and down as much as possible. Valiev switches between half-guard, mount and side control for the rest of the round for a dominant decision victory. 30-26 Valiev.
Tactical start to this fight from both guys as Choi takes the centre, but Zalal is happy to circle on the outside and jab while avoiding heavier shots. Choi throws a few big head kicks but Zalal slips them relatively easily. Zalal shoots for the takedown and gets in on the hips but Choi steps over the trip attempt and they end up tied up against the cage. Zalal continues to look for the takedown against the cage but they’re at a stalemate and the referee separates them. Another clinch against the cage as the round comes to an end and Choi gets a takedown right on the horn. 10-9 Zalal for me but could go either way.
Second round starts with an exchange of kicks before another clinch against the cage, as Zalal looks for the takedown again. He gets a single leg but Choi defends really well against the cage until the referee separates them again. Body kick and one-two from Choi lands clean as he starts to come forward more. He pushes forward with another combo before the clinch again against the cage, before Choi gets Zalal down to the mat before letting him straight back up. A few more exchanges before the end of the round, this one more clear cut in Choi’s favour. 19-19 or 20-18.
Choi starts the final round strong, as he looks to have Zalal beat in all areas right now. They clinch against the cage again and Zalal finally gets the fight to the ground and goes straight for a guillotine. It looks tight as he rolls through but Choi eventually turns into it and ends up on top in guard. Choi eventually works his way back up to the feet but Zalal goes for a single leg takedown again and gets Choi down against the cage. Every time Zalal gets him down in this round he pops straight back up, refusing to accept bottom position as we enter the final 40 seconds. Round comes to an end with a clinch against the cage and it will likely be a Choi decision win. 29-28 Choi.
Fast start to this fight as McCann comes out throwing leg kicks and punch combinations early, while Procopio looks to walk her to the cage and go for a takedown. After a battle against the cage, Procopio gets a beautiful trip and ends up in top position halfway through the round. Procopio dominating on the ground and has McCann’s neck tight to control posture, but McCann fights out of that position, although she eventually pushes into full mount. McCann gives up the back and Procopio looks for an armbar before transitioning to the back and looking for a choke but the horn goes. Dominant from Procopio, 10-9.
McCann comes out aggressively again and looks to keep Procopio with her back against the cage, but a clinch and takedown attempt ends with McCann on her back. Procopio looks to transition into different positions but McCann throws up an armbar! Procopio looks to stack her to escape but McCann rolls through and locks it in tight! She has a full extension but Procopio refuses to tap and eventually is able to escape the position! Eventually the women get back to their feet against the cage and then Procopio lands another takedown inside the final minute as both women trade shots before the horn. 19-19.
Final round and Procopio is breathing heavy, but she still engages with the clinch situation against the cage looking for a takedown. She gets the fight down to the ground in scrappy fashion and then quickly transitions looking for a heel hook. McCann rolls through twice and escapes, but Procopio immediately gets back on her and brings McCann back down to the ground a further three times just using her size advantage. 30 seconds to go and Procopio takes the back of McCann and starts throwing punches to see the round out and take a decision win. 29-28 Procopio.
Karol Rosa def Joselyne Edwards via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
An immediate shot and takedown from Rosa gets the fight down to the ground and the Brazilian into a strong position. She sits in half guard comfortably, throwing some nice ground and pound and just completely controlling the fight. Rosa moves into full mount and starts teeing off before Edwards throws her legs up and rolls through to get back to the feet. Both women exchange shots on the feet with Rosa beating up the legs as the round comes to an end. 10-9 Rosa.
Rosa comes out aggressively again with some heavy leg kicks, and Edwards buckles under the power of the kicks too. Rosa steps in and clinches before the separate and Rosa throws more kicks. Edwards charges forwards with a combination of hooks that land clean but she eats them well and comes forward with some shots of her own. Edwards comes forward again with a rush but Rosa gets hold of her and the fight goes back to the ground with Rosa on top. Rosa’s mouth is bleeding heavily but she’s staying on top and landing ground and pound well as the round ends. 20-18 Rosa.
Final round and after one exchange on the feet Rosa goes straight for the takedown and secures it. After some ground and pound and some grappling on the ground Rosa gets back to the feet herself and lets Edwards up, before they clinch up against the cage again. Edwards battling to stay on her feet as Rosa looks to wear on her with her physical advantage. Rosa drags Edwards down to the ground with under 90 seconds remaining and controls the position for the remainder of the round before ending with a big flurry of punches to take a decision win. 30-27 Rosa.
