No, not that Russian former Bellator heavyweight champion. The other Russian former Bellator heavyweight champion. Back in the early 2010’s Alexander Volkov seemed like a clear miss for a UFC heavyweight division staring stagnation straight in the face. The Strela Team fighter had a long winning streak under the M-1 and regional Russian circuit, legit heavyweight size, and most importantly was in his early 20s.
Now, almost half a decade after making his Bellator debut, it looks like “Drago” is on his way to the UFC. Volkov’s signing was made public by the promotion when his name was added to the UFC.com roster. Shortly afterward, MMAJunkie reported that Volkov would be making his debut on the upcoming November 19th Belfast fight card, UFC Fight Night: Kim vs. Nelson, taking on Timothy Johnson.
So, who is Alexander Volkov?
The 27-year old will hit the UFC on a two fight win streak after leaving Bellator. Volkov put together a 6-3 record overall for Viacom promotion, winning their heavyweight title in the process. He has wins over Brett Rogers, Vinicius Queiroz, and Blagoy Ivanov along with a host of other names dotting his 26-6 record. Most recently he picked up and defended the M-1 Heavyweight championship, beating Denis Smoldarev and Attila Vegh. His last two bouts under the Bellator banner were a pair of wrestling heavy losses to Tony Johnson and Cheick Congo. Outside of MMA, Volkov has a black belt in Tsu Shin Gen Karate, as well as experience in Kyokushin and BJJ. Volkov trains out of Strela Team, home of Mikhail Zayats, as well as a number of standout regional talents.
What you should expect:
Volkov is most comfortable as a kicker at range, tying into his Karate roots. He flashes out powerful, fast kicks, taking advantage of his long frame. He’s not a bad puncher to follow it up, but he doesn’t make use of his reach as a boxer. Instead, he tends toward more of a blitzing striking style, when leading with punches, or sharp single counters when forced onto his back foot. Given his height, this leaves him open to getting popped by big winging hooks, but his chin tends to carry him through bad spots. To accompany this striking game, Volkov is a solid clinch fighter, mostly relying on the leverage of his frame to work the plum and throw hard knees.
Where Volkov has trouble is with his physicality and his wrestling. Despite his size, he can be bullied in the clinch by stronger opponents. And when he can get tied up, Volkov can often be taken down. Volkov’s not the worst guard grappler - he even has some impressive subs there - and he has some decent ground and pound when he can get top position, but the general rule is that he’s at his worst in a physical wrestling match.
What this means for his debut:
It seems like this should match up well for Johnson, who has a habit of being big and strong and suffocating. Johnson’s sole UFC loss came to Jared Rosholt who was just too technical a wrestler for him to deal with. Johnson isn’t nearly as developed a striker as Volkov is, but he’s huge and tough and can probably weather the storm to get Volkov in to the cage and put him on his back, or even just grind him out with 3 rounds of wall-n-maul.
To get better acquainted, here’s Volkov’s last bout, with Attila Vegh in M-1 Global: