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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday floats back to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas for the first stay in a lengthy residency that stretches through the end of March. Fans will be treated to a plethora of bouts matched to provide violence, and the odds are that many will end by stoppage. Only three of the fights on the card see a betting favorite at -150 or closer, so join us as we pave the way for solid options for the UFC Fight Night 184 edition of Prime Picks.
Alexander Volkov (-190)
Two accurate, active heavyweight strikers toe the line in a headliner that will almost assuredly end before the final bell (-245). Even with reach being equal at 80 inches for each man, the two participants fight at fairly different length. They showcase different kinds of power inside the cage. Volkov provides piston-like jabs and fierce uppercuts, while Alistair Overeem, even at 40, remains a ferocious force of feet and fists. Keep an eye on the pace. Of the two, “Drago” has the propensity to push matches to the later rounds; the overwhelming majority of Overeem’s victories have come in Round 1. The Dutchman could easily break up this play with a few choice knees to the body, for example, but Volkov should be the fresher fighter to take over after a tough opening round.
For the first time in a career spanning multiple decades and appearances in Pride Fighting Championships, Strikeforce, Dream and the UFC, Overeem came close to the 100-significant-strike margin in his most recent bout. It took “The Demolition Man” 92 strikes, including more than 50 to the head, to put away Augusto Sakai. Before then, Overeem had never needed to approach the 75-strike threshold. Overeem has rarely needed to throw that many because of his power, and more importantly, his precision. The man formerly known as “The Reem” is the most accurate striker in UFC history, landing a smidge under 75 percent of his significant strikes—nearly 10 percentage points higher than the next closest competitor. Although Volkov rarely takes damage on the feet from opponents not named Derrick Lewis, Overeem could threaten him by pinning him down with shots at a close distance.
In comparison, Volkov has already cracked that tally three times in his eight-fight UFC tenure. In all three, the Russian battered his opponent practically from bell to bell until he either secured a late stoppage or clubbed Roy Nelson repeatedly for 15 full minutes. Volkov is himself an accurate striker, but like every other fighter in company history, he falls short of Overeem’s legendary striking acumen. To succeed, he will need to fight long, keeping his opponent at the end of his stiff jabs and push kicks. A technical kickboxing match may not seem like the smart proposition against a decorated kickboxer like Overeem, but it is better than tangling with the Dutchman’s historically effective ground game.
Overeem has 14 knockout losses in MMA and three more in kickboxing, which does not bode well against a sharp boxer who often gets the job done by attrition and not from a single blow. Any one of the Russian’s numerous shots could be the one that rings Overeem’s bell; this is where he should have the advantage. It may not be the first, second or even third in a combination, but a long string of punches starting with a snapping jab or quick cross could work wonders. Volkov would be far better suited staying on the outside and peppering his counterpart with shots, not permitting Overeem to wade forward and deliver his hellacious knees and clinch strikes. A smart, composed Volkov with age on his side and a seemingly sturdier chin can win in dramatic fashion, placing himself in prime position for a title eliminator.
Diego Ferreira (-115)
This choice lightweight matchup features two men—Ferreira and Beneil Dariush—on the edge of the Top 10 staring at a rematch of a 2014 meeting that took place early in their respective UFC careers. Although both halves of this pairing have improved greatly since their first battle and each one is on a mighty winning streak of at least five fights in a row, one appears on paper to have upgraded up a bit more. The two each started off primarily focused as grapplers, and their striking has improved by leaps and bounds, not only with efficiency but also with sheer stopping power. Dariush has harnessed the one-punch kind of power to put out an opponent even when hurt badly, while Ferreira may be less accurate but has shored up his boxing in a way that saw him double up vaunted striker Mairbek Taisumov on the feet. As long as Ferreira does not leave his chin exposed and does not fall into a wayward submission, he can outwork his opponent on his way to a hard-fought win.
Dariush’s run following a quick defeat to Alexander Hernandez in 2018 has been stellar. Since taking a decision over Thiago Moises to break free of a three-fight winless stretch, the Kings MMA fighter went on to finish four tough outs in rapid succession. Rising star Drew Dober may be the most impressive in hindsight, with Dariush taking serious punishment only to come back and secure an unusual armbar and the win. A quick tapout of Frank Camacho followed. Then the Iranian-born fighter became the first man to stop Drakkar Klose and Scott Holtzman in 2020: In the latter, he notched the eighth spinning backfist knockout in UFC history. To say his striking has improved would be a massive understatement. Dariush has evolved from a somewhat one-dimensional grappler into someone that can threaten on the feet and on the ground.
