After Dustin Poirier’s second-round knockout of Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler’s stunning first-round dispatching of Dan Hooker at UFC 257, the UFC took a week off. The company departed FIght Island and headed back to its stateside home of Las Vegas. Now, the organization returns to the confines of the UFC Apex for UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Volkov.
In the main event, two elite heavyweight strikers clash. The winner takes one big step toward the ultimate goal of fighting for a UFC championship. Former K-1 Grand Prix champion, Dream and Strikeforce kingpin, and UFC title challenger Alistair Overeem has won four of his last five fights and currently sits at fifth in the official UFC heavyweight rankings. Overeem collides with sixth-ranked Alexander Volkov. A victory for Overeem would put him only one or two wins away from another crack at the belt. It’s now or never for the 40-year-old to string together one last run to the top.
The evening’s co-headliner comes in the bantamweight division. Former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar makes his second appearance in the weight class when he goes up against Aurora, Colo., native Cory Sandhagen. Sandhagen bounced back from a submission loss to Aljamain Sterling and scored a finish of Edgar’s former stablemate Marlon Moraes.
The lone women’s fight on the main card is also a 135-pound affair. The showdown pits Marion Reneau against Macy Chiasson.
Elsewhere on the main card, the flyweight division is on display when former The Ultimate Fighter contestant Alexandre Pantoja meets UFC newcomer and Rizin veteran Manel Kape. In addition, Cody Stamann gets back to action against late-replacement foe Askar Askar, who steps in for Andre Ewell. The main card opens with a lightweight clash between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts Beneil Dariush and Diego Ferreira.
UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Volkov will be the first event of 2021 held inside the United States after a trio of shows on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. With ongoing COVID-19 precautions still in place across the country, the event will be held in a fan-free environment inside the UFC Apex. The prelims starts at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+, followed at 8 p.m. ET by the main card, also on ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Alistair Overeem is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he won both of his fights, but the kickboxer is now 40 years old and has had a hard time recently against top-10 opponents. Can Alexander Volkov capitalize and add Overeem’s scalp to his resume?
Sumian: Despite suffering numerous brutal defeats throughout his UFC career, “The Demolition Man” continues to amaze fans with his dedication, resilience and commitment to another title run in the UFC heavyweight division.
Despite his age, Overeem has looked better than ever in finishing Walt Harris and Augusto Sakai in spectacular fashion. In these two fights, he showed the world that he still has what it takes to compete in the world’s top promotion. Overeem has 47 pro MMA victories under his belt, with a majority coming by way of submission or knockout. Fresh off his two recent wins, he must now defeat Volkov in impressive fashion if he plans to continue his late climb to the UFC throne.
Volkov’s list of UFC victories is nothing close to the competition Overeem has faced since joining the promotion in 2011. The Russian tower’s last four UFC appearances have resulted in a 2-2 record that includes a brutal third-round knockout loss courtesy of Derrick Lewis and a defeat via dominant decision against Curtis Blaydes. Meanwhile, his two victories came at the expense of Greg Hardy and the aforementioned Harris. These guys are, at best, mediocre competition.
Volkov’s key to victory will be to keep this fight at a distance, where he can fire off long strikes to the legs and body of Overeem while avoiding the immense knockout power of the former K-1 superstar. Both men boast a whopping 80-inch reach, but Volkov also stands three inches taller than Overeem.
Overeem will look to stay technical and composed as he competes with Volkov on the feet and waits to find an opening to lunge for a takedown. Overeem’s numerous training partners include the aforementioned Blaydes, whose strategy against Volkov involved offensive wrestling and constant pressure. Overeem will implement a similar game plan to get his taller opponent to the ground, where he can then fire off his infamous ground-and-pound and unleash some of the most vicious elbows in the game today. “The Demolition Man” will score another key victory on Saturday when he takes out Volkov via TKO.
