UFC Vegas 18: Overeem and Volkov Must Focus on the Task at Hand

Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov face off ahead of UFC Vegas 18
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 05: (L-R) Opponents Alistair Overeem of the Netherlands and Alexander Volkov of Russia face off during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on February 05, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Despite being in an unenviable place in the heavyweight title picture, Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov must focus on giving the best performance possible at UFC Vegas 18.

Take a look at the heavyweight title picture and the UFC’s schedule for the month of February and you’ll see that it doesn’t look good for Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov.  First and foremost, both have suffered one-sided losses to Curtis Blaydes who fights two weeks after their bout.  Volkov has a recent loss to not only Blaydes but also his upcoming opponent Derrick Lewis.  Overeem has a loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik who fights one week after Blaydes and Lewis.  These are sizable road blocks in their way to being named the next challenger for the winner of Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou for the title next month, and even then there could be one more man in their way.  But, both men must perform like the others don’t matter.

Alistair Overeem as of late has emerged as the premiere veteran of the UFC.  A professional since 1999, his more than 20 year career has seen him claim gold in Strikeforce, DREAM, and even in K-1 for kickboxing.  His list of opponents reads like a best-of list of the past two decades.  He has made it clear, he wants to retire by winning the UFC title or will retire following his next loss with zero intention of continuing past his current contract.  It has made his last few performances a retirement tour of sorts with the entire MMA world watching to see if he can indeed get back to a shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship, the one major title missing from his trophy case since he’s ascended to the elite level.

While Overeem would seemingly have the most obstacles in his way to the title, he is perhaps the best equipped fighter in the division to handle the situation.  He has bounced back from devastating losses to deliver some of his best performances in the Octagon.  “The Demolition Man” has turned back two consecutive up-and-comers in dangerous match-ups and had finishes in both that reminded everyone that his skills remain at a high level.  Should he record a third, he will be in a prime position to wait and see how the next two months shake out.

Alexander Volkov may not have the combat sports mileage of his opponent, but there is no denying that he has paid his dues to emerge as one of the top fighters in the heavyweight division today.  Volkov began his career in Russia where he made his name in their top promotion: M-1.  After posting a solid 14-3 record primarily under their banner, he made the move to Bellator in 2012 where he rose to the top of their division.  “Drago” would claim championship gold during his run and left the promotion with an 8-3 record in their cage.

Since 2016, Volkov has been a stalwart of the UFC’s heavyweight division with signature victories such as a stoppage of fellow giant Stefan Struve and a knockout of former champion Fabricio Werdum in front of his home country on his resume.  In the past four years and counting, Volkov has given little to criticize in his UFC run.  His loss to Curtis Blaydes last year saw him struggle to deal with the best wrestler in the division, but Volkov bounced back with a first round stoppage of Walt Harris in October to get himself back into the title conversation.

Overeem should look to use his size and physicality to get inside the range of the taller Volkov throughout the bout.  Volkov has proven himself to be one of the best technical strikers in the division and is highly effective at keeping opponents at the end of his strikes.  Volkov will be looking to use his footwork and a straight punches to keep Overeem at bay throughout the night.  Overeem should look to mix up his attack with kicks and shots to the body to get inside where he can rip into Volkov with more powerful shots.  Finally, Overeem should look to tie-up Volkov in the clinch and get the fight to the ground where he holds the advantage.

Considering that Jon Jones is expected to challenge the winner of Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou next month, the Alistair Overeem/Alexander Volkov victor will await the winner of upcoming bouts where a Derrick Lewis or Ciryl Gane victory could provide them an opponent to face in a title eliminator later in 2021.  As we have seen throughout the past year, injuries, illness, negotiations, and all manner of circumstances in-between could prevent a fighter from making it to a high profile bout.  As such, it can’t be understated that both Overeem and Volkov could still find themselves entering the Octagon with gold on the line going into late 2021/early 2022.