Exciting news and storylines pop up in the combat sports world every day. In this weekly series, our UFC team will answer questions that fight fans are asking themselves, with bold takes and differing opinions on each topic.
Alexander Volkov put on perhaps his best performance to date with a beating of UFC legend Alistair Overeem on Saturday. Were you surprised with how easy Volkov made it look and who would be an ideal opponent for him next in a clogged heavyweight division?
William: When I first watched Saturday’s fight between Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov I wasn’t sure if Volkov just looked that good, or if Reem looked that bad. In watching it back again, I think I’ve settled on a mix of both. Alistair never really looked comfortable in there, a weird thing to say given he’s one of the most battle tested fighters in the sport.
For Volkov, he did just about all you could ask him too. When Overeem covered up against the fence like he’s known to and play possum, he landed some big hooks along the outside of his guard that really hurt Overeem. His jab was also incredibly crisp and snapped Overeem’s head back consistently. As for who could be next for Volkov, I think his best option is the winner between Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane. He’s still a few fights away from garnering a title shot, but hopefully he continues to show his improvement each time he steps into the Octagon.
Nick: I had said in our betting preview that Volkov hadn’t shown me anything to suggest he’s a top five contender in the heavyweight division. Well, now he has. I think that was easily his best performance against a guy in Overeem who was on a hot streak Granted, he is 40, but he’d won four of his previous five fights entering Saturday.
Volkov has the technical striking ability to hang with any of the top heavyweights and his 6-foot-7 frame just adds more potential. He used it to his advantage against Overeem, tagging him early and splitting his guard with nasty jabs.
Volkov isn’t young by any means, but nobody in the top 10 in the division is particularly youthful, so that doesn’t really matter. The only fight to make for Volkov would be the winner of the upcoming bout between Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane. Volkov has already fought and lost to both Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis and those fights were in no way worthy of a rematch. I think depending on how the Rozenstruik/Gane bout shakes out, we could be seeing a title eliminator between Volkov and the winner of that scrap.
Zack: I’m not sure I’m as surprised with how easy Alexander Volkov made the fight look as I am about how easy Alistair Overeem made the fight look. I understand that it’s easier to say after the fact, but the game plan of standing and striking with a younger and larger opponent made no sense at all. We saw Overeem shell up with the first barrage of punches that came his way, within the first 20 seconds of the fight, and I immediately felt as though there was a lack of fight in the ring. I don’t think there was ever a chance the Dutchman could win that fight with that plan.
That being said, Volkov made the fight look effortless. His striking was crisp and precise and when he realized that Overeem had no intention of swinging up close with him, he sat back and picked his shots, strategically creating openings to pound and showing the poise of a fighter much older than his actual age. His adjustments and decision making were much more impressive to me than the actual striking. It was a smart and efficient fight from the Russian.
I think the next fight can be one of two fighters for Volkov, the winner of Rozenstruik/Gane or the loser of Blaydes/Lewis. The winner of Blaydes and Lewis will be next in line for the title (pending Jon Jones) and the winner of Rozenstruik and Gane will still be a fight away, so I think the complications at the top of the division means that it will be the Rozenstruik and Gane winner. A Jon Jones fight or an injury will put off the Blaydes and Lewis winner for and both Volkov and the winner of the other fight will need one more title eliminator to get in line, so I think it will be either Rozenstruik or Gane. Sorry for making that explanation so complicated, welcome to my mind.
On the other end of Saturday’s main event, Alistair Overeem looked completely outclassed on Saturday night. Will this mark the end of Overeem’s legendary career?
William: Alistair Overeem did not look good on Saturday night. He never really landed anything substantial on Volkov and his attempts to clinch or go for takedowns failed repeatedly. Alistair had been on the record saying he was giving it one more go to try and capture UFC gold, and with this loss I think that has realistically ended his chances of achieving that goal.
It’s not as if he can’t still win fights at heavyweight, he had come into this winning four of five, and he won 24 minutes and 55 seconds against Jairzinho Rozenstruik. But for Overeem, what is the point of continuing? He should have made enough money from the sport to live comfortably for a while, and I could see someone like him getting into coaching as well. I wouldn’t be opposed to one more fight to try and get him to go out on with a win, but beyond that I don’t see much reason why Overeem shouldn’t call it a career. He’ll go out as a sure fire UFC Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever fight in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
Nick: It was tough to see Overeem get beat up like that, but he kind of deserved it with that game plan. I truly thought he’d use his wrestling, considering how much success Curtis Blaydes had against Volkov by doing that. I was wrong. Overeem stood and swung with Volkov and ultimately got picked apart.
I’d venture a guess that Overeem will take one more fight for a chance to go out on top. Possibly an older opponent who doesn’t really have aspirations of getting into title contention. I could be wrong though, that could have been the final time we see the Reem in the Octagon, and that will make me very, very sad.
Zack: I noted in our group chat that while there’s a chance it’s the last time we see Alistair in the Octagon, I believe there’s a chance he gets one more easier fight in an effort to let him redeem himself and go out on top. That’s never a guarantee in this sport with Dana acting erratically as he does, but I think Alistair has done enough for the promotion to deserve that. I believe that actually opens up a bigger conversation about how many legends are potentially on their way out of the door. We saw Anderson Silva’s last fight in October, Diego Sanchez has said that his next fight is going to be his last, and he’s fighting Cowboy in that fight, another fighter who could be done. And don’t forget that Cormier just finished his career last summer. This seems to be a year where we’ll have a lot of legends closing their accounts and Overeem is probably going to be one of them.
