UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Volkov Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card, set to take place in Las Vegas.
Updated: June 18, 2020 • 12:25 PM ET
Alexander Volkov is looking to put his name in title contention conversations.
The UFC will host its fourth event in four weeks this Saturday, as a heavyweight fight between No. 3 Curtis Blaydes and No. 7 Alexander Volkov will headline the card at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
The 29-year-old Blaydes (13-2, 1 NC) has won three straight fights, most recently defeating former champion Junior dos Santos by second-round TKO in January. Including Dos Santos, Blaydes has key wins over several top fighters such as Aleksei Oleinik, Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem and Shamil Abdurakhimov. The only two losses in Blaydes’ professional career came to top contender Francis Ngannou.
In 2018, Blaydes came very close to earning a title shot. Had he not lost to Ngannou for the second time in November 2018, he might have been granted one. If he defeats Volkov on Saturday and has to wait for that long-awaited title shot, Blaydes says he’s ready to do just that.
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve discussed with my coaches and my management,” Blaydes recently told MMA Junkie. “There isn’t anyone else worth it, and I’ll have enough money to sit. If I have to sit eight months, I have enough, so I’ll be OK.”
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The Chicago native is known to be one of the best wrestlers in the heavyweight division and plans on using those skills to his advantage against Volkov.
“I think it’s your classic grappler vs. striker, although I can strike also,” Blaydes said. “I definitely prefer to grapple. I know he’s got long legs.
“I think our reach is equal; we’re both 80 inches long, so I don’t think that will be a factor, but I know he likes to be long. He likes to establish the distance with his teeps and his other kicks, so I know he doesn’t want to be in the clinching zone. I know he doesn’t want to be in that grappling type of zone, and that’s where I’m going to put him. I’m going to pressure him. I’m going to put his back heel against the cage and just make him react to my pumps and high-lows and just go from there.”
Blaydes believes his grappling will slow Volkov down enough to get the finish.
“I doubt it goes the full five; I honestly doubt it,” Blaydes said. “There’s gonna be a finish in there somewhere. It just depends on how long it takes me to break him.”
Volkov is coming off a unanimous decision win over Greg Hardy in November, which was a big rebound for the Russian after losing by a last-second knockout to Derrick Lewis at UFC 229 in October 2018, a fight in which he was dominating. Many pundits believe that after starting 4-0 in the UFC, Volkov could have been a victory over Lewis away from being granted a title shot.
A former Bellator heavyweight champion, the 31-year-old Volkov (31-7, 5-1 in UFC) has fought professionally since 2009. He’s aware of Blaydes’ grappling prowess, but still believes his striking ability will win Saturday’s fight.
“Curtis is one of the toughest UFC competitors,” Volkov said. “However, despite my limited training, long-distant flight and jet lag, I’m prepared for our upcoming fight and he will have to face certain challenges, as well. I allocate lots of time to wrestling.
“Even though it’s not my strongest skill, I am used to opponents like him. Obviously, he’ll count on his wrestling. That’s his only recourse. Otherwise, I will defeat him with my striking.”
In his career, Volkov has key victories over former champion Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Roy Nelson and Blagoy Ivanov. Despite his upcoming bout with Blaydes, he already has his sights set on his next fight.
“We will meet Ngannou in octagon sooner or later after my next win,” Volkov said.
Both Blaydes and Volkov could earn serious consideration for a title shot with a win, but it remains unclear how long they would have to wait for that opportunity. Champion Stipe Miocic is set to defend his belt against former champion Daniel Cormier in a trilogy fight in August, and Ngannou could be next in line to face the winner of that fight.
Saturday’s co-main event will be a featherweight fight between No. 8 Josh Emmett and No. 10 Shane Burgos.
Emmett (15-2, 6-2 in UFC) has won two straight fights, most recently defeating Mirsad Bektic by first-round TKO last July. The victory over Bektic followed a powerful one-punch knockout of Michael Johnson last March, and the 35-year-old Emmett also has a key knockout of former title challenger Ricardo Lamas on his resume.
He respects and knows what skills Burgos brings to the Octagon.
“He’s a dangerous fighter, Emmett said via LowKick MMA. “He’s an up and comer. He only has one loss on his entire pro record and amateur and that’s to Calvin Kattar.
“It was a super close, back and forth fight. Who knows what would’ve happened if it went to the scorecards if he didn’t get caught in the third (round). And that was a few years ago so I expect that Shane Burgos. He’s physically a big featherweight. He has a long reach. He is a great striker with a gas tank and high output and he’s well rounded – he has a BJJ black belt as well, a lot of people don’t know that.”
Additionally, Emmitt believes Burgos has a style that works his favor.
“He has a well-rounded game but I think I’m a bad match-up for anyone in the featherweight division and stylistically with him coming forward I don’t have to worry about chasing somebody around. He’s going to come right to me and I will land a big shot I’ll tell you that. One big shot can either end or change the fight.”
Since losing to Kattar by TKO in January 2018, Burgos (13-1, 6-1 in UFC) has won three straight fights, most recently by third-round TKO over Makwan Amirkhani. During the three-fight winning streak, he picked up a marquee win over veteran Cub Swanson, but the 29-year-old Burgos needs a win over Emmett to potentially secure a bout with a fighter in the top five of the featherweight rankings.
He knows what a win over Emmett would mean for him.
“This is a huge fight,” Burgos said. “Everybody knows who Josh Emmet is. He’s a staple in the division at this point. He’s only been in the division for a little bit, but he’s made his name known. He’s had some big fights and some big wins and I want to leapfrog myself over him.”
Rest of the main card on ESPN at 8 p.m. EST
Heavyweight bout - No. 3 Curtis Blaydes vs. No. 7 Alexander Volkov
Featherweight bout - No. 8 Josh Emmett vs. No. 10 Shane Burgos
Women’s bantamweight bout - No. 6 Raquel Pennington vs. No. 10 Marion Reneau
Welterweight bout - Belal Muhammad vs. Lyman Good
Catchweight bout (160 pounds) - Jim Miller vs. Roosevelt Roberts
ESPN Prelims at 5 p.m. EST
Lightweight bout - Clay Guida vs. Bobby Green
Women’s strawweight bout - No. 11 Tecia Torres vs. Brianna Van Buren
Middleweight bout - Marc-Andre Barriault vs. Oskar Piechota
Women’s flyweight bout - No. 15 Cortney Casey vs. Gillian Robertson
Lightweight bout - Matt Frevola vs. Frank Camacho
Women’s flyweight bout - No. 6 Roxanne Modafferi vs. No. 7 Lauren Murphy
Lightweight bout - Austin Hubbard vs. Max Rohskopf