The first UFC event in a month is in the books. UFC Fight Night: Struve vs. Volkov didn’t look particularly appealing on paper, but apart from a rough stretch in the middle of the preliminary card, the overall event was pretty entertaining.
Headliners Alexander Volkov and Stefan Struve certainly didn’t disappoint, as the Russian went into enemy territory and finished “The Skyscraper” in the third round of an exciting contest. Struve’s offensive striking looked much improved in the early stages, as he cracked Volkov with some nice right hands, jumping knees, and sharp uppercuts, but he’s unfortunately just not good defensively. It’s been a problem of his since his UFC debut eight (!) years ago, and once Volkov found his timing and range to repeatedly connect on Stefan in rounds 2 and 3, it was only a matter of time before Struve would falter under the superior technical kickboxing abilities of Volkov.
At just 28 years old, Volkov may as well be a really tall infant in the heavyweight division. This is his best win out of his three UFC fights, and he instantly becomes a viable title challenger in a division in desperate need of some fresh faces. What he lacks in raw power he makes up for with precision and high-volume striking. The number one question mark for him still remains his takedown defense against higher caliber wrestlers, and the only way we’ll find out is if he gets a step up in competition.
More thoughts on today’s event:
- I don’t believe Stefan Struve performed poorly whatsoever — he had several great moments in round 1 and even cut Volkov open with a knee — but you have to worry about how much punishment he’s absorbed in his career. Seven of his nine losses have been by KO or TKO, and he said in the post-fight interview that he “needed a little break.” Who knows what that might entail? A win today would’ve been one of his best in a years, and sadly for him it didn’t come to fruition.
- Struve was fortunate not to have a point taken away for two eye pokes on Volkov. Marc Goddard then ended up warning both men due to the incredibly rare simultaneous eye-poke at the start of round 3.
- Siyar Bahadurzada sledgehammered Rob Wilkinson and picked up his first knockout win since the infamous one-hitter quitter vs. Paulo Thiago in 2012. For some reason, referee Leon Roberts was of the opinion that Wilkinson needed to be knocked down 150 times and take a lot of unnecessary punches before finally deciding to stop the fight. That was stupidly late.
- Marion Reneau was supposed to fight Germaine de Randamie today, but wound up with Brazilian newcomer Talita de Oliveira. It was a competitive fight with some fun grappling exchanges, but once it was obvious that Bernardo had neither the striking nor the gas tank, the 40-year-old had the decided advantage. Reneau really dished out some damaging ground-and-pound to get the TKO with just six seconds remaining in the fight.
- In a grueling, back-and-forth encounter, Leon Edwards overcame a second-round knockdown and used his ever-improving wrestling and top-control grappling to defeat the always-tough Bryan Barberena by unanimous decision. Edwards wants a top-15 opponent next, and I feel like that’s fair considering the winning streak he’s currently on.
- Darren Till is really talented and simultaneously frustrating to watch. While he did almost knock Bojan Velickovic out twice and took a decision, he’s low-output to a fault, essentially ignored the leg kicks that caused his upper-thigh region to swell, and spent too much time playing to the crowd and even having friendly mid-fight banter with Bojan. They were hugging moments are Velickovic almost got KO’d by a step-in elbow! Anyway, Till gets the win, but I’d like to see more killer instinct and more offense, because he lands some very accurate shots and is quite a creative striker.
- Mairbek Taisumov is a scary scary dude. Essentially the only punch he landed on Felipe Silva immediately put him out cold. That’s terrifying power. “I am not here to talk, I am here to smash!” is a quote straight out of a movie. Hopefully Taisumov stays healthy, his visa issues are sorted, and we see him in there against better competition, because he’s earned it with the knockouts he’s been producing.
- Michel Prazeres schooled Mads Burnell on the ground and then picked up his second north-south choke win in as many fights. He’s built like a fire hydrant and has quietly won five-in-a-row. Lightweight is just such a stupidly deep division, isn’t it?
- I felt Desmond Green had a case for beating Rustam Khabilov, but the judges unanimously gave it to Rustam. It was an ugly fight that was somewhat nondescript. Green has a style that more often than not will have him dropping decisions to top-20 fighters, and I imagine the same can be said for Khabilov against the top-10 at lightweight.
- Aleksandar Rakic turned in a disciplined striking performance and did enough to take all three rounds against Francimar Barroso. The Austrian light heavyweight’s first UFC fight is a successful one, although it really wasn’t that exciting.
- Zabit Magomedsharipov is fun as hell to watch. The featherweight prospect chains his offense together so fluidly, and after showing off his amazing striking skills (including a “Showtime Kick”), the Dagestani fighter put away short-notice replacement Mike Santiago with a rear-naked choke in the 2nd round. Santiago did as well as he could as a last-minute opponent, but Zabit is one to keep an eye on as a possible title contender down the line. He also called out Artem Lobov for his next fight, although that’s not likely because Lobov is booked to fight Andre Fili.
- Akhmat Fight Club’s Abdul-Kerim Edilov thrashed the hopeless Bojan Mihajlovic in a fight that had no business lasting halfway into round 2. This was painfully one-sided from the opening second. You should check out Karim Zidan’s feature on Edilov and his ties to Cechecn dictator Ramzan Kadyrov.
- Thibault Gouti stuffed Andrew Holbrook’s takedowns, walked through his punches, landed the more damaging blows, and finished him with a series of strikes late in round 1. Gouti finally gets a UFC victory, and Holbrook unfortunately has neither the chin nor the striking defense to stay on the roster much longer.
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