After a much-needed, albeit brief, respite from the UFC last weekend, yet another incarnation of UFC Fight Night is upon us. This latest card, the 127th iteration in the series, originates from jolly ol’ England on St. Patrick’s Day, of all days. It also originates entirely on UFC Fight Pass. As far as streaming-only fight cards go, this one appears to be one of the better offerings the UFC has made lately.
The main event features perennial top-five heavyweight Fabricio Werdum against the surging Alexander Volkov. Werdum has won three out of his last four fights. The Brazilian seems primed to finally receive a rematch with Stipe Miocic for the UFC heavyweight title, but only if he gets past Volkov. This will not be an easy task. The Russian is undefeated in his three-fight UFC career, with wins over the likes of Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve. Volkov is also a former Bellator heavyweight champion, so he is definitely more than just a stepping stone for Werdum to finally receive another title shot.
The co-headliner is an actual rematch. Jimi Manuwa and Jan Błachowicz run it back from their first meeting in 2015. Manuwa is coming off a first-round knockout loss to former light heavyweight title contender Volkan Oezdemir, but he is still very much in the mix in the title conversation for a shallow 205-pound division. Manuwa edged out Błachowicz on the scorecards in their first meeting. Błachowicz will seek retribution on Saturday night.
The preliminary card begins at 1:45 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 17, on UFC Fight Pass. The main card follows at 5 p.m. ET. In the meantime, Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Bryan Henderson get you ready for all of the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Alexander Volkov has been on a roll since joining the UFC. While he’s already topped borderline top-10 fighters Stefan Struve and Roy Nelson, Fabricio Werdum represents his first true elite challenge. Does Volkov succeed in this fight?
Henderson: Well, Volkov has several things working against him. First, he’s fighting someone who is leaps and bounds above his previous best competition. Werdum is a legitimate member of the heavyweight elite. Second, we’re talking about a fighter in Volkov who lost to the likes of Tony Johnson Jr. and Cheick Kongo while competing under the Bellator banner. Neither of those men finished him, but neither of those opponents is exactly within shouting distance of the top tier.
Volkov is one of many heavyweights (see also: Derrick Lewis, the aforementioned Struve, fighters who held the UFC heavyweight title more than a decade ago) who has truly benefited from the extreme lack of depth in the division. That’s not to say he’s a horrible fighter, but he’d place in the slightly above-average area of a more stacked division. He couldn’t get past Vitaly Minakov or the aforementioned Kongo and Johnson Jr., but he’s topped the likes of Struve, Nelson and Blagoi Ivanov. The Russian could almost be considered a slightly more polished version of Struve. He’s a tall, lanky heavyweight who knows how to use his reach advantage better than Struve, but otherwise demonstrates similar faults when tasked with consistently winning fights against top heavyweights.
Werdum has developed a solid striking arsenal in recent years to accompany his extremely dangerous ground game. He only lost to Alistair Overeem by a majority decision and his only recent decimation came at the hands of reigning champ Stipe Miocic. He has a far bigger toolbox than Kongo and Johnson Jr., and that should allow him to overcome whatever his Russian counterpart might throw his way. Volkov’s not going to succeed here. Instead, Werdum should score the decision win.
Huntemann: Volkov really surprised me in his fight against Struve. You wouldn’t expect two tall, lanky white dudes to put on that entertaining of a performance — be honest, you really wouldn’t — but Volkov is a striking machine, racking up more than 100 total strikes in his last two fights. The Russian hits early and often.
However, as my esteemed colleague just finished saying, Werdum complements his world-class ground game with an ever-improving striking attack. He used both in his last fight to halt the surge of Marcin Tybura, another heavyweight from across the pond. Werdum is rounding into form. He continues to chomp at the bit for a heavyweight title rematch that he hasn’t received yet.
If Volkov uses his height and reach advantage to its full potential, he has a chance. However, Werdum should take another convincing decision and wait, like the rest of us, to see what happens when Miocic and Daniel Cormier face off this summer.
Tom Duquesnoy got off to a slow start in his Octagon debut before finishing Patrick Williams. In his sophomore outing, he dropped a split decision to Cody Stamann. Is Duquesnoy still a future contender, or will his next opponent, Terrion Ware, once and for all close the door on the Frenchman’s super-prospect status?