Where Dariush will continue to struggle is that he remains quite hittable, and he has been rocked several times in his last bouts. Dober clocked him with a head kick; and that says nothing of the insane finishing sequence where both Klose and Dariush were on rubber legs before Dariush recovered enough to crack Klose with a brutal left hand. Ferreira has the power to do some damage on the feet and the wherewithal to go to the ground and not find himself in grave danger. The Fortis MMA fighter is often bestowed with an excellent game plan, while also displaying the ability to adapt if need be. The Brazilian took down sneaky submission artist Anthony Pettis repeatedly without fear of reprisal, even though Pettis won the lightweight strap by snatching up an armbar off his back. This high-stakes matchup could have ebbs and flows as the two figure out one another, but Ferreira can get this done by fighting to his strengths, not falling victim to the power shots and not staying on his back for long if Dariush drags him there.
Michael Johnson-Clay Guida Goes to Decision (-185)
This could be a risky selection, as both men have shown the recent propensity to lose at any moment. Whether falling face first into a strike to separate them from their senses or letting their guard down for mere seconds only to get tapped out, both men have lost a step but are still capable of putting on a show. While their durabilities have diminished, so have their respective finishing abilities. In the last five years, each man has only scored one stoppage victory. In this lightweight clash between two men whose best days are behind them, the best bet may not be to pick the winner outright—Johnson is a -220 favorite—but instead that the two will reach the final bell.
In their respective careers, Guida and Johnson have posted more decisions than any other method of victory. Although both narrowly hold finish rates above 50 percent, those numbers have dwindled as the years progressed. The game plan of “The Carpenter” may have passed him by, as he doggedly pursues takedowns while harassing his opponent with light but frustrating strikes. Johnson is the much more active striker of the two, although he is his own worst enemy inside the cage. Allowing Guida to hit one single takedown could throw off his entire game, at which point he could fall victim to playing defense and not pulling the trigger. All this will work in the favor of ticking time off the clock.
Guida will not likely be concerned about the submission game of his opponent, as Johnson has attempted one single submission in his UFC career: He sought an ill-advised guillotine choke when he pulled guard against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Even though this is the particular maneuver that has ensnared Guida repeatedly in recent memory, Johnson’s best course of victory should be fighting off the fence and letting his fast hands go. The strikes that put down Dustin Poirier could do the same to “The Carpenter,” but Guida’s practically unflappable chin should keep him in the fight to the final bell.
Mike Rodriguez Wins by TKO/KO (-150)
A light heavyweight with the nickname of “Slow” has defied that notion every time he won, as he has never needed more than 9:03 to record a victory. In his most recent appearance, Rodriguez scored a knockout of Ed Herman, only for the win to be taken away after referee Chris Tognoni called a flush knee to the chest an illegal blow. Herman went on to survive the round and mount a spectacular comeback, wrapping up the fight by a growingly rare kimura. However, the result was egregious enough to earn “Robbery of the Year” from Sherdog.com. His latest pairing against Danilo Marques, who did win his own UFC debut in 2020, appears to be a bit of an apology from the promotion in the form of a potential layup.
Rodriguez walks forward, throwing surprisingly high volume as he mixes up strikes to any target he can locate. Powerful leg kicks help disrupt the offense of his opponents, and those strikes can help set up shots over the top. He is anything but slow when timing counterstrikes, often landing crushing elbows right on the chin of advancing fighters. The versatility of his striking keeps his opponents guessing, but this striker-versus-grappler battle could grind to a halt if he gets taken down. Multiple opponents have done this to the Boston native in the past, and should Rodriguez do some damage to Marques, he may have to fight off a desperation takedown. His strength and sheer power on his shots should be enough to make the difference.
Before his promotional debut, Marques amassed a 9-2 record. His competition was far from spectacular to notch those nine wins, however, with only one opponent competing above .500 and the nine combining for a record of 19-54-1. His UFC win over Khadis Ibragimov is practically his only triumph worthy of even mentioning, but Ibragimov promptly fell off the roster after his fourth consecutive defeat. The 6-foot-6 rangy grappler will find himself out of his depth on the feet against a far crisper striker, but Rodriguez has shown a tendency to struggle when put on his back. It would be in Marques’ best interest to drag the fight down as fast as possible, replicating the success that John Allan or Devin Clark displayed in the past. The uneasiness on the feet will be Marques’ undoing, as Rodriguez hits too hard and should stay standing long enough to land the knockout blow.