After ringing in the New Year with a trio of fantastic events at Fight Island, the UFC is returning to Las Vegas.
Our first event back at the UFC Apex facility is set to be a barn burner, as we have a star-studded card, headlined with a Heavyweight showdown between a resurgent Alistair Overeem and the towering Russian Alexander Volkov.
Alistair Overeem vs. Alexander Volkov (HW)
“The Demolition Man” is seeking one last run for the UFC gold, despite passing 40 years of age. Prior to Ngannou, Alistair Overeem (47-18, 12-7 UFC) was the one-shot wonder who could put anyone away in seconds. This rocketed him to a championship match with Stipe, which was ended in the first by Stipe (even though he tapped). Overeem is one of the original glass cannons, he still has incredible power and has ended his last four victories by knockout, along with world-class submission skills. However, he can quickly be ended by a hard hitter, as 14 of his 18 pro defeats have been finished by KO. On top of that, Overeem has fantastic grappling and submission skills that he has been much quicker to rely on in recent years.
Alexander Volkov (32-8, 6-2 UFC) has made himself a staple at the top of the Heavyweight division, most recently finishing Walt Harris in the second round with a fearsome body kick. Volkov is a tactical, lanky striker who uses his 6’7″ length to establish range and pick apart his opponent from his kickboxing range where they cannot hit him back. Although susceptible to counters inside the pocket, “Drago” can outpoint pretty much any fighter on the roster with his incessant volume, as well as holding knockout victories over Stephen Struve and Fabricio Werdum. Despite having a trio of submissions to his name and surprisingly adept wrestling, Volkov will be seeking to keep the entire match on the feet.
This is a fantastic bout with huge repercussions for the Heavyweight title picture with the logjam at the top of the division soon to be sorted out in April. Though both fighters are credentialed strikers, I give Volkov a clear edge when standing. His pace and precision are tailor-made to find the weathered chin of Overeem, who has been badly hurt in his past three bouts, showing that his durability is still a concern. However, he has made advancements with his fight IQ, much quicker to engage in grappling than in prior years. Unfortunately for the veteran, Volkov’s stellar takedown defense rate should keep the bout on the feet where he can pick apart the Reem for a finish.
Take the Shot: Alexander Volkov via Knockout
Cory Sandhagen vs. Frankie Edgar (BW)
Few fighters have shown such rapid growth as Cory Sandhagen (13-2, 6-1 UFC). With nearly every fight he seems to have added a new skill to his arsenal, never lacking the elements required to outscramble or outstrike his opponent. The Sandman scored a highlight reel knockout in his last outing, stopping Marlon Moraes in the second round with a wheel kick. He has deceptive power for his lanky frame and is well-rounded enough to secure a submission, but has shown lapses with his own wrestling defense. Sandhagen’s striking caliber can be attributed to his movement and precision, constantly switching stance while stalking down his prey before raining hellfire down on them.
Longtime veteran and future hall of fame Frankie Edgar (24-8-1, 18-8-1 UFC) made good on his Bantamweight debut, beating Pedro Munhoz in a Fight of the Night decision. “The Answer” meshes striking with his wrestling game to tire his opponent and wear them down. His gameplan is best when he can execute his wrestling and not have to worry about a counter-threat from his opponent, but he also has a dominant volume with his strikes, as well as fight-ending power, although he has not found a finish since a TKO over Chad Mendes in 2015.
Though Sandhagen is a deserving favorite with his youth and offensive versatility, the -400 odds he is currently sitting at are quite frankly ludicrous. The most prevalent hole in Sandhagen’s game is his takedown defense, with a subpar rate of 30%. Sandhagen brings in a clear advantage while striking, but Edgar proved in his last outing that he still has fantastic durability and the volume to keep it competitive at the very least. On the mat is where Frankie holds a clear advantage, as his wrestling pedigree and scrambling skills can keep Cory subdued on his back. So long as Edgar can claim Sandhagen’s respect on the feet and not allow him to tee off at range, he should claim a decision win by mixing his wrestling in.
Take the Shot: Frankie Edgar via Decision
Marion Reneau vs. Macy Chiasson (BW)
Note: After a positive COVID-19 test from Reneau, this bout has been rescheduled for February 27th.
Alexandre Pantoja vs. Manel Kape (FLW)
Alexandre Pantoja (22-5, 6-3 UFC) has made a name for himself as one of the most entertaining fighters in the Flyweight division with his brawling style and finishing ability. “The Cannibal” dropped a close decision to the surging Askar Askarov following an emphatic KO over Matt Schnell. Pantoja comes to brawl straight from the start, keeping heavy aggression and a brutal volume, earning 17 finishes with eight by knockout. His submission skills are nothing to sleep on either, as he has a variety of chokes from top position and off his back, but has difficulty consistently scoring takedowns.