Devonte Smith def Justin Jaynes via Knockout (Doctor Stoppage), Round 2 (3:38)
Cagey start to the fight as both men look to feel each other out before committing to any big shots early on. Smith lands some nice jabs that rock Jaynes a little, but Jaynes is throwing tight left hook counters that are just missing too. Smith’s jab is working well to keep Jayne’s away from him but then Jaynes lands a nice right hand that wobbles Smith. Jaynes is covering up from the jab and then Smith lands a nice left followed by a kick that Jaynes catches. Smith lands some big shots while his leg is still in the air and Jaynes is rocked! Smith throws some knees and a right hand but Jaynes weathers the storm and the round ends. 10-9 Smith.
Jaynes comes out in the second round and goes straight for a takedown and they clinch up against the cage. Jaynes goes to sweep him but Smith explodes and reverses the position to end up on top in side control. He throws some nice knees to the body and some short punches to cause Jaynes some problems. Smith passes into full mount with ease and starts raining down punches before taking the back and looks for the rear naked choke but Jaynes reverses and escapes. Smith explodes back to his feet quickly and tells the referee he wants it back on the feet. Referee pauses the fight with Jaynes’ eye swelled shut and the doctor waves it off. TKO win for Smith!
Danilo Marques def Mike Rodriguez via Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 2 (4:51)
Immediate takedown from Marques as he shoots in for a single leg and uses lots of movement before eventually tripping him down. Rodriguez fighting hard to get back to his feet against the cage, but Marques keeping his hands locked up and eventually gets him back down once again. Marques working hard to keep Rodriguez down and he’s tying up the legs to do so. Rodriguez gets back to the feet but once again Marques drags him back down. Rodriguez gets back to the feet with 15 seconds to go and throws a few knees and body shots but he looks exhausted. 10-9 Marques.
Second round starts with the two exchanging feints on the feet, with Rodriguez landing a nice low kick. Marques fakes a couple of takedown attempts before landing an overhand right and then finally getting the big takedown. Marques passes into full mount against the cage and he starts raining down big ground and pound punches. Both men look exhausted as Rodriguez gets back to a knee, but Marques keeps landing big punches and then takes the back with both hooks in. He rolls to the back and sinks in a rear naked choke and puts Rodriguez to sleep. Wonderful performance from Marques.
Beneil Dariush def Diego Ferreira via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)
A crazy pace to start this fight as Dariush comes out firing with strikes before shooting for a takedown. Ferreira defends it by pulling guard with an omoplata before exploding out back to his feet, but Dariush looks for a takedown again against the cage. When he can’t get it he separates and the two start trading bombs! Both men land huge shots on each other but Dariush keeps coming forward. Big knee to the body and Ferreira goes down! Dariush looks for ground and pound but Ferreira ties him up on the ground and is able to ride it out. Final 30 seconds and they get back to the feet, and Ferreira lands a big right hand clean. Dariush returns with a right of his own before a front kick to the face from Ferreira lands flush. What a round! 10-9 Dariush.
Second round starts as the first ended with both men throwing big strikes once again. Dariush looking a bit more tired than Ferreira, so he shoots for a takedown and then gets a trip against the cage and lands on top. Ferreira gets back up but Dariush puts him straight back down and starts to control on top. Ferreira defending but the pressure of Dariush is causing him a big problem and Dariush ends the round controlling position from the top. 20-18.
An insane pace continues into the third round as Ferreira starts to use his footwork more to avoid a brawl and keep out of the way of the takedown attempts. Dariush lands a couple of punches himself and misses a takedown before a kick lands on the cup of Ferreira and causes a short pause. Halfway through the round and we haven’t hit the ground yet but Dariush lands a beautiful one-two to the chin. Ferreira catches a kick and looks to put Dariush on the ground but a great scramble means they both get back to the feet and start swinging for the fences. Dariush shoots for a takedown with a minute remaining and gets it, and takes the back with a body lock as he sinks the hooks in but Ferreira shakes him off and the two scramble to the horn. Great fight, 30-27 Dariush for me though.
