On paper, this is one of the best Fight Night cards in the ESPN era, or perhaps ever. With three fights that would qualify as quality Fight Night main events, it’s hard not to be excited about this card. I’m bummed about which contest they decided to put in the main event – the less five-round heavyweight contests, the better – but that doesn’t make it a bad fight in the least. Even more surprising with that decision is neither Alistair Overeem or Alexander Volkov are getting a title shot at heavyweight, whereas the winner of Cory Sandhagen and Frankie Edgar stand a very good shot of competing for the bantamweight crown. Regardless, few Fight Night cards have been more consequential. Hell of a way for the UFC to kick off the month.
Alistair Overeem vs. Alexander Volkov, Heavyweight
In a career that has played into four different decades, we’ve seen many different incarnations of Overeem. Some may find it hard to believe he used to fight at light heavyweight, others may find it hard to believe he had more submission wins than KO/TKO wins when he entered the UFC given he hasn’t obtained a single victory via submission since that time. However, the most memorable incarnation was that of Ubereem, which saw Overeem juiced to the gills and destroying opponents within a round. The version of Overeem we currently have doesn’t resemble any of those incarnations.
Overeem has developed into a patient fighter who picks apart his opponent. It isn’t flashy by any means, but given Overeem’s fragile chin has become his most notable feature, it makes sense. Of course, Overeem doesn’t go down as easily as many think, though he does tend to get hurt quite a bit too. Overeem still has good survival instincts – his win over Walt Harris proves that – but the button on any human’s chin can only be pushed so many times before their lights go out and it’s easier to hit that button when someone is hurt.
Volkov isn’t known as a KO artist, but of his 32 career victories, 21 have come via KO/TKO. It isn’t one punch power that Volkov possesses, but he possesses a gas tank few heavyweights can match, allowing him to launch his strikes with full power late when many heavyweights are fading down the stretch. Thus, the five-round nature of the contest works in his favor as he’s never been an easy one to dispose of. Nonetheless, it hardly a guarantee he’ll emerge with the win, even with the five rounds.
Many believe Volkov is a poor wrestler. While he’s not ever going to be a powerhouse with his 6’7” frame given it’s hard to get leverage, he’s deceptively good at stuffing takedowns, especially using the fence to prevent himself from hitting the mat. Sure, he was taken down 14 times by Curtis Blaydes, but Overeem is no Blaydes. Hell, no one else in the heavyweight division is like Blaydes.
While Volkov has plenty of experience, it’s of no comparison to that of Overeem. Overeem has been in the cage with each and every type of fighter. From the lanky to the short. From the heavy hitter to the volume striker. From the wrestler to the grappler. The only fighters who have been able to eliminate Overeem as of late have been those that specialize in a particular area. Few hit harder than Francis Ngannou or Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Overeem even came thisclose to beating Rozenstruik. Blaydes is making a case as the greatest heavyweight wrestler in the history of the sport, riding that to a violent victory over Overeem. Can Volkov overwhelm Overeem in the manner those who have most recently defeated him. I don’t think so. Overeem is as well-rounded a heavyweight there is and has done a solid job of adapting to his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, so long as their strengths aren’t in the extreme. That has me leaning towards Overeem to look for takedowns and pound out Volkov in a similar fashion as he did to the lanky Stefan Struve. Of course, Volkov’s takedown defense is better than advertised, but I’ll stand by Overeem securing enough trip takedowns… with lots of trepidation. Overeem vis TKO of RD4
Cory Sandhagen vs. Frankie Edgar, Bantamweight
Some may roll their eyes at the possibility of Edgar getting another title shot – he’s lost five title fights in a row at this juncture – but it’s very much a reality at this point… provided he can beat Sandhagen. That’s a hell of a statement to be making given how quickly Sandhagen was disposed of this summer by Aljamain Sterling, but the Elevation Fight Team product rehabbed his image in a big way when he finished Marlon Moraes with a spinning wheel kick in October.
