The Ultimate Fighting Championship kicked back into gear on Saturday with UFC Fight Night 184 , a card rich with ranked fighters as well as hungry prospects. While the undercard of “UFC Vegas 18” was a mixed bag in the non-stop action department, the main and co-main events featured definitive, dramatic stoppages. Once the dust settled, some fighters had taken big steps forward while others took equally large spills. Here is the stock report for UFC Fight Night 184: Overeem vs. Volkov.
Cory Sandhagen: As always, it takes a lot for a heavily favored fighter to merit a mention in this section. For a 4-to-1 favorite—as Sandhagen was in Saturday’s co-main event—winning was expected, so he needed to show us something more. Mission accomplished. By knocking Frankie Edgar, a man whose toughness is the stuff of legend, out cold in 28 seconds, the lanky Coloradan collected an all-timer of a scalp for the trophy case. More importantly, Sandhagen demonstrated the futility of making him wait any longer for a shot at bantamweight gold. His quick and humiliating loss to Aljamain Sterling last June, once a serious roadblock to title contention, is less of an issue now that Sterling is finally set to receive his own long-delayed title shot. Meanwhile, Sandhagen’s back-to-back brutal stoppages of Marlon Moraes and now Edgar have made an eloquent argument for him to be the next to face whomever emerges victorious from Sterling’s fight with reigning champ Petr Yan next month.
Alexander Volkov: Even those observers who predicted Volkov would defeat Alistair Overeem may not have expected the surgical dismantling the towering Russian delivered on Saturday night. While Overeem’s career track over the last two or three years represents one of the more remarkable late-career reinventions in heavyweight MMA history, Volkov’s performance was the work of a man who had studied all of Overeem’s recent fights, figured out what he was doing and swept away all of the smoke and mirrors with ruthless efficiency. Volkov’s crisp, accurate and deliberate punch combinations trumped Overeem’s movement and high guard, and he landed heavy shots early and often, right up until the merciful second-round stoppage. While a definitive loss to Curtis Blaydes complicates Volkov’s prospects for a future title shot, the former Bellator MMA and M-1 Global champ is still just 32 and continues to refine his game, as he gradually packs more muscle onto his imposing frame.
Beneil Dariush: Dariush’s main-card tilt with Diego Ferreira was a rematch six years in the making, and while Dariush emerged victorious once again, their second fight was even closer than their first. So why does the UFC’s proudest Assyrian-American appear on this list? Simply put, Dariush-Ferreira was a rare lightweight matchup between fighters on long win streaks, clawing at a Top 10 spot in the sport’s deepest division. Whoever lost the fight figured to lose all that momentum, like Sonic the Hedgehog disgorging a shower of rings, and with so much at stake, Dariush came through. Now on a six-fight tear that includes outstanding wins over Ferreira and Drew Dober, Dariush is all but guaranteed a marquee name in his next fight, and has to enter the conversation of legitimate title contenders.
Youssef Zalal: Last fall, “The Moroccan Devil” was on the short list of the biggest breakthrough stars of the Year of COVID. He was a tier beneath Khamzat Chimaev, Kevin Holland or Joaquin Buckley, certainly, but he had made a big splash with three straight wins over fellow prospects, characterized by a flashy kickboxing attack and punctuated by his charmingly high-energy charisma on the mic. Less than six months later, the 24-year-old’s star is in free fall and he is dangerously close to becoming “just another guy” in one of the UFC’s most crowded divisions. Zalal’s loss to Ilia Topuria last September was excusable, as Topuria is a physical brute and superior grappler who now looks like a future contender himself, but Saturday’s outing against Seung Woo Choi is more troubling. As a 2-to-1 favorite over a fighter who had been idle for all of 2020, Zalal found himself outstruck, outwrestled and outhustled for 15 minutes. All is not lost; Zalal is a young fighter at an outstanding camp in Factory X, who may well experience the kind of physical and stylistic maturation that Choi demonstrated in their fight. For now, however, Zalal takes another step back. His next fight will have enormous stakes riding on it.
Manel Kape: Unfair as it may be, it’s difficult not to compare Kape’s performance on Saturday to the Octagon debut of Michael Chandler two weeks ago at UFC 257. For a former champion from another promotion debuting in the UFC, first impressions count for a lot. They aren’t everything—Eddie Alvarez, Carlos Condit and Mauricio Rua all lost their debuts and did just fine—but there’s something to be said for making that walk for the first time, with all those expectations on your shoulders, and authoring a moment like Anderson Silva against Chris Leben, Justin Gaethje against Michael Johnson, or Chandler against Dan Hooker. For his long-awaited debut, former Rizin Fighting Federation champion Kape was matched up with Alexandre Pantoja, a Top 10 flyweight with a history of lapses in striking defense and fight strategy. Facing a challenging yet beatable fighter in Pantoja, Kape simply didn’t deliver. Credit must be given to the Brazilian, who fought one of the sharpest, smartest fights of his career, but Kape showed few flashes of the lightning-quick, dynamic striking that had made him such a prized acquisition for the UFC. "Prodigio" will probably receive at least two more chances to show that he is a contender at the highest level, but he will never get another chance to make a first impression.
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