Forgive the Ultimate Fighting Championship if it has its head in the clouds.
Two of the promotion’s tallest fighters will lock horns in the UFC Fight Night 115 headliner, as former Bellator MMA and M-1 Global champion Alexander Volkov meets Stefan Struve on Saturday at Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The rest of four-fight main card features a middleweight clash pitting Siyar Bahadurzada against Rob Wilkinson, a women’s bantamweight affair pairing Marion Reneau with Talita de Oliveira Bernardo and a welterweight clash matching Leon Edwards with Bryan Barberena.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Volkov vs. Struve” matchup, with analysis and picks:
HeavyweightsStefan Struve (28-8) vs. Alexander Volkov (28-6)
THE MATCHUP: The 6-foot-7 Volkov is used to being the taller man in the cage. Therefore, the aptly named “Skyscraper” will be an interesting challenge for him. Struve stands at a full seven feet tall, and his arms are three inches longer than the Russian’s. Stylistically, however, Volkov is the superior tall man. He possesses a strong and versatile kicking game, a dangerous selection of strikes in the clinch, and most importantly a long, straight jab to punish his opponents from range.
Struve’s jab is effective but inconsistent. Throughout his career, Struve has struggled to make the most of his build. Rather, his gargantuan body often seems like a hindrance. Footwork is one glaring issue. Struve’s height and length incentivize him to create space or take an angle whenever his opponent comes forward. He knows how to do so but will frequently lose focus and allow his smaller foes into the pocket. At that range, Struve’s spaghetti arms become a decided disadvantage. His high guard offers more openings than most, as a result. Struve often seems to win in spite of his long limbs, whereas Volkov’s frame is a necessary part of his style.
The men who beat Volkov typically do so by outwrestling or outgrappling him. Struve’s slight disadvantages on the feet tend to turn into glaring problems against skilled strikers, and his self-reported panic attacks do not bode well for the Dutchman’s fighting future. Still, Struve is an excellent submission grappler, with 17 submission wins on his record. Volkov will need to call on his footwork and wrestling to avoid this phase of the fight. Fortunately, the Russian has spent time recently with Black House’s Kenny Johnson, one of MMA’s best wrestling coaches. This training paid off in Volkov’s bout with Roy Nelson, as he stopped seven of eight takedown attempts. Still, Struve’s underrated wrestling has given him the takedown on over six of 10 attempts, so Volkov will need to watch his Ps and Qs inside.
THE ODDS: Volkov (-125), Struve (-105)
THE PICK: While their records and frames are similar, Volkov’s career has been much easier. This is not to say he has beaten unskilled opponents. Struve’s record might boast more recognizable names, but nonetheless, Volkov has taken on consistently tough opposition since his win over Brett Rogers in 2012. Throughout his career, Volkov has made use of his frame, controlling range, levering in the clinch and using angles to keep his lofty head out of reach. With both men facing an unusually tall opponent, those subtle skills will be the difference, especially in a five-round fight. The pick is Volkov by third-round TKO.
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