Alexander Volkov has at least one more bridge to cross before he can consider himself the No. 1 contender for the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight crown.
The former Bellator MMA and M-1 Global champion will face the undefeated Ciryl Gane in the UFC Fight Night 190 headliner on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, as they jockey for position in a division still breathlessly awaiting the arrival of Jon Jones. Volkov enters the cage on the strength of back-to-back victories. The 32-year-old Strela Team representative last appeared at UFC Fight Night 184 on Feb. 6, when he wrecked Alistair Overeem with punches 2:06 into the second round of their marquee matchup. “Drago” has delivered 25 of his 33 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
As Drago makes final preparations ahead of his critical battle with Gane, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped shape his career:
The four-time sambo world champion ousted Volkov with a ringing right uppercut and follow-up standing-to-ground punches, as he became the third heavyweight titleholder in Bellator MMA history in the Bellator 108 co-main event on Nov. 15, 2013 at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “Drago” met his end 2:57 into Round 1, closing the book on his 10-fight winning streak. Minakov pressed into the clinch with knees and elbows, then swept into top position after a failed suplex attempt left him underneath the champion on the canvas. After a restart, the stoic sambo stylist uncorked the uppercut that marked the beginning of the end for Volkov. Minakov pounced with lefts and rights as he hovered over his fallen countryman, one last left to the head leading referee Dan Miragliotta to intervene.
“Drago” buried the 6-foot-11 Struve with power punches in the third round of their UFC Fight Night 115 headliner on Sept. 2, 2017 at Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Volkov drew the curtain on the towering Dutchman 3:30 into Round 3. Struve enjoyed some early success—he cut the Russian beneath the left eye with a flying knee in close quarters in the first round—but found less and less of it as the fight progressed. He carried his chin high and hands low, and Volkov capitalized. He snapped back Struve’s head with clean two- and three-punch combinations, mixed in leg kicks and kept the fight at a desired distance. In the third round, Volkov unleashed a brutal string of right uppercuts and left hooks that dropped his counterpart where he stood. He poured on the punishment with Struve seated at the base of the cage, leaving referee Marc Goddard no choice but to call for the stoppage.
Volkov channeled his inner Ivan Drago at the expense of an all-time great, as he erased Werdum’s early gains and knocked out the two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist in the fourth round of their UFC Fight Night 127 main event on March 17, 2018 at the O2 Arena in London. “Vai Cavalo” bowed out 1:38 into Round 4. Initially, it did not go well for Volkov. Werdum executed a takedown inside the first minute and applied his ground-and-pound while chewing up clock from top position. However, Volkov escaped to his feet late in the first round, tagged the longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a right uppercut and left him with significant damage to his right eye. Werdum continued to push for takedowns but only once managed to advance to the Russian’s back. His submission advances denied, he became increasingly desperate as Volkov made the most of his opportunities in the striking exchanges. Early in the fourth round, Werdum made his final stand and let his hands fly. Volkov responded in kind, floored him with a pair of right uppercuts and drove a devastating standing-to-ground punch into his face to finish it.
Having been outclassed and brutalized for 14-plus minutes, Lewis reached into his bag of tricks, delivered a Hail Mary knockout against Volkov and set the crowd on fire in a memorable UFC 229 heavyweight showcase on Oct. 6, 2018 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. A former M-1 Global and Bellator MMA champion, Volkov hit the deck on the end of a right cross and was beaten unconscious by crushing ground-and-pound 4:49 into Round 3. The result erased the 6-foot-7 Russian’s night’s work in an instant, as Volkov had built what appeared to be an insurmountable lead with body kicks that doubled over Lewis more than once and crisp power punches that left him with damage to both eyes. Afterward, “The Black Beast” stripped off his shorts and provided the mother of all sound bites by informing the world that his “balls was hot.”
The Elevation Fight Team export made life miserable for Volkov, as he executed 14 takedowns—an all-time single-fight record for the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight division—and largely cruised to a unanimous decision in the UFC on ESPN 11 main event on June 20, 2020 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Scores were 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47, all for Blaydes. Volkov conceded five takedowns in the first round, three more in the second, one in the third, three in the fourth and two in the fifth. Pinned beneath the relentless Blaydes for extended periods of time, the 6-foot-7 Russian absorbed significant ground-and-pound and never managed to get his offensive game to full throttle. Even as fatigue became an ally in the latter stages of the match, Volkov saw his brief periods of success—he bloodied Blaydes’ lip with a knee strike and connected with a clean head kick—grind to a halt in the clutches of another takedown from the exhausted Colorado-based contender.
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