If a fighter does something long enough, that approach will eventually fail them. We saw an example of that at UFC 257 when Conor McGregor decided it was best to approach Dustin Poirier with a boxing focused attack and found himself knocked out in the second round. We saw it again in the main event of UFC Vegas 18 when Alexander Volkov bested Alistair Overeem.
Over the past few years, Overeem has become a safer, more patient fighter. He has employed a high guard to protect his chin in striking exchanges and waited for openings of his own. He tried that approach against Volkov, but the younger fighter used patience and power to counter Overeem’s approach.
Volkov had obviously trained for Overeem’s style and that training paid off on Saturday. Volkov worked his strikes through Overeem’s guard in an incredibly effective manner. He never overextended himself and never got too excited when he had Overeem hurt. Instead, he landed powerful and accurate combinations, bloodying his opponent on the way to a second round stoppage win that should put him in the top five of the heavyweight division when the rankings are updated.
In the co-main event, Cory Sandhagen earned his second straight “Performance of the Night” bonus with a devastating and frightening knockout of Frankie Edgar. Sandhagen’s performance should secure him a matchup against the upcoming fight between bantamweight champion Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling. That scrap is booked for UFC 259.
Alexander Volkov: Volkov entered his main event matchup against Alistair Overeem on a 2-2 run. Derrick Lewis knocked him out late in the third round of their 2018 scrap and Curtis Blaydes used takedowns and ground control to beet him by decision in 2020. Volkov’s wins were a 2019 decision over Greg Hardy and a 2020 knockout of Walt Harris. Neither of those victories prepared us for the Volkov we saw at UFC Vegas 18.
Volkov was patient and powerful. He hurt Overeem with strikes through his guard, but he never overextended himself. He fought patiently and did not allow Overeem to counter in an effective way. When Overeem tried to use his striking to set up a takedown, Volkov avoided those attempts with ease.
Volkov’s powerful and accurate strikes left Overeem a bloody mess by the time the fight came to an end with a TKO victory for Volkov at 2:06 of the second round. This was not the Alexander Volkov who lost to Blaydes and Lewis.
Cory Sandhagen: If there was a question about who deserves to face the winner of the upcoming UFC 259 matchup between bantamweight champion Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling, that inquiry should have been put to rest 28 seconds into Sandhagen’s bout opposite Frankie Edgar. Sandhagen put Edgar to sleep with a knee that will likely be in the running for the best knockout of 2021. Sandhagen has proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with in the 135-pound division and if he gets the nod for the next title fight I wouldn’t be surprised to see him listed as the favorite against the champion.
Clay Guida: On Saturday, a 39-year-old Clay Guida did his Clay Guida thing to get his first win since he defeated B.J. Penn in 2019. Guida’s striking and movement paid off in the early going of the fight as he hurt Johnson with a shot to the eye. Johnson later staggered Guida, but when that happened, Guida’s veteran savvy kicked in and he pushed Johnson against the cage, recovered and then worked his wrestling.
The win was a good one for Guida, who lost his two previous outings to Jim Miller and Bobby Green. After his victory, Guida, who now has 30 UFC contests to his name, asked the matchmakers to book him against a young up and comer instead of another veteran. It was a strange request and I’ll be interested to see who the promotion gives Guida for his next opponent.
Alexandre Pantoja: Pantoja taught Manel Kape a lesson on Saturday and that lesson was a fighter can’t wait for a perfect opportunity to begin to attack. Pantoja was simply more active during this contest and that allowed him to earn the decision win. I’m not sure the win moves Pantoja any closer to a flyweight title shot, but it won’t hurt him.
Carlos Diego Ferreira vs. Beneil Dariush: The first 90 seconds of this lightweight matchup put every fight that came before it on the UFC Vegas 18 card to shame. It was an action packed start to a fight that was a pre-event favorite to take “Fight of the Night” honors.
Ferreira was on a six-fight winning streak entering this contest, while Dariush had won his previous five. The two had met before. Dariush won that 2014 contest by decision.
