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UFC Vegas 56 preview: Hard hitting heavyweights top the card

Get the scoop on the main card of UFC Vegas 56, headlined by gatekeeper to the elite Alexander Volkov looking to turn away KO specialist Jairzinho Rozenstruik.

Alexander Volkov kicking Tom Aspinall at UFC London
Alexander Volkov kicking Tom Aspinall at UFC London
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

After a week off, the UFC isn’t exactly coming back with a bang. That isn’t to say the main event between Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik is a bad fight. In fact, I’d say it’s a perfectly acceptable Fight Night main event. The reason why I’m hesitant about giving it a solid endorsement is it doesn’t feel like a fight we need to see over the course of five rounds. It’s rare when heavyweight contests definitively remain entertaining over the course of five rounds. Then again, I supposed Rozenstruik delivered one of the greatest fifth round finishes in UFC history and Volkov was on the receiving end of one of he greatest last moment finishes as well. Volkov’s may have come at the end of a three round fight, but nonetheless, it was in the closing seconds of a fight. Perhaps the UFC is hoping for lightning to strike again.

For the prelims preview, click here. For an audio preview, click here.

Alexander Volkov vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Heavyweight

As much as this fight doesn’t excite me, I’ll admit it is the right fight to make. Volkov and Rozenstruik have had several opportunities to break into the upper crust of the heavyweight division, only to come up short each time. However, whenever they end up fighting less qualified competition, both Volkov and Rozenstruik have disposed of their opposition, usually with minimal effort. While it appears unlikely these two will climb into the elite, this contest does help establish a clear pecking order.

Volkov and Rozenstruik are very different fighters. Volkov relies on his length and height, staying on the outside, typically outpointing his opponent. Rozenstruik is usually losing until he isn’t. What I mean by that, is Rozenstruik has a negative strike differential in his UFC run, something you wouldn’t expect out of someone populating the top ten of their division. However, Rozenstruik usually needs just one clean shot to land and he has an opponent dead to rights.

There probably isn’t a more one-dimensional fighter in the heavyweight’s top ten. Given Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngnannou are members of the division, that’s saying something. While I’m not so sure Rozenstruik has the same unnatural power possessed by Lewis and Ngannou, it isn’t like he’s far off the mark. What helps Rozenstruik to find his level of success has been the technique in which he throws his punches. Ngannou and Lewis tend to throw more haymakers with the hopes of something landing. Rozenstruik is a lot more selective, leading to the negative strike differential. Rozenstruik has acknowledged some of the limitations to this style and has made some adjustments, adding more low kicks and looking to create more openings rather than simply wait for them to develop.

However, would those minor developments be enough to counter the outside offense from Volkov? We’re about to find out. Volkov utilizes a large volume of kicks to all levels. Yes, he’ll pepper the legs of his opponents, but it’s hard not to think of the ferocity in which he dug his foot into the mid-section of Walt Harris and not cringe in sympathetic pain. Volkov has always had a solid one-two combo as well, but he has started throwing lengthier combinations with greater frequency as of late.

There is one big red flag for those feeling confident in picking Volkov: he’s looked like a shell of himself in his last two contests. Volkov barely squeaked by Marcin Tybura when he was expect to blow him out of the water. Then, he was the one who got blown out by Tom Aspinall. A case could be made that Volkov was concerned about his very pregnant wife during the Tybura contest and Aspinall is just that good… but it could be the first signs of a decline. After all, Volkov has 44 professional fights under his belt.

This fight feels like a crossroads for Volkov. If he can’t dispose of Rozenstruik, his days of being the gatekeeper to the top five of the division appear to be over. Rozenstruik has enough power that he’s never truly out of a fight, but there’s no denying his style also has severe limitations. He is young enough in his MMA career that he could still make a notable leap. That said, the steps he has taken have all been incremental. Plus, even if Volkov has begun to slow down, he has the style to dispose of Rozenstruik. I’m picking Volkov, but not with the same confidence I would have done so had this fight been made a year ago. Volkov via decision

Dan Ige vs. Movsar Evloev, Featherweight

This feels like the last opportunity for Ige to compete alongside the best in the division. Evloev is a step down from the likes of Calvin Kattar, Chan Sung Jung, and Josh Emmett – the three men who have defeated Ige over the last two years – but that may only be because Evloev has yet to test himself against the best. There are many who believe he’ll fight for a title someday.

Evloev has yet to pick up a finish five fights into his UFC run, which may be the biggest negative dogging him at this juncture. He’s a steady striker who throws in combination. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of power in his punches, leaving little deterrent for his opponents to step into the pocket with him. That has been demonstrated quite clearly by Nik Lentz and Hakeem Dawodu… when Evloev has permitted them to stand and trade. However, that also brings up what could lead to Evloev’s downfall: his insistence on proving himself. Against Dawodu, Evloev dominated the first two rounds on the back of his wrestling, taking down the Canadian striker at will. When he opted to strike in the final round, it created the only real drama of the fight as Dawodu managed to wobble the Russian.

