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There is nothing more unsettling than picking a Heavyweight fight. It only takes one shot to end things, and we all know how quickly the UFC landscape can change in the blink of an eye. You won’t get much closer to a coin flip than this fight — and from so many different perspectives.
Both fighters are very good strikers and very well-versed. However, in a fight that can literally have tipping points on each side, you need to just grab the elements of each fighter and see who has the best chance to create the most realistic path to a title.
With a record of 47-18, Overeem has 25 victories by way of KO and 17 submissions. In his losses, Reem has been KO’d 14 times and only submitted once. The undeniable Hall of Famer is the only fighter to capture three straps in three companies. The former Strikeforce, Dream and K-1 Champion is also only one of two fighters to hold a strap in MMA and kickboxing.
It seemed for a while that the “chemically enhanced” days of Overeem were over. Becoming a highlight reel with some brutal KOs, the 40-year-old refused to accept that his decline would be his final chapter. After moving his camp to the Elevation Fight Team, The Reem has won four of his last five fights, with all four coming by way of KO. It seems to me that all of his experience has allowed him to really adjust his game in a much more cerebral manner that is well-suited to his age.
He has shown his ability to utilize an array of trips and top control to his already elite striking game, forcing the opposition to defend two levels against him. This helps Overeem slow down the action and fight in a much more controlled environment. The issue I have with him as of late is even though his volume has decreased to fit his new style, Reem still tends to drop off late in the fight and I think that is due to him trying to incorporate more grappling and close-clinch fighting where he can use more knees and a variety of weapons, while keeping his chin a little safer off the shelf and out of range.
However, a fighting style like that does come at a cost and can take its toll on someone like Reem, and that does tend to fade a bit at the age of 40. However, there is not one spot from a skill set perspective that he will ever be at a clear disadvantage other than possibly speed and efficiency. He will look to create the correct balance against a Russian fighter with a striking efficiency far beyond his 6-foot-7 frame in Alexander Volkov.
With a record of 32-8, Volkov has accumulated 21 wins by way of KO and three by way of submission. In his eight losses, he has only been KO’d twice and submitted twice. Volkov has had a rotating door of wins and losses as of late — winning three of his last five fights.
His fight against Derrick Lewis was really just a lapse in judgment on his part. He was winning the entire fight until the bitter end, where he could have coasted for the last 30 seconds, but he decided to engage, ultimately getting clipped by a huge shot that put him out with less than 5 seconds left in the fight. Volkov is an extremely well-versed striker that understands range and ties in his punches so well. He will not finish you with sheer power, but the accumulation and efficiency will start to weigh on you as the fight progresses.
Where Volkov really stands above many Heavyweights is in his ability to take the fight into the long game and just keep the same pace pouring it on where volume and conditioning become his greatest attribute.
With all the positives, there is also negative with Volkov. His ability to elude takedowns has been an issue in the past and it reared its ugly head against Curtis Blaydes, where he was literally rinsed and repeated 14 times. However, there was a takeaway there: He did not gas and continued to work his way back to his feet for a full five rounds. It is fair to say that Volkov is much more comfortable standing but the BJJ brown belt is no slouch if it hits the ground. He will need to pull out all the stops against a late surging Overeem, who knows that any loss will hinder his ability to possibly make one last run at UFC Gold.
How I’m Betting
The Heavyweight division is truly a tricky animal. The power in this division can change the complexion of a fight in a moment’s notice. There is no doubt from a skill set standpoint that there really is no one that can hold a candle to the historical resume of accomplishments that Overeem has captured. With that being said, he isn’t the same titan he once was.
The opposition that he is facing now most likely wouldn’t have stood a chance against Vintage Reem. What is keeping him in this game is his ability to change his ways to fit his aging frame. He is calculated, he is sharp, and he will not waste too many punches unless he truly sees something. That just really allows this fight to go deeper and deeper into dangerous territory where he has been known to fade and Volkov to come on.
From a physicality standpoint, you can expect Reem to apply pressure and look to put Volkov back against the cage. He will look for inside trips where he can secure a heavy top position and look to throw on the break if he fails. If this drags out into deeper waters, then it is all about numbers and efficiency, which Volkov has proved time and time again he has.
Both men have the ability to fight long, but both are very hittable. At this point in their careers, I see Volkov being the more durable fighter with the better conditioning. Before his KO loss to Lewis, he was only KO’d one other time, back in 2013. The Reem has an opportunity to jump ahead in this fight by securing a few rounds early, and putting the weight on Volkov’s shoulders to win them back, however,Volkov doesn’t really sit on his heels when he feels he is down a round. He will press forward behind a good jab to earn his way back into the round.
Given Overeems’ chin issues in the recent past, don’t expect Volkov to be able to put it on the Reem in that manner. He works in numbers, patterns, and steady pacing. Eventually the accumulation starts to wear on the opposition and little by little it seems that he will pop into another gear, but in reality, the opposition actually just loses a gear and Volkov is simply keeping the pace. This is where the fight will be won or lost for him. In his patience and trusting the process that has worked for him, where Allister has found new strides and seems to test them from fight to fight. Volkov must fight long and stay long. Keeping his back off the cage and avoiding clinches will be very important in the early rounds where Overeem is the much craftier and stronger fighter. Once he feels the power bar and productivity bar start to hinder Overeem, he’ll start to move in cautiously behind the jab. Things can and will start opening up for him at that point, and you will see his efficiency start to mount.
On the other hand, if he plays Overeems’ game, it could be a long night at the office. It will be much more of a chess match than a normal Heavyweight bout, because both men have clear polished skills, but I will take durability and conditioning to win the marathon in this five-round affair.
The Pick: Alexander Volkov
Overeem $7,600 / 18 / 4-5
I know Overeem at this price is very tempting, and I am not saying to avoid him because he is who he is and it is a Heavyweight throwdown with more upside for a finish because of its five-round nature. However, I need you to pull yourself out of the past.
He isn’t the same guy anymore. He’s still extremely tough and still extremely talented, but it’s not the Reem that you saw before. He is more calculated now to fit his aging wheels. Fading him would be foolish but a heavier lean on Volkov is the play for me here from a hedging perspective. Winning four of his last five fights by TKO, the last thing that leaves any fighter is their power. However, pace, conditioning and the ability to do things that you once were able to do tend to fade — just like Overeem tends to do as fights progress.
His fantasy stake has been impressive in his last five, though. Four fights breaking the 100-point barrier and even in his loss, he was able to score 60 points in a fight he was winning pillar-to-post the entire way before getting marked. Playing him is in order in spots but keep in mind that pulling yourself out of the past is extremely important in DFS. Once you start going down that rabbit hole of watching old fights, you will become disappointed when a different fighter wins in the present.
Volkov $8,600 / 21 / 3
I think this pricing can be a little closer, but I do agree that Volkov is the rightful favorite here. He is younger, sharper and holds a pace better than many Heavyweights in the division. He has finished three of his last five wins by KO, but has only eclipsed the 100-point mark one time in that span. However, this is where numbers can lie a bit.
These were three-round fights, outside of his fight with Fabricio Werdum in which he finished him in round No. 4 and scored 92 points. With that said, keep in mind that when you fight Werdum, you need to be very mindful of your approach. You need to pull the gears back a bit, because if he gets you to the ground, he can end anyone’s night.
In a five-round affair against Reem where he will have a multitude of windows to back him up in the second half of the fight, if he wins, I see no reason that he doesn’t hit his value. Although this is a Heavyweight affair and you need to play this both ways, I will have a heavier lean on Volkov. His ability to carry a pace is where you may see him start to perform a surgical clinic late.