The funny thing about Sandhagen and Edgar is they are far more similar than you’d think at first glance. Sure, Sandhagen is 5-inches taller, but his reach advantage is only 2-inches. Regardless, the rest of it is very similar. High output, giving opponents different looks and angles, excellent conditioning, and wearing their opponents down with their constant barrage.
As has been the story for years, Edgar is still all about movement. He’s not quite as quick as he once was, but he is 39 at this stage. The movement is about helping his opponents guess what’s coming next. Is he going to shift directions laterally? Is he going to shoot for a takedown? Is he going to slip and rip? Is he going to buckle down for a boxing combination? Edgar rarely changes things up from fight to fight, but that’s because it’s always been a guessing game in the first place. He’s fortunate to have Mark Henry in his corner helping to point out the tendencies of his opponents in between rounds, but Edgar is also used to doing his thing over five rounds. In a three-round contest, that’s an advantage Edgar is used to having that is being negated.
Sandhagen isn’t quite as reliant on movement as Edgar, but strikes with a speed that belies his lanky frame. He launches strikes to every level and I mean every level. Sure, he’ll throw the calf kicks that are in vogue, but he’ll throw them at the quads and thighs too, largely because it helps to disguise his kicks to the body. Like Edgar, Sandhagen isn’t overly powerful, but throws enough volume that it’s hard to stand up to his barrage. Sandhagen doesn’t throw as many combinations as Edgar, preferring to launch a LOT of single strikes. However, those single strikes help disguise his combos as it’s the second and/or third shot that tends to have the greater impact.
Edgar is an all-time great. If there is anyone who can earn – and I do mean earn as opposed to having it handed to him – a title shot in a third division at an advanced age, it’s him. I just don’t see it happening against Sandhagen. Edgar is still one of the toughest SOB’s around. Unfortunately, he isn’t as durable as he used to be, no surprise given all the wear and tear over the years. It’s not like he’s been facing middling competition. Edgar, for all the movement, isn’t a great defensive fighter and tends to get stanky legged roughly every other fight at the least. It’s advanced past being stanky legged too as he’s been finished twice in the last few years after never having that occur in the previous 13. Sandhagen is likely to throw out something that catches Edgar off-guard. I expect it’ll be enough to finish him, or at least get him a clear decision. Sandhagen via TKO of RD2
Alexandre Pantoja vs. Manel Kape, Flyweight
For those who only follow the UFC, they’re in for a real treat. Kape has made a hell of a name for himself in Rizin with several impressive finishes and entertaining scraps with the best the organization has to offer, including former UFC flyweight title challenger, Kyoji Horiguchi. While Kape is going to have to adjust to the confines of the cage as opposed to the ropes of the RIzin ring – something that comes easier to some than others – there’s no doubt he has the physical skills to be a major player in a hurry.
Kape isn’t on the level of Deiveson Figueiredo in terms of raw power, but no one is. However, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say he’s the next level down. Out of his 15 wins, only one came via decision and six of his last seven wins have come via strikes. At flyweight, that’s an incredible statistic regardless of whether it took place in the UFC. Of course, Kape has been fighting at bantamweight, though he has fought at 125 in the past. It’s a very distinct possibility Kape could lose some of his vaunted power cutting the additional pounds to flyweight as it has been several years since he cut down that far. If his power remains, any one of Kape’s hooks could prove to be the end of the contest.
Of course, the same could be said of Pantoja. It says a lot about Kape’s reputation the UFC is pitting him against Pantoja. The Brazilian has proven himself to be a powerful striker in his own right, securing his last two wins behind his punching power. Even more impressive is he wasn’t noted for that as he made his way into the organization. It was his leg kicks and grappling that brought him to the dance. He can still tear into an opponent’s base and turn himself into a human backpack, but his boxing has been his focus as of late.
