It was a rare week off for the leader in mixed martial arts last week, but this Saturday, Jun. 4, the UFC returns with an afternoon fight card from Las Vegas. The names adorning the marquee are two heavyweight stalwarts, both seemingly at a crossroads in their respective careers. Former Bellator and M-1 Global heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov takes on Suriname’s Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Both fighters are coming off losses and sport 2-2 records over their last four contests. The winner will remain a player in the UFC heavyweight division’s title picture, as the loser likely finds himself relegated to gatekeeper status, at least for the time being.
The co-main event is an intriguing showdown in the featherweight division as tenth-ranked Dan Ige meets undefeated number-13 contender Movsar Evloev. Ige will look to avoid a three-fight losing streak by handing Evloev his first career loss. Should Evloev pick up an emphatic victory over a fighter the caliber of Ige, it could move him into prime position to face off with a top-five contender and put him on a fast track towards a title bout with Alexander Volkanovski.
The event will take place inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, NV, and it airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 1 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Both Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik are coming into this fight off of losses in their last outings; which one of the big men gets back on track in the main event?
Sumian: At this point in their careers, neither top-10 heavyweight will be fighting for a title during their time with the UFC. Both Volkov and Rozenstruik have established themselves as entertaining top-15 heavyweights, but lack the ability to launch themselves into title contention. Nevertheless, both heavyweights are capable of putting on an entertaining bout that should provide viewers with a memorable finish one way or another.
Rozenstruik generally has one path to victory – hit his opponent as hard as he possibly can. This had led to 11 knockout victories, and an impressive 10-0 start to his professional career, before meeting Francis Ngannou. The eighth-ranked heavyweight has struggled against the division’s best, but is more than capable of landing a thunderous, fight-ending punch. A win over Volkov keeps him in the hunt for a potential top-five ranking in the top heavy heavyweight division.
Volkov is hard to figure out. The Russian heavyweight has looked like a legitimate threat to the heavyweight throne more than once throughout his MMA career. However, he has also fallen short several times, which has cost him title-eliminator fights and top-tier rankings. Volkov relies on volume striking and pressure to overwhelm his opponents and eventually earn a finish. If he hopes to ever claw his way back to the top of the division, a win over Rozenstruik is an absolute must.
This will be a classic showdown between a power puncher and volume striker. Rozenstruik will need to land big on Volkov, or else he will suffer a lopsided unanimous-decision loss. Volkov’s key to victory will be to stay on the outside and use his length to land precise combinations. Despite Rozenstruik’s power, Volkov should get back on track using his more polished striking and reach. The only way he loses is if he gets cocky in the later rounds and leaves himself open to a big punch. Volkov will keep his unlikely dream of a title shot alive by earning a unanimous decision victory.
Petela: My colleague is right that this fight will go one of two ways, either a devastating knockout by Jairzinho Rozenstruik or a lopsided decision victory for Alexander Volkov. What might be more interesting than the fight itself is the trajectories this bout puts the winner and loser on, respectively. These two fighters define the fringe of the heavyweight elite. These guys have both beaten very good fighters, but come up short against the best of the best.
Volkov enters this fight on the heels of a submission loss to an up-and-coming superstar in Tom Aspinall, and Rozenstruik got thoroughly handled by Curtis Blaydes in his last outing. Of the two fighters, Rozenstruik has the most to gain with a win.
Fans all know that he has devastating power and carries it late into fights, as he demonstrated with the last-second knockout of Alistair Overeem. Other than that, we haven’t seen him evolve yet from a talented and powerful kickboxer into a well-rounded, mature mixed martial artist. He is 33 years old, and if he is going to start making changes, now is the time. Don’t expect him to win a technical kickboxing bout against the rangier Volkov, but he will compete more than expected in a relatively methodical bout for the first few rounds. Ultimately, this will be a fight where Rozenstruik does land the equalizer late in the fight, and both fans and UFC matchmakers will be impressed both with the thunder with which he lands. They will also be impressed with the improvements he has made between fights, as his window towards eventually being a title challenger remains open for the time being.
Dan Ige has struggled recently, with three losses in his last four bouts; can he right the ship against the undefeated Movsar Evloev?
Petela: This is far from the ideal matchup for Dan Ige, as he looks to get back on track. Movsar Evloev is a grinder who will keep a high pace throughout the contest and force Ige to fight off of his back foot. Ige will have to carefully avoid the clinch with the Greco-Roman wrestling standout Evloev. If Evloev can get his hands clasped around Ige’s body, he will take him for a ride and then batter him on the ground for the entire round. If that happens in the first round, the second and third will be more of the same as Ige’s gas tank wanes. No disrespect to Ige’s wrestling and grappling skills, he is a former NCAA Division III college wrestler in his own right, but Evloev will prove to be the superior grappler.
