Curtis Blaydes is closing in on a shot at the UFC heavyweight title, but can he move a step closer by beating Alexander Volkov in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday, June 20?
A 13-2-1 record and a three-fight win streak have catapulted Blaydes right into title contention in the heavyweight division. ‘Razor’ stopped former champion Junior Dos Santos in the second round of their bout back in January, building on a decision win over Justin Willis and TKO success against Shamil Abdurakhimov in 2019, and if he can make it four-in-a-row at the UFC APEX on June 20 then he will only strengthen his chances of landing a crack at the gold.
I say ‘strengthen’ because there is a man ahead of him in the pecking order right now. Francis Ngannou. And I think it is fair to say that Ngannou is proving to be the ultimate spoiler when it comes to Blaydes’ bid to become UFC heavyweight champion. ‘The Predator’ spoiled Blaydes’ UFC debut back in April 2016 when he forced the doctor to step in and call a halt to their fight in the second round, and when the two men met again in November 2018 it was an even shorter affair. Ngannou, looking to resurrect his career after a couple of miserable losses, needed just 45 seconds to separate Blaydes from consciousness and kick off a four-fight win streak that makes him the leading contender to face the winner of Stipe Miocic-Daniel Cormier 3 this summer.
Blaydes still has an opportunity to stake his claim though – this is, after all, combat sports and many, many factors can come into play when determining who will get a title shot and when. Timing. Injuries. These are things that can conspire to deny one fighter a shot at ultimate glory and hand it to another, so ‘Razor’ knows that a victory in the main event of this UFC Fight Night card could be the one that finally hands him his first bout for the heavyweight crown. So can he get the victory that he needs?
Providing the opposition at the UFC APEX will be Alexander Volkov. ‘Drago’ has gone 5-1 inside the Octagon since putting pen-to-paper on a deal with the UFC back in 2016, and this run does include a fourth-round stoppage of former champion Fabricio Werdum as well as notable successes against Stefan Struve and Roy Nelson. He ended a year-long absence from the cage last November when he out-pointed the controversial Greg Hardy over three rounds, and that victory maintained his place in the top 10 of the heavyweight rankings. A victory here would easily propel him into the top five.
However, I do not expect Volkov to slow Blaydes’ roll here. Volkov’s victory over Hardy was hardly the sort of win that makes a statement and sends a message to the rest of the heavyweight division, and he did go into that fight on the back of a knockout loss to Derrick Lewis that saw his recklessness in the third round come back to haunt him. Blaydes is a much better athlete than Lewis – ‘Black Beast’ would admit that himself – and that will be the telling factor here.
‘Razor’ boasts dangerous stopping power, as evidenced by 10 of his 13 wins coming via strikes, but more importantly on this occasion he has the size and strength that allows him to maul the opposition. That spells trouble for Volkov here. The 31-year-old Russian will struggle to escape the clinch and he will struggle to prevent Blaydes from taking this fight to the mat. And once the fight ends up on the ground there will only be one winner. I expect ‘Razor’ to smother Volkov, wear him down and beat him up until the referee has no choice but to step in.
Backing a stoppage in rounds 1,2 or 3 offers a decent return, but in search of bigger odds I am going to narrow down my selection to a single round. Blaydes has a string of second-round KO/TKO successes on his record, including his last two fights, so I believe we could see more of the same here from ‘Razor’ as he stays on course for a shot at the UFC heavyweight title.