Many are going to pick Pantoja in large part due to name recognition. It’s not necessarily an unfair assumption as Pantoja is the last man to defeat Brandon Moreno. However, Pantoja has a bad habit of fading down the stretch, not unusual for Nova Uniao fighters. With Kape cutting additional pounds himself, it could prove to be problematic for him too, but he’s typically remained effective late in fights and he’s had plenty of time to prepare himself for the weight cut. Kape has a lot of obstacles in his way – adjusting to the cage, weight class, drug testing, and new organization – but I think he can do it and establish himself as a force in the division out of the gate. Kape via decision
Diego Ferreira vs. Beneil Dariush, Lightweight
For those fairly fresh to the MMA scene, this contest constitutes a re-run as Ferreira and Dariush clashed back in 2014. It wasn’t a blowout by any means, but there was no doubt Dariush was the rightful winner the first time around. However, as anyone would expect after six years, things have changed quite a bit and the stakes are higher as the winner will be deserving of a crack at a top five opponent. Whether that actually happens is another story, but that’s for another day to argue.
At 36, the clock is ticking for Ferreira. It’s a crying shame too as it could be argued he deserves a crack at the best right now. Not only is he riding a six-fight win streak, he snapped six-fight win streaks of Rustam Khabilov and Mairbek Taisumov in addition to dominating former champion Anthony Pettis. Ferreira isn’t the cleanest striker by any means, but doesn’t let up on the pressure in the least, swinging away with enough frequency to help overcome the lack of technique and isn’t easily dissuaded via his opponent throwing back at him.
However, Ferreira wasn’t known for his striking when he first came into the UFC. It was all about his physical brand of grappling. Ferreira isn’t a fantastic wrestler – perhaps the factor that has been holding him back from being an elite fighter thus far – but he is enthusiastic in his pursuit when that’s the course he chooses to take.
Dariush looked like a rising star at one point, climbing into the top ten and staying there for a nice spell. Then he had a three-fight stretch without a win and many wrote him off. Dariush re-evaluated his approach at that point, became more selective with his aggression, and has since rattled off five wins in a row. It wasn’t necessarily that Dariush was reckless – he’s actually always had very good form – but he doesn’t appear to have the chin required to consistently engage in slobberknockers.
One of the things Dariush has done to protect his chin is recommit himself to his ground game. Never the most physical wrestler, he’s relied on timing and technique to get the fight to the mat. It was a mystery in the first place why Dariush largely abandoned his ground game in the first place as he’s a decorated BJJ practitioner. In fact, it was Dariush’s wrestling and grappling that delivered him victory against Ferreira in their first contest.
This contest is very much a coin toss. Ferreira has greatly refined his pressuring style since the first time they fought, something that has given Dariush problems. Of course, Dariush is one of the few who appears to be fearless in going to the mat with Ferreira – he’s already proven that – and it would be shocking for him not to attempt that route again. Though I have a lot of anticipation for this fight – it very easily could be one of the Fight Night main event’s I referred to in the opening paragraph – I have minimal confidence in picking this contest. Dariush via decision
- While it isn’t the worst fate in the world, Cody Stamann is in danger of permanently being labeled a gatekeeper. Every gatekeeper aspires to become a contender, but Stamann has been unable to pick up a win over a top ten talent, though he’s been able to turn away lesser opposition with little difficulty. He’s one of the better pocket boxers in the division, utilizing incredible technique, conditioning, and volume to overcome his short reach. It doesn’t hurt having the threat of his wrestling keeping his opponent guessing. It will be interesting to see if that gives Askar Askar any pause as the short notice replacement is an aggressive swinger who rarely takes a step backwards. Askar has some power, but doesn’t fully exploit it as he’s incredibly wild. His length helps make up for that and he can wrestle a bit too, but it’s hard to see him stuffing Stamann’s shots with regularity if he employs his typical recklessness. No disrespect to Askar as he has potential to hang around the roster for quite a while, but this is a bad matchup for him. Stamann should win easily. Stamann via TKO of RD2