Petela: The transformation that Overeem has made in his career is astonishing. He went from a light heavyweight in Pride to the “Ubereem” in his early UFC days and on to a leaner heavyweight who utilizes range and precision striking rather than brute force. He certainly still has the ability to end fights with one punch, but he now prefers instead to show off the highly technical striking that earned him a vast set of kickboxing accolades.
Volkov has been a heavyweight champion in two major promotions — Bellator and M-1 — and he has had success inside the UFC outside of that quasi-fluke knockout loss to Lewis and the decision against Blaydes, an elite wrestler. At 6-foot-7, the Russian is one of the longest and rangiest heavyweights around. He should be able to frustrate this newest incarnation of the Dutchman Overeem and pick him apart with front kicks and a stiff jab.
This fight won’t have a highlight-reel finish. Instead, it will go the distance, and Volkov will have his hand raised. It will be hands down the biggest win of the skyscraper’s career and will put him inside the top five in the rankings. At age 32, Volkov is a relatively young heavyweight who is still improving. Once the title picture clears up a bit after the rematch between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou, Volkov will be in a prime position to fight for the crown.
With Overeem publicly stating that he is looking to make one more run at the title, it wouldn’t be a shock if this is his final time inside the Octagon. His inability to capitalize on this opportunity will be the proof he needs to realize that he is no longer capable of capturing the UFC gold.
Outside of a loss to fellow bantamweight contender Aljamain Sterling, Cory Sandhagen has been taking out his fellow top 135-pounders. How does he stack up to the next big name on his schedule, Frankie Edgar?
Petela: This is a tough fight to predict. After losing three out of four fights at featherweight, where he was knocked out for the first and second time in his career, Edgar looked good at bantamweight against Pedro Munhoz. He went the full 25 minutes without appearing to fatigue, and the weight cut didn’t seem to have a negative impact on his performance. If this fight was slated as a five-round main event, then it would certainly give Edgar the edge.
Unfortunately for the New Jersey product and Mark Henry pupil, this contest will wind up being another feather in Sandhagen’s cap. “The Sandman” looked great in his last outing against Marlon Moraes and showed off impeccable timing. He won’t end up as the third person to finish “The Answer,” but Sandhagen will build up a lead on the scorecards in a three-round affair where Edgar won’t have the fourth and fifth frames in which to mount a comeback.
Sumian: Despite being well into the back half of his career, Edgar’s resilience and cardio can keep him competitive with anyone in the UFC. However, Sandhagen is one of the few bantamweights who would even have been able to keep up with a prime Edgar’s pace.
The lengthy and slick Sandhagen is coming off that huge win over Moraes and currently sits as the official No. 2 bantamweight in the UFC’s rankings. He’ll utilize his incredible footwork and striking at range to take the unanimous decision over Edgar and put himself extremely close to a title shot in 2021.
Manel Kape and Denys Bondar — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: These guys definitely deserve some attention.
Angola’s Kape compiled an impressive 15-4 record outside the UFC. He spent the last few years competing in Japan’s Rizin Fighting Federation, where he went 4-3 and took on the likes of Kyoji Horiguchi and Kai Asakura. Kape is currently riding a three-fight winning streak that includes second-round finishes of Seiichiro Ito, Takeya Mizugaki and the aforementioned Asakura. He boasts tremendous knockout power for a flyweight, and he’ll need that power in order to be successful in his Octagon debut against Alexandre Pantoja. Kape’s streak will continue with a knockout of Pantoja in the first round, and he’ll immediately enter the title mix in a shallow flyweight division after such a successful UFC debut.
Ukraine’s Bondar is currently on an eight-fight winning streak and has compiled an impressive 14-1 record outside the UFC. He’s equipped with knockout power and an impressive ground game. The 28-year-old has finished his opponent in all of his victories. He makes his UFC debut against Ode Osbourne. Bondar will score a first-round submission victory.
