When the Ultimate Fighting Championship announced its return to the O2 Arena in London UFC Fight Night 127 was expected to feature former middleweight champion Michael Bisping’s swan song. Potential rematches with Vitor Belfort and Rashad Evans were both at one time or another reportedly on tap. Over the weeks leading up to the event, both fights fizzled before Bisping announced on Jan. 19 that he would not be fighting. As such, “The Count’s” farewell fight will wait for another day.
Instead, our offering this Saturday will by headlined former heavyweight ruler Fabricio Werdum and his continuing quest to take back the UFC crown from Stipe Miocic, as he takes on former Bellator MMA champ Alexander Volkov. It hardly seems like much of a ticket-seller, unless Werdum’s continued beef and public comments about welterweight antagonist Colby Covington have ignited massive interest. The bout is nonetheless a fantastic clash between two top-10 fighters.
The card has also seen four different matchups switched due to injury and another potential fight between Alex Caceres and Artem Lobov fizzle, as well. However, the 12-fight bill does sport an intriguing array of prospects, including three unbeaten up-and-comers. Plus, it is on UFC Fight Pass, so you will not need to deal with that pesky, irritating Fox Sports 1 event pacing.
With further ado, onto the odds and analysis for UFC Fight Night 127:
Fabricio Werdum (23-7-1) vs. Alexander Volkov (29-6)
ODDS: Werdum (-200), Volkov (+170)
ANALYSIS: No matter what you may think of this card on the whole, this is an excellent fight between two elite, top-10 heavyweights. Just eight months ago, Werdum was getting ready to turn 40 years old, had surrendered the UFC heavyweight title and lost his trilogy with Alistair Overeem; it looked like “Vai Cavalo” may be preparing to hang them up. After two quick wins over Walt Harris and Marcin Tybura, he seems rejuvenated, but does he have what it takes to get back to a shot at the throne? Meanwhile, since vacating his Bellator title, Volkov has looked increasingly impressive, having won five in a row and boasting a 3-0 mark in the Octagon.
The ultimate question of style and substance of the fight is about whether the 29-year-old Russian will be able to use a three-inch arm length and two-inch leg reach advantage to actualize a knockout on Werdum, who has had a long career and has walked into some heaters over the years. Obviously, Volkov is not going to want to grapple here; Werdum is the best heavyweight grappler -- and perhaps the best at any weight -- in MMA history. While I think Volkov’s actual offensive submission skills, especially his guard game, are underrated commodities, “Drago” tapping out Werdum would be one of the most shocking outcomes ever in this sport.
The striking matchup is a clash of styles. Werdum is obviously going to chop away at Volkov’s spindly legs with his patented low roundhouse kicks, but the Brazilian’s striking style now features mechanically proper, fluid punching after years of work under Rafael Cordeiro, and he still has the same penchant for throwing wild, flying attacks and devastating clinch knees. Though Volkov’s beautiful jab and big counterpunches seem more apt to give Werdum problems, kicks may also prove key for the Russian after Tybura had success with kicking offense on “Vai Cavalo.” The Russian’s standup style is an intriguing hybrid of his kyokushin karate background and classic Eastern European kickboxing. However, this also means he tends to square up his stance more often, whether orthodox or southpaw, which is not ideal for checking a bunch of kicks or defending takedowns, which is still the weakest part of Volkov’s game.
It is also not especially helpful that despite his 19 knockouts Volkov is not a one-hitter quitter and typically relies on the fact he lands 5.28 significant strikes per minute to batter and overwhelm opponents. Werdum’s career has been plagued at times by walking headlong into massive single punches; if Volkov starts operating the way he typically does and landing punches in bunches, it is going to snap Werdum out of whatever swaggering foolishness he is doing and into takedown mode, going for single-legs, pulling guard if he cannot get them or testing his luck in the clinch for his underrated trip attacks.
Volkov is an elite fighter and will continue to improve, while we know Werdum is only going to continue to age and slow. However, Volkov’s general tendency towards variation and volume, plus his average-at-best takedown defense, simply emphasizes Werdum’s points of strength. It may come on the floor, it may even come standing -- Timothy Johnson did nearly erase Volkov’s face when he dropped him in his UFC debut -- but “Vai Cavalo” will ride again inside the distance.
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