Huntemann: I often wonder who decides to label fighters a “prospect,” and what exactly makes up the criteria. I’m not very impressed with Duquesnoy. He seems like a fine fighter, but nothing really seems to stand out with him. He beat Williams, a fighter with a record just above the .500 mark who hadn’t fought in almost two years before facing Duquesnoy.
That said, Ware doesn’t seem to be much to write home about either after being thoroughly outstruck in his first two UFC losses. Duquesnoy will get past Ware and at least get another chance to live up to his arbitrarily determined “prospect” label.
Henderson: Given his UFC performances thus far, Duquesnoy sure doesn’t look like the super-prospect he was made out to be when he first entered the league. He appeared tentative against Williams and couldn’t top Stamann, who has become the division’s fast-rising prospect in Duquesnoy’s place. However, we really need to take a step back and look at the Frenchman’s overall resume.
This guy was a two-division champ for a top British promotion — this puts him in the same realm as Conor McGregor, folks — and he defeated the respectable likes of Teddy Violet, Brendan Loughnane, Shay Walsh and Alan Philpott during his extended run at the top. In a way, he was more successful on the British scene, thanks to several defenses of his belts, than his more famous counterpart.
Let’s cut Duquesnoy some slack for his first two UFC fights. The bout against Williams took place in Kansas City, Mo. This marked the French fighter’s first foray to American soil for a fight, and it wasn’t just any fight. Duquesnoy had to combine a trip to America with a high-profile Octagon debut that actually headlined the prelims. Wanna bet there were some jitters involved there? UFC 216, where Duquesnoy met Stamann, was also held on U.S. shores, and the former BAMMA champ was tasked with an opponent who has quickly climbed the bantamweight ranks. The fact that the fight was close enough to split the judges is a good sign for Duquesnoy.
This might sound like a lot of apologizing for a guy who was expected to come in and take the UFC by storm, but not everyone can be an Anderson Silva or Conor McGregor right out of the gates. Duquesnoy is headed in the right direction, and the UFC is helping him out immensely by placing him on a card that takes place in England, where he’s enjoyed the majority of his success. Duquesnoy should shine against Ware. The win might even give him the boost of confidence he needs to get back on track and live up to his billing.
John Phillips, Charles Byrd, Hakeem Dawodu, Magomed Ankalaev and Dmitry Sosnovskiy — do we need to know these names?
Henderson: The UFC is throwing everything from “The White Mike Tyson” to an undefeated World Series of Fighting veteran at us in this one. The company even added another undefeated prospect who has not fought in more than two and a half years.
Philips is the fighter whose nickname suggests he’s on par with one of the world’s most well-known boxers. The 32-year-old’s record backs up the claim, too. He has 18 wins by some form of knockout, plus a submission that came as a result of strikes. It probably doesn’t hurt his UFC prospects that he hails from the same camp that gave the world Conor McGregor. The Welsh fighter could provide some entertaining knockouts inside the Octagon, but we do have to temper our expectations here. He’s lost fights to Jim Wallhead, Tom Watson, Frank Trigg and Jesse Taylor, among others. None of those fighters have exactly found a ton of success inside the UFC, but they all found a way to defeat Phillips.
The undefeated WSOF fighter is the 26-year-old Dawodu. The Canadian fighter kicked things off with two victories under the WSOF Canada banner before shifting to the parent WSOF and adding on another five wins and a draw. He scored six of his victories via knockout, including a win in a rematch against the fighter against whom he fought to a draw. His only fight to go the distance came against UFC veteran Steven Siler. Dawodu has the potential to turn into a top featherweight, and he can really prove himself if he tops former EFC Worldwide champ Danny Henry at this event. However, this is his first trip across the pond, and that alone might give an edge to the talented Henry.
Sosnovskiy has been sidelined for nearly three years, but the Ukrainian-born prospect will finally make his debut after stepping in to replace Dmitry Poberezhets as Mark Godbeer’s foe. The heavyweight division needs all the help it can get, but it’s hard to say if the undefeated Sosnovskiy is the answer. His biggest win came against a past-his-prime Aleksander Emelianenko. The 28-year-old has been working with veteran heavyweight Aleksei Oleinik’s camp, though, which could translate into good things.
