Well kids, this card is a sneaky one. Much like last week and a lot of the Fight Night events, not much on name value. There’s a lot to enjoy on this main card, with three fights involving ranked fighters. The matchups with unranked fighters are set to be intense and exciting, especially veteran Jim Miller against possible future contender Roosevelt Roberts and former Bellator powerhouse Lyman Good against the always game Belal Muhammad.
Curtis Blaydes vs Alexander Volkov
Curtis Blaydes (13-2) has been a tough out in the heavyweight division and a fighter very capable of doing tremendous damage in short order or doling it out over time in a full fight. when your only two career losses are to Francis N’Gannou, you’re probably fine. Somehow, he hasn’t had that strong an impact in the division despite wins over Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, and devastating Junior dos Santos. The Overeem and dos Santos fights in particular were tremendous finishes, but his name just doesn’t ring for some reason. As of the time of this writing he sits comfortably at #3 in the heavyweight rankings and it’s a well-deserved spot. A win here should put him in line for a title shot if N’Gannou isn’t next, but it’s difficult to predict how that logjam in the big boy division will sort itself out.
It’s a shame, though. He deserves better, as he’s improved his defense, outworked and broken down opponents in his entire career. Yet ahead of him lies another firm test in Alexander Volkov (31-7), a former M-1 and Bellator heavyweight champ. His precision striking and handspeed have been his bread and butter, along with his lanky frame facilitating use of range and his sprawls. The biggest challenge will be staving off a hungry and powerful wrestler like Blaydes. If Tony Johnson and Chieck Kongo could take him down and control him, there should be no doubt that Blaydes will attempt to exploit this at every turn. Those losses were back to back in 2015, but those two opponents don’t wrestle like Blaydes does. Volkov will be wise to use better footwork and pivots to avoid Blaydes getting too comfortable. Piecing him up at distance to keep him on his back foot while avoiding the clinch and takedowns in open space will be a tall order, and this will be a boon for either with a win.
Josh Emmett vs Shane Burgos
Josh Emmett (15-2) isn’t just a powerful wrestler that could be the equivalent of One Punch Man in real life. He’s improved his timing, has great reflexes and is capable of fighting smart to find openings with his feints and counters. Single shot death rays have made him famous, but his overall game is becoming crisp, and he’s extra tough to put away.
But Shane Burgos (13-1) is a buzzsaw, working sprawls and scrambles, slick combinations and deceptive power to punish opponents in close. His jab at range is great, and his closing of distance to dart back out is lovely to watch. Attacking the body and head to keep Emmett guessing looks like a fine idea but a risky one if he’s not out of harm’s way fast enough. This could be fight of the night on any card you schedule it for, and it may just be that for this one.
Raquel Pennington vs Marion Reneau
Don’t let the fact that Reneau is about to turn 43 on fight night lead you to think she’s done. Reneau’s BJJ game is great, her cardio still holds up fine and she’s very capable of outworking a lot of the top fighters in her division. Her jab works well, she pulls guard effectively, and is extra busy off her back.
Raquel Pennington (10-8) is a better fighter than her record indicates, but has gone 1-3 since her win over Miesha Tate. Her boxing is still basic, but effective. Her trip takedown game is still good, and she’s one of the strongest, if not the strongest, woman in her division. Pennington will have to contend with leg kicks and taking her foot off the gas here, along with entanglements on the ground.
Lyman Good vs Belal Muhammad
Lyman Good isn’t quite a household name, but it’s one that demands respect. As the inaugural Bellator welterweight champion, he was able to bully opponents and work thudding leg kicks with strong punches and a lot of athleticism. With a few rear naked chokes on his record, he’s not a stranger to submissions — he just prefers to strike and will take the back if it’s on offer. His only UFC losses are to wizard Demian Maia and a split decision against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, which are some good looking losses.
Belal Muhammad (16-3) is the kind of guy that will be willing to oblige you if you’re a gunslinger. With back to back wins in his pocket, he’s good at flustering opponents and swaying out of range, is deceptively strong, accurate with his striking and disciplined enough to not get into needless situations like a forced takedown. Both parties will be trading leg kicks and trying to knock each other’s block off, and it should be for the best.
Roosevelt Roberts vs Jim Miller
Much like Donald Cerrone, Jim Miller (31-14) is like an Intercontinental Champ of the lightweight division. He’s a fighter your favorite fighter loves to watch, even if he’s not a megastar. His wrestling leads to his BJJ, and we don’t need to tell anyone reading this that his BJJ is lethal. Going 3-2 in his last five, he’s nowhere near done as a pro fighter, still throwing out a snappy jab, working uppercuts in close and getting the fight to work at his speed.
However, Roosevelt Roberts (10-1) could be the future. Starting his pro career in California Xtreme Fighting and then having a lone outing in Bellator, he impressed enough to get his shot on Dana White’s Contender Series to submit Garrett Gross and then on to his UFC debut choking out Darrell Horcher by turning him sideways. So now he’s 4-1 in the UFC (courtesy of a hard-fought decision loss to Vinc Pinchel) and just finished Brok Weaver not even a month ago. His defensive wrestling is good, but his ability to strike while grappling and defending takedowns is a difference maker. Striking accuracy and raw power have helped him get to this point against a legend, and he might just make the most of it.
UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Volkov takes place this Saturday night at 6:00pm EST, streaming on ESPN+ and airing on ESPN TV.