Fun start to the fight as Pantoja looks to get right in Kape’s face early but ‘Starboy’ showing his amazing speed and slipping all attacks with his hands low. Kape making Pantoja miss a lot but barely throwing any strikes of his own as we move through the round, while Pantoja is trying to make reads and can’t. Kape’s jab is landing nicely when he throws it but just not enough volume. Pantoja lands a nice body kick and then Kape goes for a cartwheel kick that misses and Pantoja ends up on top. A couple of big strikes land while Kape is on the ground but he gets back up and ends the round with a takedown attempt of his own. 10-9 Pantoja.
Pantoja comes forward in the second round and throwing lots of kicks, and while Kape isn’t getting hurt or the sheer activity is giving Pantoja the rounds. Kape lands a nice one-two but Pantoja returns with some body kicks. Right hand lands from Pantoja but Kape returns fire with a nice one-two of his own. Kape trying to up the pace a little but still not throwing enough to trouble his opponent as we enter the final minute. Kape throws a head kick, follows it up with a left hand and then a takedown, but Pantoja rolls through and gets back to the feet quickly. Better round for Kape and it’s hard to score so could go either way. 19-19 for me.
Slower start to the round by both men in this one as Kape continues to feint and bounce, while Pantoja is almost waiting so he can counter. Nice left hook from Kape lands but Pantoja returns fire with a body kick. Leg kick from Pantoja misses and Kape lands a nice left hand in return before Pantoja lands a head kick. Kape not showing much urgency as we enter the final 90 seconds. Kape lands a left hand that troubles Pantoja and he follows it up with a nice combo. Kape shoots for a takedown and gets it but Pantoja rolls out again and the fight comes to an end. 29-28 either way for me.
Clay Guida def Michael Johnson via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
A super fun start to this fight as Johnson and Guida meet in the middle of the cage and start trading bombs! Johnson lands a few nice shots before Guida responds with a right hand that lands on the eye and causes Johnson big problems. Guida keeps marching forward and lands more shots with the right hand before he shoots for the takedown and eventually gets him down. Johnson manages to get back to the feet and they clinch against the cage and exchange knees. Guida’s right hook is causing Johnson problems but he’s firing back with nice hooks of his own. Fun round, 10-9 Guida.
Second round continues at a frantic pace as Guida goes straight for a takedown this time against the cage. Johnson battles really well to stay up on his feet before breaking away and landing a nice knee, but Guida is relentless with his pressure and is forcing Johnson to grind. Several attempts are denied by Johnson between now and the end of the round as Johnson looks very tired when the horn goes. 20-18 Guida.
Third round and Guida comes firing out once again with crazy pressure. Johnson circles and looks to land a jab but Guida is throwing hooks and uppercuts, then lands a big knee before shooting for a takedown. They clinch up against the cage before Guida gets him down before taking his back. He locks up a body triangle and rolls him over, then looks to sink in a rear naked choke. Johnson fights the hands and breaks the grip on the hands but can’t break the body triangle and the horn sounds for the end of the fight. Clay Guida should take the win here, 30-27.
Cory Sandhagen def Frankie Edgar via Knockout, Round 1 (0:28)
Edgar comes out into the centre with Sandhagen and throws a leg kick as ‘Sandman’ circles on the outside. Edgar steps in with a looping left and SANDHAGEN WITH A FLYING KNEE!!!! EDGAR IS OUT COLD!!! OH MY GOD!!
Alexander Volkov def Alistair Overeem via Knockout, Round 2 (2:06)
Odd start to the round as Volkov throws a leg kick and Overeem seems to freeze and shell up against the cage, allowing Volkov to land some shots. Volkov continues to step forward with leg kicks and Overeem looks tense, but he explodes with two heavy left hands that land clean. Both men trade shots at the same time but as Volkov lands Overeem loses his balance and falls. Volkov jumps on him to land ground and pound but Overeem gets back to his feet quickly and they break. Volkov walking Overeem down against the cage and unloads a big combo as he covers up before the round comes to an end. 10-9 Volkov.
Volkov starts landing some nice jabs and Overeem is struggling to cope with the length and power. Volkov’s strikes landing through the guard of Overeem and he is busting him up bad. Overeem looks for a takedown but Volkov stops it easily and starts landing more shots. Overeem is badly hurt but he’s trying to fight back. Volkov lands a big left hand and Overeem falls to his knees and the referee waves it off to prevent further damage. What a performance from Volkov!