That could very well give Ige the edge he needs to steal away the contest from the heavily favored Evloev. Ige doesn’t have a phase in which he is dominant in. He’s a solid boxer, a good wrestler, and an underrated grappler. Given he doesn’t excel in any one single area, it isn’t hard to decipher the Hawaiian is at his best when he’s able to mix things up, keep his opponent guessing where his attack will come from next. Ige has worked to add a bit more diversity to his attack – he has made low kicks a greater part of his attack from his initial UFC contests – but is hampered by his lack of elite athleticism. Well, at least that has been the missing component against those he has lost to.

Perhaps a lack of elite athleticism isn’t the only thing that hurts Ige. Not exceling in any one area allow his opponents to overwhelm him should they themselves excel somewhere. Jung took him down whenever he wanted and controlled him for long stretches. Emmett’s incredible power made up for the slight advantage Ige had in volume. Kattar’s size allowed him to use his length to outpoint the smaller Ige. In the case of Evloev, it looks like he’ll put on a similar performance to the Korean Zombie, taking Ige down at will and controlling him for long stretches. Ige’s occasional power may get a chance to secure him the upset if Evloev wants to prove he can hang with Ige on the feet. Given Evloev may be able to win without his wrestling, I feel confident in picking Evloev to continue his ascension. Evloev via decision

  • Lucas Almeida may have come up short in his appearance on DWCS last season, but it was one of the most competitive contests on the season. Uncle Dana was impressed enough to have Almeida signed once he picked up a win on the regional scene. It isn’t hard to see why. Almeida is going to be huge for a 145er — he’ll be making his debut in the weight class — with aggression and power aplenty. Despite his aggression, he tends to maintain his volume late in fights. Then again, how will Almeida handle the weight cut? Most would agree he’s more physically gifted than his opponent, Mike Trizano, making the likelihood of a successful debut better than it would appear on paper. However, Trizano is the classic overachiever that manages to do everything well without excelling in a single area. What that requires is for his opponent to have a shortcoming he can exploit. Almeida is a decent BJJ practitioner, but his wrestling leaves much to be desired. Trizano isn’t much of a finisher, but he’s tough to put away. Trizano via decision
  • One of the more surprising signings from the past season of DWCS was Karine Silva. The Brazilian has talent – you don’t secure a 100% finishing rate this deep into a career without it – but she was also losing her fight with Qihui Yan before securing a guillotine for the win. Silva hits like a truck and has an underrated submission game. What she lacks is the connecting tissues to make everything work as she hopes to climb the ladder. At 28, there’s still time for her to do that. Poliana Botelho is somewhat similar. She has struggled to remain effective over the course of a 15 minute contest, but also possesses plenty of power when she lets her fists fly. The biggest thing that looks like Botelho will be able to separate herself from Silva is a notable advantage in speed and quickness. That alone doesn’t make me confident in picking her – I wouldn’t put money on either fighter – but looking at film, that’s the most notable characteristic that has me believing Botelho will outwork Silva. I won’t discount Silva landing some heavy artillery to put Botelho away, but Botelho has shown a high degree of durability. Botelho via decision
  • There’s a lot of people who are expecting big things out of Ode Osbourne. Possessing an incredible amount of length for the flyweight division and plus power, Osbourne creates a tricky matchup for anyone who steps into the cage with him. Depending on the opponent, tricky doesn’t always equate to difficult, but I think that will prove the case for Zarrukh Adashev. The native of Uzbekistan is a talented kickboxer with a solid understanding of angles. However, he’s also on the small side, even for flyweight. If Adashev’s contest with Su Mudaerji is any indication, he’ll find limited success navigating Osbourne’s reach, but it likely wouldn’t be enough to convince the judges to side with Adashev. It would be shocking if the fight spent a significant amount of time on the mat, but Osbourne’s submission abilities would give him the advantage there as well. Outside of Adashev landing a bomb, this is Osbourne’s fight to lose. Osbourne via decision
  • Alonzo Menifield is at a precipice in his UFC career. He entered the organization as an explosive KO artist, blasting through the likes of Paul Craig. Once the squat 205er began facing opponents with comparable athleticism, it looked like he hit a ceiling. To be fair to Menifield, he did go back to the drawing board and address some of his issues – most notably, his ability to remain effective over 15 minutes – but it’s questionable whether it has been enough to help him take the next step. However, what he has learned looks like it will be enough for him to edge past Askar Mozharov, the newcomer from Ukraine. Mozharov has a similar regional record to Menifield, blasting through most of his opponents in the first round. However, Mozharov has also padded that record by demolishing a high number of cans. Plus, he isn’t on the same athletic plane as Menifield. Mozharov isn’t lacking for power, so a win for Menifield isn’t a guarantee – it’s not like Menifield is a defensive juggernaut – but Menifield’s edge in high level experience and overall physical skills makes him a pretty safe pick over the former welterweight. Menifield via TKO of RD1