UFC 298’s Roman Kopylov: Career Revamp

Roman Kopylov UFC
Roman Kopylov, Noche UFC ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

When Roman Kopylov signed to the UFC in 2019 he had all the hype in the world behind him.

Back then, Kopylov was 8-0 and was the reigning Fight Nights Global middleweight champion. Born in Novosibirsk, Russia, before going into MMA Kopylov had an extensive career in Combat Sambo. He was a multi-time Russian and European Champion and also a five-time world hand-to-hand combat champion.

Kopylov was signed to the UFC to fight Krzysztof Jotko but Kopylov had to pull out due to injury. Seven months later he finally made his debut against Karl Roberson. It was clearly a setup fight for Kopylov as Roberson had an up-and-down career at the time. It was also a good showcase fight for Kopylov considering Roberson was mainly a striker, being a former Glory Kickboxer.

Maybe some octagon jitters were in play, but Kopylov was off his game completely. He was bothered by the pressure, power, and kickboxing from Roberson. Kopylov got his leg chewed apart failing to check hardly any of the kicks Roberson was firing at him. When Kopylov started to get off some good strikes in round three he was taken down and submitted right away.

Given the attention that had come with Roman Kopylov’s arrival in the UFC, it was one of the most disappointing promotional debuts in quite some time. He showed some gaps in his ground game and even his striking defense. On top of that, after Roberson beat Kopylov he lost his next four fights and was cut by the UFC. It was a bad look for Kopylov.

After the fight with Roberson, Kopylov had trouble getting back into the cage. If it wasn’t because of COVID-19 it was visa issues holding him back from fighting in the US. It was almost two years out until he finally got a fight. Kopylov fought fellow Russian Albert Duraev who was another highly touted prospect making his UFC debut.

Even though Kopylov had a better performance in his sophomore UFC showing he was still slacking big time. He had problems letting it go which was odd because he had success and even dropped Duraev early in round two. When Kopylov was taken down in round two he was punished with ground and pound and barely made it to the bell. After that Kopylov was badly gassed and the technical striking he had was completely out the window. In hindsight, it was another bad-looking loss. That said because Duraev had a 2-2 UFC run and was cut by the UFC.

Speaking of being cut from the UFC it had to be close to happening to Roman Kopylov after losing his two UFC fights. He was given another chance to right his wrongs against Alessio Di Chirico. Chirico was another athlete that struggled in the UFC as he was 4-6 in the promotion at the time.

This was the performance Kopylov needed to turn his career around. He came out with more pep to his step and looked more confident. His striking was spot on. Kopylov peppered with the jab, a blistering one-two, and blasted kicks to the body. His distance control was spectacular so we were finally able to see the full striking arsenal this guy had. Kopylov was sharp throughout the fight and got the knockout off something like a five-punch combo in the last round. It was an astounding first UFC win for the Russian.

Kopylov fought Punahele Soriano next who was a dangerous opponent. Puna had an up-and-down UFC career but was still being competitive. He was known for his power but had to go up against a technical striker in Kopylov. This fight wasn’t close at all. Kopylov killed Soriano with the jab dictating the pace. Soriano just was blitzing in and was getting lit up. Kopylov was crazy clean with his hands and ended up punishing the body with well-placed kicks. He hurt Soriano badly in round two with the liver kicks which led to a standing TKO. It was a breakout performance from Kopylov, finally looking like the guy many thought he was coming into the UFC.

Up next for Kopylov was Brazilian Claudio Ribeiro. It was a set-up for Kopylov but Ribeiro is a dangerous fighter with a lot of explosiveness and power. That proved to be the case because Ribeiro had Kopylov in trouble at the end of round one. Kopylov had Ribeiro guessing the whole time using a lot of feints and making Ribeiro pay coming forward. Ribeiro did hurt Kopylov at the end of round one but thirty seconds into round two the Russian flatlined Ribeiro with a nasty headkick. The feints worked perfectly in the fight keeping the more wild fighter patient and it set up the knockout blow.

Kopylov most recently took on Josh Fremd. That may have been another good match-up for Kopylov but he was supposed to face someone else to be fair.  Also, Fremd was coming off two wins so he was riding momentum. It didn’t matter because Kopylov beat and battered him to a second-round finish. The speed advantage for Kopylov was telling. He lit up Fremd with the jab, shovel uppercut, and the one-two. He had Fremd reacting hard to feints and that allowed Kopylov to pick his shots and control the fight. He killed the body with kicks and then a left hook to the liver shut Fremd down.

Roman Kopylov has had a full career turnaround. From going 0-2 upon arrival in the UFC and looking like soon-to-be cut fighter he’s now on the cusp of being ranked. There is a lot of layers to his striking and it’s worth pinpointing what he has shown so far:

  • Excellent use of feints
  • Textbook jab
  • Hand speed
  • Liver hunter
  • Good leg kicks
  • Excellent distance control
  • Nice lead uppercut
  • Dangerous counter striker
  • Superb shot placement
  • Vision/Reads opponents well
  • Deceptive power
  • Dangerous combo striker

When any concerns about Kopylov are voiced, the takedown defense and ground game gets brought up a lot. I think with his takedown defense, things have improved quite a bit. He does all the right things when defending like fighting the wrist, pushing down on the head, and putting the head on the outside. His takedown defense sits at 92% defending twenty-five of twenty-seven takedowns.

Now, the ground game is a concern because the two times Kopylov was taken down he didn’t get back up. It’s been a bit since he’s been taken down so it could be an improved area. Kopylov thrives in a slower technical fight. I do worry about his defense when opponents rush in because he leaves his chin exposed when going backward. It’s still overshadowed by what he’s been able to do with his career winning his last four. Two of those four he won a POTN bonus.

If he can beat Anthony Hernandez it would be the biggest win of his career for Roman Kopylov. Hernandez is fighting for his ranking being #15. He’s won his last four and the gritty Hernandez has come into his own. Hernandez is actually a decent-sized favorite sitting at -250 which is kind of surprising. This is one of the best fights on the UFC 298 card and it’s going to be interesting to see if Kopylov can turn the corner in his career.