If Ige can keep this fight upright he has a path to victory. He will have to be fleet-of-foot, as he cuts angles to play matador against a bullish fighter like Evloev. That certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but it is unlikely. This will be a dominant decision victory for Evloev, but, whether or not its fair, a decision win over a very tough-out in Ige won’t give Evloev as much matchmaking momentum as he probably deserves in his quest towards becoming a top-five contender at featherweight.
Sumian: Agreed with my colleague. Ige has been fighting top-tier featherweights, and a matchup with Evoloev is not an ideal way to get back on track. This will be a fun back-and-forth fight that should result in Evoloev earning a close decision victory.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: It is impossible to imagine a scenario where the loser of Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz is not sent packing. Since Apr. 2018, the pair have combined for a 1-8 record in the UFC. Kowalkiewicz holds a split-decision victory over Herrig in Apr. 2018, but this rematch means little to the rest of the division. Expect the winner to hold onto their roster spot a bit longer than she should, while the loser is finally released after a disappointing few years.
Petela: Niklas Stolze. He is 0-2 since joining the UFC and suffered a first-round knockout loss in his last outing. He needs to pick up a win this weekend to keep his spot on the roster. He is only 29 years old, so Stolze is just entering his physical prime and may have a bright future ahead of him. But a loss this weekend will send him back to the regional scene where maybe he needs a change of camp to put his skills together properly, if he is going to make a UFC comeback in the future.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Niklas Stolze vs. Benoit Saint-Denis. Saint-Denis’s UFC debut was nothing if not memorable. He took the fight on short notice and put his undefeated record on the line against a very dangerous opponent in Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos. The amount of punishment that Saint-Denis took in that bout was hellacious, and there were more than a few moments when the referee could have justifiably stopped the fight. But somehow he made it to the final bell. It has been more than eight months since that contest, so Saint-Denis has had a good deal of time to heal, and I expect him to pick up a win in his sophomore outing.
Sumian: Erin Blanchfield vs. JJ Aldrich is going to be a fun way to open up this card. Both are scrappy fighters capable of putting on a show for three straight rounds. Expect this one to go to the scorecards, but provide viewers with entertainment throughout the entirety of the bout.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: Joe Solecki by second-round submission. He will defeat Alex da Silva on Saturday and rebound from a split-decision loss to Jared Gordon back in Oct. 2021. Solecki is an interesting lightweight to keep an eye going into the back half of 2022.
Petela: If my esteemed colleague is correct, and Solecki picks up a post-fight bonus via a submission win, there will be two post-fight bonuses awarded to fighters who notch submission victories. Damon Jackson will grab his sixteenth career submission win, when he takes on an undefeated newcomer in Daniel Argueta. Argueta, is very talented, but the short-notice fight will be too much for the former LFA bantamweight champion. Jackson is a naturally bigger fighter, and he has some of the most underrated chokes in the featherweight division. This will be a great showcase for Jackson, but expect big things out of Argueta in the next few years.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Maker’s Mark. Admittedly, I am more of a Scotch drinker, but this fight card is chock-full of fighters who fight in a gritty, blue-collar way, so it’s more appropriate to splash some bourbon over ice for this event. There’s also a bit of a refined grit to a number of fighters on this card, not just pure brawlers who solely rely on toughness. They add in a high level of technical ability to compliment their grit. That’s why Maker’s Mark is the right pairing, rather than something a little cheaper and frankly grosser like Evan Williams.
Sumian: This fight night is a classic filler card. There isn’t a particular fight on this card to write home about, but definitely strong enough to pass the time. This is an ideal card to put in the background for a small kickback with BBQ, beers and sun. Burgers, hot dogs, and some Blue Moon coupled with good company.
Main Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
HW: Alexander Volkov vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
FW: Dan Ige vs. Movsar Evloev
FW: Michael Trizano vs. Lucas Almeida
Women’s FlyW: Karine Silva vs. Poliana Botelho
LHW: Alonzo Menifield vs. Askar Mozharov
Women’s StrawW: Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 1 p.m. ET)
LW: Joe Solecki vs. Alex Da Silva
FW: Daniel Argueta vs. Damon Jackson
FlyW: Ode’ Osbourne vs. Zarrukh Adashev
LW: Niklas Stolze vs. Benoit Saint Denis
BW: Johnny Munoz vs. Tony Gravely
FlyW: Jeffrey Molina vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
WW: Rinat Fakhretdinov vs. Andreas Michailidis
Women’s FlyW: Erin Blanchfield vs. JJ Aldrich
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