Volkov in spotlight at UFC Vegas 18

The UFC returns to the States on Saturday for UFC Vegas 18, which will be the first of four events this month. The preliminary bouts begin at 2 p.m. PT on ESPN+ , and a competitively matched heavyweight bout headlines the six-fight main card that starts at 5 p.m. PT on ESPN+ .

Fighters from 11 countries will compete Saturday. These athletes arrive in Nevada possessing every form and fashion of modern mixed martial arts weaponry. Their prime motivation is to elevate themselves in earnings as well as stature within the organization while providing us … wagering opportunities

None that at the APEX in Las Vegas, we’re returning to the substantially smaller octagon.

Alexander Volkov -180 vs. Alistair Overeem + 160

Heavyweight (265 pounds) Main Event 

Fifth-ranked Overeem is 40 years old but is a highly decorated, diverse and intelligent mixed martial artist. With a record of 47-18 and a 22-year professional career, it’s safe to say Overeem has seen everything. He has competed against the absolute best athletes of his generation and he is still viable as a top-10 talent in the UFC’s heavyweight division.

Overeem’s striking, grappling and Muay Thai diversity in past bouts have given way to tactics in the octagon that most recently have become limited and predictable to pressing opponents against the cage and using powerful knees to the body to soften them up.

Overeem’s training at Team Elevation was inspired by the thorough whuppin’ he took at the hands of Curtis Blaydes several fights ago. It was clear to Overeem then as it is to many now that for him to remain relevant in the heavyweight division, he was going to have to effectively wrestle, grapple and smother opponents to eliminate their ability to fight him from the outside and in space.

Speed, quickness, the ability to evade strikes are no longer strengths for Overeem, and if he has a glaring weakness it’s that he can be extremely chinny. Overeem has lost seven times since 2013 and in each loss, he has been knocked out or TKO’d.

Volkov, the sixth-ranked heavyweight, arrives the younger man by eight years, the taller fighter by three inches and he’ll hold a three-inch leg-reach advantage. Volkov possesses a wealth of professional experience and he arrives a fighter on an ascent for he has been improving in each bout.

Volkov steps up in class to fight Overeem, but class does not fight, the athlete does and, in this bout, I believe Volkov’s advantages are his youth, his speed and the experience gained last year in a loss to the aforementioned Blaydes, who is a top-three talent in the division as well as Overeem’s training partner.

I see Overeem attempting to clasp, maul and fight Volkov from close quarters, up against the fence and from inside position, even eventually attempting to drag the 6-foot-7 Russian to the mat. This plan allows Overeem to both protect his balsa wood beak and limit Volkov’s length and striking-kicking effectiveness.

Volkov will need to press Overeem and attack him with strikes, elbows and leg kicks from distance. Volkov proved in his last bout against Walt Harris that by sitting on his punches he can deliver profuse power.

Best strategy mandates that Volkov deliver damage to Overeem via striking while maintaining distance via movement while Overeem must try to close distance and make this an ugly, mauling, groping, grappling affair.

I believe Volkov is the worthy favorite in this fight but will wait for weigh-ins to take place before making any position.

Volkov opened -175

Total for this fight: 1.5 Over -220

Diego Ferreira -130 vs. Beneil Dariush + 110

Lightweight (155 pounds)

Rematch! In October of 2014, Dariush traveled to Brazil and earned a unanimous decision over Ferreira. Since then, both have evolved and Ferreira has called for this opportunity.

These men are both ranked in the top 15, explosive, powerful strikers and dangerously skilled BJJ artists.

Ferreira, the 10th-ranked lightweight, has been dominant in his last four fights, beating accomplished wrestling, grappling and striking-based opponents. Ferreira is accomplished anywhere a fight goes. His willingness to stand and strike allowed him to top a couple of highly ranked Russian opponents while his polished BJJ skills earned him a second-round submission over Anthony Pettis.

Ferreira is violent and will push the pace on any opponent.

Dariush is ranked 13th in the division. He’s a lefty who is five years younger than Ferreira, he’s taller but will not have a reach advantage. Where Ferreira is most accomplished, Dariush is too. In fact, it’s my take that Dariush sports slight advantages over Ferreira in all categories except maybe aggressiveness.

I believe Ferreira will opt to be forceful and press Dariush with his striking early until he tastes a little of Dariush’s own striking power. Dariush may be less forceful in his advance, but he’s a lethal counter striker and has a granite beard.

It will be interesting to learn how Ferreira deals with Dariush on the feet, against the cage or rolling and tumbling as I handicap Dariush as the more accomplished athlete. Add his five-year youth advantage to his current fight arsenal, and we have one live underdog.

Dariush opened -110 vs. Ferreira -105, but Ferreira has been bet into a favorite position.

Total on this fight: 2.5 Over -135

Dariush + 110

Youssef Zalal -250 vs. Seungwoo Choi + 200

Featherweight (145 pounds)

Zalal is the hot fighter from the hot camp who has made waves with his violence inside the cage. “The Moroccan Devil” won his first three UFC bouts impressively before dropping a unanimous decision in his last fight to Ilia Topuria, for which there is no shame whatsoever.

Zalal is quick, skilled and not overly powerful, but he is an effective fighter with a blue belt in BJJ who dominated fighters via submission in his early fights but has struggled to be as effective with his grappling as the competition level has risen. Zalal is a fast, quick, skilled kickboxer.

Choi arrives a quiet man from South Korea, but do not mistake his demeanor for anything but focused intensity once this kid steps into the octagon. Highly skilled in Muay Thai, Choi is long, and the knees, elbows and strikes he throws are launched with precision accuracy and bad intention.

Choi will have a size advantage as well arm and leg reach superiority, and though he is but 1-2 in the UFC, his losses have been to highly talented opponents (Gavin Tucker, Movsar Evloev).

Each man has shown an ability to be taken down, yet each man’s last plan of attack come Saturday is to wrestle. This is going to be a stand-up battle between a quick, skilled movement-based kickboxer and a larger, stalking powerful, articulate striker-kickboxer in Choi.

This fight opened Zalal -175, and I believe Zalal is an inflated favorite.

Choi is live. We’ll allow the weigh-ins to occur before any position on this one as the price on Choi continues to rise.

Total for this fight: 1.5 Over -260

Cody Stamann vs. Askar Askar

Featherweight (145 pounds)

Askarov was preparing for a fight against Joe Benavidez at 125 pounds in a couple of weeks when Stamann’s opponent, Andre Ewell, tested positive for COVID-19.

Askarov steps in on short notice to fight at a weight class two divisions up from where he has competed his whole career.

Stamann, meanwhile, was preparing to cut weight and make 135 pounds for this bout after spending several fights at 145 pounds. For this to be a featherweight fight is a tremendous advantage for the grappling, smothering, wrestling-based Stamann.

After preparing for two other opponents, Stamann now fights a much physically smaller opponent moving up 20 pounds in weight class on short notice.

No line is out yet for this fight, but it’s an understatement to say Stamann is in an advantageous position in this fight.

As is always the case, all final positions will be available Saturday morning at GambLou.com and VSiN.


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