Ankalaev is undefeated through 10 fights and, at age 25, he has youth on his side. The Russian won an Akhmat Fight Show tournament that included solid veteran opponents Artur Astakhov and Maxim Grishin, so there’s a chance he could emerge as a legitimate light heavyweight for the UFC. Ankalaev draws Paul Craig, a tough but beatable opponent, for his Octagon debut.
Byrd is the biggest wild card. “Kid Dynamite” has just a 9-4 mark, but he did score submission victories in both of his appearances on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Byrd faces the aforementioned Phillips in his debut.
Huntemann: Man, you have to love these Fight Pass cards that take place in other countries. We get all kinds of alphabet soup with some of these guys’ names.
I’m going to give Sosnovskiy some pub, since he faces Godbeer, who seems to be turning into something of a cult favorite among UFC fans. Sosnovskiy is undefeated, but Godbeer has won his last two fights. You never know what can happen when the big boys throw down, and though I’m sure Sosnovskiy will give Godbeer everything he can handle, Godbeer will still have the winning “Hand of.” See what I did there?
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: The preliminary card bout between Stevie Ray and Kajan Johnson definitely has the potential for fireworks, and it really should be on the main card. Johnson has won his last three fights and is coming off a knockout victory in his last bout. He has also become an emerging voice in the ongoing movement to improve compensation for fighters.
Ray suffered a first-round knockout loss to Paul Felder in his last fight. Can we really hold it against Ray, though? He got the better of two longtime veterans in Joe Lauzon and Ross Pearson prior to his loss to Felder, and Ray seems like the ideal man to stifle the momentum of a fighter like Johnson.
Henderson: John Phillips and Charles Byrd.
One fighter has 28 fights and has only gone to a decision once. The other man has 13 fights and has only seen the scorecards on three occasions. They have 21 combined knockout wins. Throw in an additional seven combined submission victories. Meanwhile, they’ve lost a combined two knockouts and five submissions.
There’s almost assuredly a finish in the makings when “The White Mike Tyson” meets “Kid Dynamite.” Phillips, a BAMMA and Cage Warriors veteran, is fighting in familiar territory at this British event. Byrd might not have the best record, but he scored big submission wins in his two appearances on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
These two guys are going to hunt for a finish from the opening bell, which should make this into one of the most exciting fights of the evening.
Pair this card with…
Henderson: A night of BAMMA nostalgia. It’s no surprise that this card is loaded with veterans of the British MMA circuit, but BAMMA takes the cake with eight alumni on the card. Co-headliner Jimi Manuwa made a quick stop in the promotion. Tom Duquesnoy held bantamweight and featherweight titles for BAMMA. Leon Edwards is a former BAMMA welterweight champion. John Phillips often faltered in his appearances with the promotion, but his most recent stop there netted him a middleweight championship. Jack Marshman also reigned over the company’s middleweight division. Paul Craig captured the league’s light heavyweight strap. Stevie Ray was a BAMMA lightweight titleholder. Mark Godbeer held the organization’s heavyweight crown. This UFC trip to London is essentially a BAMMA legends tour of sorts.
Huntemann: Since this card takes place on St. Patrick’s Day, I think you can guess where I’m going with this. I know relations between the Irish and English are not always the best, but on this day, of all days, can we just agree that we’re all Irish and like good beer to go with what will hopefully be a good night of fights?
|Fight||Henderson’s Pick||Huntemann’s Pick|
|Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 5 p.m. ET)|
|HW: Fabricio Werdum vs. Alexander Volkov||Werdum||Werdum|
|LHW: Jimi Manuwa vs. Jan Błachowicz||Manuwa||Manuwa|
|BW: Tom Duquesnoy vs. Terrion Ware||Duquesnoy||Duquesnoy|
|WW: Leon Edwards vs. Peter Sobotta||Edwards||Edwards|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 1:45 p.m. ET)|
|MW: John Phillips vs. Charles Byrd||Phillips||Byrd|
|WW: Danny Roberts vs. Oliver Enkamp||Roberts||Roberts|
|WW: Brad Scott vs. Jack Marshman||Scott||Marshman|
|FW: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Danny Henry||Henry||Dawodu|
|LHW: Magomed Ankalaev vs. Paul Craig||Ankalaev||Craig|
|LW: Kajan Johnson vs. Stevie Ray||Johnson||Ray|
|HW: Mark Godbeer vs. Dmitry Sosnovskiy||Godbeer||Godbeer|