After a jam-packed week of three events following a one-month absence, the UFC took last weekend off to pack up their production crews and equipment from Fight Island to make a return to the APEX Center in Las Vegas. The event, UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Volkov, is a really good one and features a few fights that are important to title contention in their respective weight classes.
Starting at the very top in the headlining position, 40-year-old Alistair Overeem takes on Russian big man Alexander Volkov in a fight that definitely has title contention implications. The co-main event is also of great importance to the bantamweight division as Number 2 ranked Corey Sandhagen faces longtime veteran Frankie Edgar in a fight that could potentially see the winner go on to a title eliminator next.
Beneil Dariush will face past foe, Diego Ferreira in a rematch that’s been more than six years in the making. Both men have come a long way since that October night, and it makes for compelling, must-see TV. We will also be treated to the long awaited debut of former Rizin star, Manel Kape as he takes on the ultra-tough, well-rounded Alexandre Pantoja in a featherweight battle that could end up seeing the winner in a title eliminator in the near future.
We’ve selected four fighters from the event that will illustrate why they are worthy of their lofty or budget-conscious price tags in an effort to help you select your DraftKings fantasy lineups. Let’s get started.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: The scheduled fight between Askar Askar and Cody Stamann has been canceled for tonight’s UFC Fight Night card.
Cory Sandhagen, $9,400
Cory Sandhagen is a big bantamweight. At 5’11, his tightly coiled frame will be ready to strike and strike often as the much smaller, much older Frankie Edgar will be finding out. But make no mistake, Edgar has still proven himself to be competitive and for about a round, I expect him to be in this fight. Edgar will be at a distinct size disadvantage—five inches in height and two inches in reach—as well as a speed deficit. Sandhagen is a true volume striker, and an aggressive one. He uses his length, moving in and out of the pocket smoothly, all the while blasting the head and body with punches and kicks. Did I mention he’s a natural switch stance fighter with outstanding footwork who’s also a savvy grappler?
Edgar isn’t good at fighting long, at least he hasn’t been for some time. And at this elite level, his revered wrestling has shown itself less and to be less effective. In his somewhat controversial split-decision win over Pedro Munhoz, Edgar was outstruck significantly, and of the eight takedowns he attempted, six of them were stuffed, and that was largely the case in the two fights before that, both losses. The bloom is certainly off the rose, as my grandmother would say, and that’s the cruelty of age.
Sandhagen is smooth in his aggression, circling from the outside, ripping flurries of punches to the body, interspersed with plenty of hard leg and body kicks. He’s a terrific counter striker, too, keeping a fairly wide stance with excellent takedown defense. Yes, I know Aljamain Sterling did his thing, but Aljo is fighting for the title next month, so…
I do think the odds are kind of inflated, especially given Edgar’s toughness, but I just can’t see him beating the future title contender that Sandhagen is.
Diego Ferreira, $8,200
Diego Ferreira didn’t win the first time he fought Beneil Dariush back in 2014. That fight was a fairly low output fight that saw Dariush control nearly eight minutes of. He lost once more to Dustin Poirier via knockout just six months later, but since that night in early 2015, he’s not lost again, racking up six impressive wins, even becoming the first to submit Anthony Pettis.
Beneil Dariush has also been on a wildly impressive streak, with four finishes in five straight wins, but that’s where it gets a little murky. Beneil took three losses in a row, two of them by violent knockout. As a matter of fact, Dariush has been finished in all four of his losses (3 KOs and one submission). More importantly, he’s still not defensively responsible, often willing to brawl and take big shots in the process.
Both men possess legitimate knockout power of the one punch variety and both are slick submission artists, so this comes down to personal growth and I believe that Diego has shored up his weaknesses better that Dariush has. He’s also got the better cardio, as stamina has notoriously not been Beneil’s strong suit, and I suspect that will come into play here.
The pricing on this is perfect, since this fight could go either way, but I like Ferreira’s chances to get the W over a very tough fringe contender.
Alistair Overeem, $7,600
Alistair Overeem at $7,600 is a steal! First things first, let’s address the elephant in the room, Alistair’s age—he’s 40. But he’s a crafty, intelligent, still dangerous 40. He began reinventing himself by going through a steady stream of high-profile fight teams throughout the course of his 22-year career, mainly focusing on striking-centric gyms.
That all changed when took stock of his mounting losses and decided to pay more attention to the widening cracks in his defense. He decided on Jackson-Wink and under the watchful guidance of Greg Jackson over the next few years, “The Demolition Man” made marked improvements in his footwork, head movement, and range fighting. From there, he moved to Elevation Fight Team a couple years ago and has been fine tuning his skillset under their team of coaches. His strike selection wasn’t a noted weakness before, but these days it just seems more strategic and technically sound.
Many attribute him with some newfound chin strength, but realistically, he’s just gotten better at protecting it, all the while embracing his range striking more, utilizing his 80-inch reach. To put it short, Overeem has become much more defensively responsible. He’s also ready, willing and quite capable of going to the ground, and lately, we’ve been seeing him play the opportunist, changing levels and snatching singles to keep himself out of the danger zone.
Alexander Volkov might be a jiu-jitsu brown belt, but he doesn’t exactly have strong wrestling chops, and has proven himself to have issues defending takedowns. He also leaves his neck vulnerable by leaning in and trying to control with his shoulders and head. Considering Overeem’s 17 submission wins and penchant for guillotines, that is unwise.
Volkov’s lauded volume and flashes of power can present problems, but that volume isn’t the same magnitude as say, Stipe Miocic’s volume. The difference in power is significant. Not to say that Volkov doesn’t possess power—he absolutely does, but on the spectrum of power punchers, he’s several rungs down the ladder. Alistair, on the other hand, still packs heat and his top control and ground-and-pound is quite potent. More so than Volkov’s.
This is a really good heavyweight fight, and that’s a rarity. It’s well-matched and competitive, and in my humble opinion, won’t be boring, as some at this weight class inevitably are. I know that decline can be swift in aging fighters, but so far, Overeem has been maintaining his foothold in the top 5 with constant refinement.
Manel Kape, $7,900
Manel Kape might be new to the UFC but he’s not new to the sport. Active since early 2012, Kape has amassed an impressive resume (15-4). The 27-year-old Angolan trains out of AKA Thailand and has only been the distance three times in 19 professional bouts. His 14 finishes represent legitimate knockout power and slick submission chops. His run in Japan’s Rizin might be dotted with three losses, but those were to top flight competition, and he avenged one of those losses in spectacular fashion when he stopped Kai Asakura at Rizin 20.
He has an elite level opponent in front of him in Alexandre Pantoja. Pantoja is well-rounded, possessing power and grappling skills. And unlike Kape, he’s never been finished. All five of his losses went the distance. Strong, aggressive wrestlers have proven to be his Achilles heel, though. Basically, the ones that saw him to defeat were willing to keep a relentless pace and had a strong top game.
Kape is a good value because he’s a great wrestler and he’s got collar-starching power. The two men are a great stylistic matchup for each other, and honestly, this is a super bold pick, considering the way the UFC has put Kape in the proverbial deep end with the sharks right off the bat. That said, I still think Kape has an excellent chance at upsetting the favorite here.
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