The long-awaited UFC debut of Manel Kape (15-4) is finals here after numerous scrapped bookings in 2020. “Starboy” comes into the UFC following his time as the RIZIN bantamweight champion, claiming notable victories over the likes of Kai Asakura and Ian McCall. Kape is a finisher of the highest regard, ending all but one of his victories before the final bell. His tremendous knockout power is most noteworthy, claiming nine (T)KO wins. He has incredibly explosive striking, judging timing with a well-timed jab and feints before opening up with power combos. However, Kape is somewhat reliant on the finish as he can be worn down by top control and persistent volume.
This is the bout on the card I am most excited to watch for a number of reasons. There is always the question of how well a top-level fighter outside of the UFC will fare once joining the ranks of the world’s premier MMA promotion, either finding immense success such as Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez, or lackluster performances similar to Ben Askren. On top of that, both fighters consistently come in hunting for a finish and with compatible striking styles, I imagine we have a firefight on our hands here. The victor of this bout primarily depends on how well Pantoja can stand up to the power of Kape. He has the ground specialty and volume to keep Kape on his toes, but also absorbs his fair share of punishment (see his Fight of the Night opposite Deiveson Figueiredo). Having never been finished in his pro career and sporting one of the best chins in the sport, I see Pantoja outworking Kape in a true scrap to get back on the winning track.
Take the Shot: Alexandre Pantoja via Decision
Cody Stamann vs. Askar Askar (BW)
Cody Stamann (19-3-1, 5-2-1 UFC) has emerged as a clear prospect in the UFC with a complete skillset. His only UFC shortcomings have been to future title challenger Aljamain Sterling and a defeat in his last outing to Jimmie Rivera. “The Spartan” is a controlling wrestler who has made substantial improvements in his striking repertoire. Stamann keeps a high frequency of takedowns and feinting on the feet to make his opponent insecure, all so that he can secure his takedown and establish top position. His striking is high volume and he mixes up his attack well, scoring six knockouts over his career. Although he is yet to find a UFC finish, his brash striking and violent top control make him entertaining to watch.
After Andre Ewell was forced out of this bout due to a positive COVID-19 test, Askar Askar (11-1) has been pulled up to the big leagues. Most recently winning a decision in UFC feeder organization LFA, Askar has displayed a versatile skillset. His striking is precise and technical, fighting behind a quick jab, though his head movement leaves something to be desired. He has great wrestling ability and three of his six finishes coming by submission, but has some underlying cardio concerns. This simply seems like too huge a jump in competition for the promising Askar. He will not have his wrestling to fall back upon against Stamann, who exists on another level of wrestling pedigree and his striking defense does not give me immense confidence even if he does manage to stick to the feet. In short, Stamann controls and batters him for the better part of three rounds.
Take the Shot: Cody Stamann via Decision
Diego Ferreira vs. Beneil Dariush II (LW)
Diego Ferreira (17-2, 8-2 UFC) has quietly amassed a six-fight winning streak, earning himself the #10 ranking. Ferreira has stellar striking with a persistent volume as well as a slick skill in wrapping up submissions. Ferreira can wrap up tight chokes from anywhere, but has struggled against better wrestlers. Even standing on the feet, the Brazilian has some pretty polished kickboxing, granting him a few KO’s over UFC competition with his recent improvement, racking up over five average strikes per minute inside the Octagon.
Beneil Dariush (19-4-1, 13-4-1 UFC) reasserted himself in the Lightweight rankings by dispatching Drakkar Klose and Scott Holtzman with stunning KO finishes. “Benny” is an elite grappler with great takedown entries and back takes, securing thirteen finishes with eight by submission. Dariush is another fighter where the blueprint is out there to win for those in the know. He has impressive wrestling, dangerous jiu-jitsu, and a nice strike differential. Now riding a five-fight win streak, his striking has been most notably improving, as Dariush has found success with his power strikes and grappling threat. However, he has been consistently outclassed by fighters who are explosive and athletic, able to land power shots on his exposed guard.
Their first meeting back in 2014 saw Dariush earn a dominant decision victory, taking home the win with consistent takedowns and top control. This is an entirely different fight the second time around, as both grappling specialists have made massive improvements in their striking game. As a whole, Ferreira holds the higher output, but is much less precise than Dariush with inferior fight-ending power to his Iranian counterpart. It is incredibly close on the feet, but on the mat Dariush holds the upper hand. His diverse submission skillset is bolstered by his superior wrestling, meaning he has the ability to control where the bout takes place. I am expecting a tight match on the scorecards, but one that Dariush will edge out with top control and precision striking.
Take the Shot: Beneil Dariush via Decision
The main card is kicking off on ESPN+ at 5 PM EST to deliver a fantastic night of fights.
Don’t forget to check out the eight prelims bouts, broken down by Coby McKinley!
Categories: UFC Predictions