These two fighters, who were better known for their grappling in their early days, put on a spirited contest that mixed striking with wrestling and creative scrambles on the mat. Both gave it their all in this entertaining matchup, but it was Dariush who walked away with the split-decision win.
Also noteworthy was Dariush’s post-fight rant against the UFC matchmaking. Dariush noted that he and Ferreira both should have fought higher ranked opponents because of their lengthy winning streaks.
Saturday night was a great one for Dariush.
Danilo Marques: Marques wanted to get his fight against Mike Rodriguez to the mat and he did. Marques completed four of seven takedown attempts and secured 7:39 of control time before he earned a technical submission win in the second stanza. Marques’ striking was lacking, but if he can get the fight to the ground he might be able to do some damage. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do against an opponent with solid overall skills.
Devonte Smith: Before tonight, Smith’s most recent fight was a first-round knockout loss to Khama Worthy in August 2019. Before that he had two knockout wins of his own under the UFC banner. Smith used slick jabs to mark up his opponent, Justin Jaynes, and keep him at bay for most of the first round. He might have relied too much on those jabs, but they were effective.
Smith earned a takedown in the second stanza and a slick pass to mount forced Jaynes to give up his back where Smith threatened a choke. Jaynes escaped the choke and stood, but his left eye was swollen shut and that brought an end to the fight.
Smith has never gone the distance in any of his professional fights and the win moved him to 11-2 with 10 knockout victories.
Karol Rosa: Rosa used her strength, ground skills and powerful leg kicks to earn a decision win over Joselyne Edwards. When Edwards got space, she did well with her strikes, but Rosa controlled that space for most of the contest to get the win. A solid performance from Rosa.
Lara Procopio: Procopio did a nice job using her strength and grappling to earn a unanimous decision over Molly McCann. It was that strength that neutralized the striking of McCann as Procopio was able to force McCann to the cage and score at least one takedown in each of the three rounds of this battle. This was a solid performance for Procopio and should set her up for a tougher opponent in her next outing. It’ll be interesting to see who the matchmakers put her against.
Seung Woo Choi: Choi was aggressive with his striking against Youssef Zalal and that had Zalal backing up for most of the fight. Choi used that against Zalal and forced him against the cage. Choi fought either close or at distance for most of the contest and that forced Zalal to work hard for his takedowns.
Choi’s takedown defense stood up for the most part and his submission defense held as well. The decision win was a good one for Choi, who had not fought since December 2019.
I’d be interested in seeing Choi battle a striker, as it looked as if he has some good power in his hands.
Timur Valiev: Valiev was a huge favorite over Martin Day. Things played out as expected in this fight. Valiev used his takedowns and ground game to dominate the contest and earn an easy decision win. The one knock on Valiev in this contest is even though he rang up an enormous amount of control time, he didn’t go for a finish and that could hurt him in the eyes of the UFC matchmakers.
Ode’ Osbourne: Osbourne had not fought for more than a year when he stepped into the octagon against Jerome Rivera and by the outcome of this contest, it didn’t appear as if Osborne was all that interested in getting a long workout. Rivera threw a head kick that Osbourne caught on his shoulder. With Rivera’s leg paused on Osbourne’s arm, Osbourne threw a counter left that hit the defenseless Rivera and dropped him for a quick knockout win. The fight was even more impressive when you realize Osbourne was initially booked to fight at 125 pounds and this bout took place at 145!
Jason Herzog: Herzog served as the referee in the main event and his stoppage came at the right time and saved Alistair Overeem from some unnecessary damage. Herzog might not be the biggest name ref who works UFC events and that’s actually a positive. A referee’s job is to not be noticed because when a ref does get noticed, it’s usually not for being consistently good at their job.
Alistair Overeem: Overeem has become a much more cautious and patient fighter over the past few years. He’s used that approach to stay in the mix in the heavyweight division. Overeem’s style has been to use a high guard against strikes and wait for his opening. That did not work on Saturday as Volkov split Overeem’s guard and picked him apart. Before his loss to Volkov, Overeem said he hoped to make a final run toward a UFC title, that run most likely came to an end inside the mostly vacant UFC Apex on Saturday night.
