UFC on ESPN 11: Volkov Seeks Breakthrough Against Blaydes

Curtis Blaydes vs. Alexander Volkov UFC on ESPN 11
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 19: (L-R) Opponents Curtis Blaydes and Alexander Volkov of Russia face off during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on June 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

The heavyweight division will be the marquee attraction on Saturday night as Curtis Blaydes and Alexander Volkov will compete to get into the title picture at UFC Vegas 3.

While the heavyweight championship has been on hold for almost a year now, Curtis “Razor” Blaydes (13-2) is proof that there is still new talent eager to break through the logjam stalling the top of the division.  He has only two losses in his UFC career, both against Francis Ngannou, but they are sandwiched in-between runs that include wins over the likes of Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, and Aleksei Oleinik.  Even with such names on his resume, his latest three fight run is arguably the most impressive as he punctuated it with a stoppage over former champion Junior dos Santos this past January.

In a sport as fluid as MMA, it is not out of the question that Blaydes could find himself in the title picture sooner rather than later.  With Daniel Cormier insisting on retirement after his rubber match with Stipe Miocic in August and talk about Ngannou possibly facing Jon Jones, the timetable could well play out for Blaydes to step into a title fight before the year’s end.  That said, he must first get through one of the most dangerous and experienced contenders in the heavyweight division before those plans can come to fruition.

Alexander “Drago” Volkov (31-7) is hoping to recapture the form that saw him on the brink of title contention just two years ago.  A professional since 2009, the last decade has seen Volkov win titles in M-1 and Bellator in what were impressive campaigns in both promotions.  Entering the UFC in 2016, Volkov quickly became a force in the division with wins over Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve, and a stoppage victory over former champion Fabricio Werdum.

The run led to his most high-profile bout to date against fan-favorite Derrick Lewis on the undercard of the biggest fight in UFC history between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor.  Seconds away from a route over “The Black Beast”, Lewis connected with a punch that stopped Volkov and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.  Volkov would not enter the cage until a little more than a year later, but returned to form with a decision victory in his native Russia over Greg Hardy.

Stylistically, the wrestling of Blaydes figures to be the biggest weapon on either side.  While Blaydes has made impressive strides with his striking and better utilizing his power, his ability to get the fight to the ground and put his weight on opponents will be the biggest threat to Volkov.  While “Drago” has fought ground specialists in the past, he has not faced a multi-faceted threat like Blaydes in quite a while.  A victory for Blaydes figures to be from effectively closing the distance and changing levels against the taller Volkov.  Volkov by comparison should utilize crisp boxing to keep Blaydes at a distance.

The future for the winner of Saturday’s bout is unlikely to be determined until Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier complete their trilogy in August.  Top contender Francis Ngannou sits unanimously as the next challenger for the title, but the possibility of light heavyweight Jon Jones moving up in weight also figures to factor into the picture.  Depending on which of the two aforementioned men is available, the winner of Blaydes and Volkov could find themselves waiting on the sidelines or taking another opponent before possibly securing their shot at UFC gold.