Perhaps stealing the show with one of the best knockouts you’ll ever see, Cory Sandhagen put Frankie Edgar out cold with a flying knee in just 28 seconds. Sandhagen has his future sorted out for him with a likely title shot this summer. But for Edgar, where does he go from here?
William: Man, what a knockout Cory Sandhagen had on Saturday night. He just timed that flying knee absolutely perfectly and put Edgar out cold. It’s the kind of highlight that is super exciting to see, but at the same time, it’s difficult to watch a legend Edgar go down motionless like that. Sandhagen should have himself sorted out, wait for Petr Yan and Aljo Sterling to fight next month and he’ll have the winner in the summer. For Edgar, it gets a little more murky.
I 100% believe after being knocked out like that, Edgar needs to take some serious time off. At this point in his career I don’t know if he should for sure retire, as he just showed us in his fight before this he is a top 10 bantamweight. I think the smart play for Edgar is to wait and see how the Dominick Cruz and Casey Kenney fight plays out. If Cruz wins, I think a fight between those two legends makes a lot of sense. Edgar should still be ranked in the top 7 at bantamweight, and a fight between these legends would definitely draw plenty of eyes.
Nick: How about the f**kin Sandman
That was one of the coldest and cleanest knockouts I’ve ever seen. Flying knees are typically flukes, with one fighter shooting a takedown and his opponent just sort of jumping and lifting his knee to make flush contact. That is not what happened on Saturday. No, no, no. Cory Sandhagen set that up, and he set it up to perfection. It was truly a thing of beauty (if you like blood-curdling violence, of course).
Sandhagen is 100% ready for a title shot. Sandhagen is a matchup nightmare for Petr Yan if Yan successfully defends the belt against Sterling next month. And even though Sandhagen recently lost to Sterling, I think he’d have a better game plan in the rematch and could pose some major issues.
For Frankie Edgar, this is a tough one to swallow. Talking about a “career resurgence” is always a dangerous game because all it takes is one shot (like a flying knee) to put an aging fighter back to square zero. I like the idea of a Cruz fight if Cruz gets past Casey Kenney next month. Another possibility could be Marlon Moraes, who has lost two in a row and should be in line to fight down in the rankings.
Zack: Ariel Helwani pointed out on Twitter after the fight that he couldn’t remember two more spectacular finishes in a row from a fighter ever, and I can’t either. The performances that Sandhagen have put on since losing to Aljo have been spectacular. But, I haven’t really seen anything that makes me believe he can beat Yan or Sterling yet. Spectacular knockouts, but they won’t come so easy against the best in that division.
That being said, I have no idea what Frankie does now. He cleared the air today that he’s going to come back, so we know he’ll be back in the Octagon, but I don’t know who takes him right now. He hasn’t had an extremely good win for years and he’s really old, so what does a win over him mean? A win over the ranking is nice, but when you go deeper than surface level it just doesn’t feel very special anymore. The UFC hasn’t updated their rankings yet so we don’t know where he stands in their eyes, but I don’t see a path to the belt for Edgar. The young blood is tearing through him and he may be relegated to being a stepping stone at this point.
With UFC 258 coming up this weekend, what are your keys for underdog Gilbert Burns to spur the upset over champion Kamaru Usman in the welterweight title fight?
William: I think Gilbert Burns poses an extremely unique challenge for Kamaru Usman, and outside of Colby Covington, is the worst matchup for “The Nigerian Nightmare” at 170. For Burns, the game plan is to keep the fight standing as much as possible and if it does go to the mat, be the one initiating it or immediately threaten submissions to try and get it back on the feet.
He simply can’t let Usman control him on the ground and in the clinch. I think he has a slight advantage on the feet, and that’s where he’ll have the best chance at winning the fight. He showed in his fight against Tyron Woodley that he does have an extremely high level of wrestling as well, and I wouldn’t be opposed to him mixing in some takedown attempts of his own. If Burn’s wants to have any success this weekend, it starts with controlling the Octagon and not letting Usman just walk him down.
Nick: I’m going to go in depth on this fight in our betting preview coming later this week, so I’ll keep it very brief here.
Burns presents a challenge to Usman very similar to how Colby Covington did. A lot of fighters can strike with Usman but so far, nobody has been able to grapple with him. Burns can. He’s a Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt and has the gas tank of a semi-truck. It’s going to be an interesting fight and I think the odds are a bit disrespectful toward Burns, but we’ll see how it plays out on Saturday.
Zack: To put it simply, Burns has to dictate the fight. If he can control where the fight occurs and the pace, he can win. We saw Masvidal didn’t have the gas tank on short notice, but Burns will have the gas tank and won’t be resigned to foot stomps from the champ. Usman may be the best pure wrestler in the UFC so he can’t allow Usman to get him down in the center of the Octagon. At the same time, we’ve seen that Usman has developed the hands to break bones, so he probably doesn’t just want to sit and swing. It could be a viable option to victory, but it could just as easily be a path to waking up with a doctor, cutman, coach, and ref hovering over your face.
Burns just has to keep the fight moving and stay unpredictable. Have multiple responses to jabs and leg kicks, use multiple combinations, and most importantly, win the clinch. This has the potential to be a very boring and technical fight if Usman gets his way and it’s imperative that Burns doesn’t allow that. He can’t stay on the ground for too long and if he does, he can’t give his back. He needs to smother in the clinch and make Usman really work for his points. He has to stay versatile and unpredictable striking, moving his head and feet enough that Usman can’t hone in or shoot easily.
Does that sound complicated? It should, because Usman is the champ for a reason. He’s a great fighter and ridiculously difficult to beat. It’s going to take a masterclass for Burns to win and it’s going to take all 25 minutes.