Preview: UFC Fight Night 184 Main Card

Overeem vs. Volkov

By Tom Feely Feb 4, 2021

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns to Las Vegas for UFC Fight Night 184—an event with a surprisingly strong main card. The promotion will once again lean on heavyweights as headliners, but the main event between Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov should make better use of the five rounds than most other divisional options. Beyond that, there are some excellent fights that combine potential excitement with important stakes. Cory Sandhagen meets Frankie Edgar in a co-headliner that could determine the next bantamweight title contender, while Diego Ferreira and Beneil Dariush collide in an intriguing lightweight rematch. Add in the long-awaited debut of former Rizin Fighting Federation champion Manel Kape, and there is a shocking amount of depth to this six-fight offering.

Now to the preview for the UFC Fight Night “Overeem vs. Volkov” main card:

Heavyweights

No. 6 | Alexander Volkov (32-8, 6-2 UFC) vs. No. 5 | Alistair Overeem (47-18, 12-7 UFC)

ODDS: Volkov (-185), Overeem (+160)

Overeem is back in the saddle, which offers another opportunity to appreciate the long and winding career of “The Demolition Man.” Overeem enjoyed a successful run in Pride Fighting Championships as a reedy kickboxer before suddenly bulking up to behemoth proportions due to what he infamously claimed was an increased diet of horse meat. Whatever the reason, this more monstrous version of Overeem became an absolute terror for opponents in kickboxing and mixed martial arts, as he won the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2010 on his way to an eventual debut with the UFC. That debut, which saw Overeem run through Brock Lesnar in short order, remains on the shortlist for the best in the promotion’s history. While Overeem was slated for a title shot after that performance, the situation quickly went sideways inside and outside the cage. Overeem failed a drug test prior to his scheduled title fight and was a different fighter upon his eventual return. Quick starts against Antonio Silva and Travis Browne saw him unable to put either man away, and each fight saw Overeem tire himself out and fall victim to a quick knockout shortly thereafter. Rather than be broken by his failures, a humbled Overeem set upon finding ways to rework his style and find success—a theme that has carried on for the rest of his career. In his next few fights, Overeem developed a more defensively minded approach that allowed him to protect his suspect chin while still dictating the terms of his fights. It resulted in a four-fight winning streak that carried him to a title fight against Stipe Miocic. After a one-sided loss to Curtis Blaydes in 2018, Overeem changed camps once again to train with Blaydes and mix more wrestling into his game, starting another successful run that has taken Overeem to this point. Now 40 years old, Overeem has made clear that his goal is one last run towards the title and that his next loss may be his last. He still needs a few more victories to get there, and an interesting challenge against Volkov awaits.

Volkov is somehow still just 32 years old, despite being a well-traveled veteran in his own right. The most obvious standout trait for Volkov is his enormous 6-foot-7 frame, which he used to make a quick impact in Bellator MMA, winning its vacant heavyweight title within a year of his 2012 debut. Despite an overall successful run, he parted ways with the promotion after a two-fight losing streak in 2015 but managed to find his way to the Octagon in short order. It has been an interesting ride since, as Volkov has hung around the fringes of the heavyweight title picture despite some clear weaknesses in his game. He is simply not the type of natural power puncher that tends to find success as a heavyweight, and he has had to shore up his often-dismal wrestling defense. To his credit, his combination of durability and experience has made him quite effective at outlasting his opponents, especially in main event spots. Fabricio Werdum and Curtis Blaydes took him down and beat him up for most of their fights, but Volkov eventually turned things around for a win over Werdum and some surprisingly successful later rounds against Blaydes. An impressive finish over Walt Harris in October provides some hope that Volkov might be turning a bit of a corner regarding his finishing ability, but even without it, he is in a position to play spoiler and eventually find his way to a title shot some time over the next decade.

This is a fascinating fight and the rare heavyweight headliner that may actually make good use of its five rounds, given that each man usually fights in contrast to the typical heavyweight style. Most of their recent success has come via outlasting more explosive opponents in the hopes of eventually taking over fights. At first blush, that seems like a gift for Overeem. Most Overeem fights usually involve a balance between his technical advantages and his suspect chin, so facing one of the lighter hitters among the heavyweight elite should help mitigate that risk. On the flipside, however, Volkov is one of the few fighters who can match Overeem for 25 minutes and not have much of an issue. Even beyond a technical tit-for-tat, the Russian’s considerable reach should prevent Overeem from staying fully comfortable over the course of the fight. Over the last few years, a lot of the factors that could have favored Overeem in the past have slowly slid towards Volkov, namely his ability to set a pace versus the Dutchman’s ability to control the fight with his wrestling. While Overeem has still done an impressive job of staying defensively minded, his output has slowly become more and more glacial in recent years. He once seemed to be dictating the terms of the fight, but it now feels more like Overeem is just letting his opponents take over and dump out their gas tank until he can turn things around. While that is remarkably impressive given how much of a glass cannon Overeem was at one time, it is also not a winning strategy here, given that Volkov is unlikely to tire himself out. A few years ago, Overeem might have been able to rely on his wrestling—if only because Volkov’s takedown defense was so porous—but the Russian has shown enough improvement in terms of defense and survival lately that it is difficult to see that as a round-winning strategy for Overeem in any sort of overwhelming fashion. This should be a fun chess match, particularly by heavyweight standards, but with Volkov as the likelier fighter to control the fight and score a finish, he essentially has to be the favorite here. The pick is Volkov via decision.

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