Like our co-main event matchup of bantamweight contenders, Cory Sandhagen and Frankie Edgar, in an alternate universe, we may have already seen heavyweight strikers, Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov share the Octagon with each other.
Originally slated to take main event status at a UFC Fight Night St. Petersburg event back in April of 2019, Overeem instead clashed with Volkov’s compatriot, veteran submission ace, Aleksei Olienik on short-notice after undisclosed reasons forced Volkov’s removal. With the duo now on the cusp of title contention, it seems things have worked out in favour in regards to this rescheduling.
One piece of silverware has eluded legendary kickboxer, Overeem in his career. The undisputed UFC heavyweight title. Falling short in his sole challenge to the throne, the 40-year-old is two-wins deep into a final attempted run at Octagon gold.
Revered as one of the best strikers in the history of the sport, and arguably the most decorated heavyweight in mixed martial arts antiquity, Overeem has laid claim to championship and Grand Prix spoils under the banners of Dream, Strikeforce, and K-1 — with a UFC title the crowning glory on a career which will likely be unrivalled amongst his heavyweight peers upon reflection in years to come.
Moscow kickboxing talent, Volkov is himself a decorated heavyweight, with titles from Bellator and M-1 Global housed in his trophy cabinet. With the pair on the brink of contention, with possibly one more win all that separates them from a title challenge, a loss for either, conceivably puts a firm halt to championship objectives.
What else can be said about future Hall of Fame inductee, Overeem? He’s been there and done that. And in recent years, he’s fought with a level of poise and composure that suggests just that.
He’s found himself on the receiving end of some heavy knockout defeats at the hand of Francis Ngannou and the elbows of wrestling ace, Curtis Blaydes recently, and it was the most recent of those two that led him to Denver, Colorado.
Now a teammate of Blaydes at Elevation Fight Team at altitude, Overeem has won four of his last five at heavyweight, scoring stoppage victories in each. His sole loss in that period? A buzzer-beating, hail mary effort from Suriname striker, Jairzinho Rozenstruik — splitting, and removing a portion of Overeem’s upper lip in a fight he was destined to lose, finding himself on the wrong side of all three judges’ scorecards.
Handing former Fight Nights Global champion, Sergey Pavlovich his sole career defeat, Overeem welcomed the Russian to the UFC with a barrage of ground strikes of his own back in November of 2018 in Beijing.
Clashing with the returning Walt Harris last May in Jacksonville, Overeem displayed his ability to survive an early scare, gritting through an early knockdown, before laying waste to the common-opposition with a high-kick followed by a barrage of ground strikes.
Even when tasked with knocking back Brazilian upstart, Augusto Sakai at UFC Vegas 9 in September, particularly in the later rounds, Overeem found massive openings with his wrestling and grappling, before scoring another punishing finish via ground-and-pound.
It’s this newfound composure, movement, and patience, as well as the utilisation of his often superior groundwork that presents a whole new puzzle for heavyweight contenders.
Stopping the above mentioned, Harris with a gut-wrenching body kick on ‘Fight Island’ in October at UFC 254, Volkov had rebounded from a unanimous decision defeat to common-foe, Overeem’s teammate, Blaydes.
Finding himself on the receiving end of an astonishing fourteen takedowns from the Juco national champion, Volkov himself actually landed the more total strikes over the course of the five-round setback.
And while Overeem isn’t as let’s say wrestling oriented as Elevation Fight Team colleague, Blaydes, it’s his clinch work that stands out as a distinct advantage for him against Volkov, as well as his overall technical proficiency on the feet which lead to a notable advantageous opening for Overeem from the get-go.
In wins over Pavlovich, Harris, and Sakai, Overeem has been able to control the trio expertly while making space for damaging ground strikes which eventually got all three of them out of there inside the distance.
We’re also back at the UFC Apex facility for the first time this year, so that means we’ve got the smaller scale Octagon, and while Volkov has previously used front kicks and push kicks, I’m not entirely sure how useful these techniques could prove to be against Overeem, who has elected to hang on the outside of range, stalking opposed to often prior reckless entries.
A cautious approach which has brought tremendous results for Overeem more often than not cannot be abandoned ahead of this largely-anticipated kickboxing matchup, but for my money, utilisation of wrestling and shrew ground strikes the longer this one goes on could lead Overeem on his way to a third consecutive victory — possibly one more away from a second promotional title challenge.
We’ve got to realistically regard Overeem as the more technical of the two in regards to the striking arts, and simply put, he’s got the more well stocked tool chest to refer to in order to drag this fight out into the closing rounds, and even secure himself another stoppage.