Frankie Edgar: Edgar went into the octagon against Cory Sandhagen looking to perhaps earn a title shot in his third weight class in the UFC. Twenty-eight seconds into the contest, Edgar was stiff and unconscious on the canvas. Sandhagen blasted Edgar with a knee that left fans wondering about Edgar’s immediate future. Edgar got back to his feet and was able to stand in the center of the octagon as Bruce Buffer read the outcome of the fight, which was good to see. However, we’re now left to wonder what the future holds for Edgar as we know the UFC is not likely to do him any favors when it comes to future bookings.
Michael Johnson: In 2016, Johnson knocked out Dustin Poirier in the first round. Since that win, Johnson has gone 2-7. Johnson is someone who will gladly fight any opponent the UFC gives him, but at this point, it won’t be a surprise is the UFC releases Johnson to invest in younger (and cheaper) talent.
Manel Kape: Kape entered the UFC with some hype thanks to a good run under the Rizin banner. However, he might have bought into that hoopla a bit too much. Kape was a little too much show and a not enough action during his matchup against Alexandre Pantoja. Kape waited to long to up his offense and didn’t show a sense of urgency and that cost him the fight. Kape looked good and if he takes something away from his loss, it should be that he has to start faster and keep up the pressure. I expect that we’ll see a very different fight from Kape in his next trip to the octagon.
Mike Rodriguez: Rodriguez might have been a better striker than Danilo Marques, but his takedown defense was not strong enough to keep this fight standing. Marques scored on four of seven takedown attempts before he put Rodriguez to sleep with a rear-naked choke. Rodriguez has now lost back-to-back fights via submission. It’s clear that Rodriguez needs a lot more work on the mat if he wants to keep up with UFC-level competition.
Justin Jaynes: Jaynes did his best to overcome an eight-inch reach disadvantage against Devonte Smith, but he could not establish himself on the feet. Jaynes did not do any better on the ground as he allowed Smith to gain full mount and then back control. A swollen eye brought this one to an end, but before that, things were not going Jaynes’ way.
Joselyne Edwards: Edwards could not find the space she needed to land her powerful punches against Karol Rosa. The one time she got an opening, Edwards drove Rosa across the cage with a nice combination that left blood pouring from the mouth of her opponent. Rosa’s strength against the cage and on the mat allowed her to negate any sustained offense from Edwards.
Molly McCann: McCann did her best to use her aggression and striking in the early going of each round against Lara Procopio, but things did not go her way. Procopio was just too strong for McCann and McCann’s takedown defense could not hold up to the pressure of her opponent. The loss was the second consecutive defeat for McCann, who left her gloves on the canvas after the decision setback. However, she did not retire, the gloves were a tribute to her late father. Saturday’s fight card took place on his birthday.
Youssef Zalal: Zalal showed good striking defense and movement in the early going, but without much of a counter striking game, he was mostly backing up for the first 10 minutes of the fight. Zalal attempted a submission in the third round, but his opponent, Seung Woo Choi, escaped from that choke.
If Zalal wants to fight on the mat, he needs to find a way to get his takedowns early, waiting until the third round didn’t serve him well on Saturday.
Martin Day: If Day had any doubts on what he needed to work on to progress in MMA, Timur Valiev gave him a blueprint. Day struggled to stop the takedowns of his opponent and then Valiev held him on the mat. Valiev has a heavy top game, so this wasn’t really a surprise. Day, a member of the UFC since 2018, fell to 0-4 with the one-sided decision loss.
Jerome Rivera: Rivera opened the fight with a high kick. That proved to be his undoing, as Rivera could not get his leg back to the canvas fast enough to reset and avoid an incoming counter left from Ode’ Osbourne. That left finished the fight 26 seconds into the contest. Rivera, a product of the Contender Series fell to 0-3 in official UFC bouts.
That video interlude: I don’t know what purpose that Eminem video served, but I do know it was not good and it slowed down the broadcast and took a lot of wind out of the sales of Sandhagen’s stunning knockout win. It was — in a word — bad.