Petela: Well, my colleague didn’t leave much of me to add. These guys not only have the opportunity to have standout debut performances, but also to put together impressive winning streaks and enter into contention for a title before too long.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Michael Johnson. His career is really an anomaly. Johnson holds wins over contenders Edson Barboza, Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirier. However, he is currently on a three-fight skid in which his losses have come against Josh Emmett, Stevie Ray and Thiago Moises. With all due respect to these guys, they aren’t fighters that someone like Johnson should come up short against. Johnson’s upcoming fight with Clay Guida is another one that Johnson should win on paper. However, as has often happened, he will find a way to lose. This will be the end of the road for Johnson in the UFC and the beginning of his legacy as a guy who had all the talent in the world but could never quite put it together under the bright lights.
Sumian: Marion Reneau. The 43-year-old high school teacher’s best days are well behind her. Reneau is currently on a three-fight skid and will face a young and fresh opponent in Macy Chiasson. Chiasson will likely hand Reneau her fourth defeat, which will lead to a pink slip for the aging veteran.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Diego Ferreira and Beniel Dariush are going to steal the show when they open the main card and put on a “Fight of the Night” candidate. These lightweights are on big winning streaks as they head into this very critical bout that could land the winner a huge top-10 opponent later in the year. The two men have combined for 24 finishes and have improved their striking tremendously since their Octagon debuts. Expect fireworks here.
Petela: Timur Valiev and Martin Day. Not many debuts were as tumultuous as Valiev’s first UFC appearance. After waiting nearly two years, he was a late scratch from his scheduled August bout. Three weeks later, he fought Trevin Jones, a late replacement. The opening round went as planned for Valiev, but things took a drastic turn in the second frame when the heavy favorite ended up losing by TKO.
Despite the eventual overturning of that result to a no-contest when Jones tested positive for marijuana, it was still about as disappointing as it gets for a prospect of Valiev’s stature. However, he’ll right the ship in a major way this weekend and show a wider audience why so many fans worldwide had him pegged as a legitimate contender.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Beneil Dariush. He is on a five-fight winning streak that has netted him three performance bonuses. His most recent win over Scott Holtzman likely would have been a fourth straight “Performance of the Night” had Dariush not missed weight heading into the contest. Now, he has a dangerous opponent in Diego Ferreira in a rematch of a 2014 contest that Dariush won. Despite his BJJ black belt, don’t expect Dariush to want to engage too heavily in the grappling realm with Ferreira. Instead, Dariush will let his hands go to score a knockout and collect another bonus.
Sumian: Alistair Overeem. The Dutchman will finish Alexander Volkov via TKO after dominating him with vicious ground-and-pound. “The Demolition Man” is not done yet, folks. Just you watch.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: Optimism. This card features a ton of fan-friendly fights that could result in spectacular finishes, several “Fight of the Night” candidates, and the birth of some potential title contenders. With names like Alistair Overeem, Beneil Dariush, Frankie Edgar and Cory Sandhagen in the lineup, this card has something for everybody. It will deliver a very entertaining evening, to say the least.
Petela: This fight card will indeed be action-packed from top to bottom despite largely going under the radar on the heels of UFC 257. Pair it with a 12-year-old Loch Lomond single-malt scotch. Despite not receiving the same attention as the pricier and more popular single malts like Macallan and Glenlivet, Loch Lomond is undoubtedly just as high in quality.
Main Card (ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
HW: Alistair Overeem vs. Alexander Volkov
BW: Cory Sandhagen vs. Frankie Edgar
Women’s BW: Marion Reneau vs. Macy Chiasson
FlyW: Alexandre Pantoja vs. Manel Kape
BW: Cody Stamann vs. Askar Askar
LW: Diego Ferreira vs. Beneil Dariush
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET)
LW: Michael Johnson vs. Clay Guida
LHW: Mike Rodriguez vs. Danilo Marques
BW: Timur Valiev vs. Martin Day
Women’s FlyW: Molly McCann vs. Lara Procópio
FW: Youssef Zalal vs. Seung Woo Choi
LW: Devonte Smith vs. Justin Jaynes
BW: Ode Osbourne vs. Denys Bondar
Women’s BW: Karol Rosa vs. Joselyne Edwards
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