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Tom Aspinall of England battles Serghei Spivak of the Ukraine in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 04, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs Aspinall

Take A Look At Every Fight On UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs Aspinall

It seems weird that the last time the UFC touched down in London was the night Jorge Masvidal knocked out Darren Till and then added “three piece and a soda” to the MMA lexicon backstage.

So much has happened in the interim, making that evening feel like eons ago, not three years ago. But now here we are, dare I say returning to some semblance of normalcy, with the UFC venturing across the pond in mid-March like the days of old for a jam-packed card loaded with outstanding talents from Britain and elsewhere.

The last time the Octagon sat in the center of The O2 Arena was a memorable night in many ways, and I’m guessing this Saturday will be the same.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap.

Alexander Volkov vs. Tom Aspinall

Tom Aspinall of England punches Serghei Spivak of the Ukraine in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 04, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Tom Aspinall of England punches Serghei Spivak of the Ukraine in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 04, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Tom Aspinall of England punches Serghei Spivak of the Ukraine in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 04, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Heavyweights battling for position in the rankings clash in the main event as Alexander Volkov squares off with Tom Aspinall.

The Russian veteran Volkov has been a consistent Top 10 presence since debuting in the UFC towards the end of 2016, posting an 8-3 record through 11 starts, including a fourth-round stoppage win over Fabricio Werdum in London. But the towering 33-year-old has struggled to clear the final hurdle standing between himself and a championship opportunity, and now he has to contend with the ascending Aspinall.

View The Athlete Profiles: Alexander Volkov | Tom Aspinall

Four wins in as many UFC appearances has put Aspinall on the fast track to contention, and now the Team Kaobon man gets the chance to knock off an established veteran at home. He’s won seven straight overall, all by stoppage, has the temperament and talent to thrive in a pressure situation like this — first main event, first UFC event in London in three years — and profiles as someone that should be in the championship mix for the next several years.

Volkov usually has a considerable height and reach advantage on his opponents, but that won’t be the case here, as Aspinall is only giving up two inches in both height and reach. The British rising star has made relatively quick work of everyone he’s faced to date, so it will be interesting to see how things shake out if Volkov is able to extend him into the latter rounds.

This is the exact type of matchup each man needs at this moment in their careers, and how it plays out will shape what the next 12-18 months inside the Octagon look like for each of them.

Arnold Allen vs. Dan Hooker

Arnold Allen of England kicks Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Arnold Allen of England kicks Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Arnold Allen looks to add to his lengthy unbeaten streak as he competes for the first time in 11 months, while Dan Hooker aims to get back into the win column and start a run towards the top of the rankings as he moves back down to featherweight here.

Still just 28 years old, Allen is one of the best prospects in the UFC, sporting an 8-0 mark inside the Octagon that includes victories over Makwan Amirkhani, Mads Burnell, Gilbert Melendez, and Sodiq Yusuff. Injuries and inactivity are the only things keeping Allen from already being a contender, and if he can post another win over the ever-dangerous Hooker and come out of the fight relatively unscathed, he should secure another marquee assignment in the second half of the year.

Hooker began his UFC tenure with three wins and three losses at featherweight, flashing the finishing skills and all-action approach that became his calling card during his lightweight run. Older, wiser, and understanding his ceiling was capped in the 155-pound ranks at the moment, “The Hangman” shifts back down to ’45 and jumps straight into the fray with a dangerous assignment opposite Allen, not that you would expect anything else from him.

Not only should this be a wildly entertaining, action-packed fight, but it will also make it instantly clear where each man stands in the division at the moment. Allen has never been beaten inside the Octagon, while Hooker has only lost to elite competition in recent years, so something has got to give on Saturday night.

Paddy Pimblett vs. Kazula Vargas

Paddy Pimblett trains at the UFC Performance Institute on September 1, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Paddy Pimblett trains at the UFC Performance Institute on September 1, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Paddy Pimblett trains at the UFC Performance Institute on September 1, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Everyone’s favorite Scouser returns for his sophomore appearance in the Octagon, as Paddy Pimblett squares off with Kazula Vargas.

“Paddy the Baddy” garners loads of attention wherever he goes and whenever he competes, and it was no different in his UFC debut last fall. After getting stung a little early, the 27-year-old found his footing and took it to Luigi Vendramini, ending things late in the opening round. Now 17-3 overall, the crowd in The O2 is sure to pop when the lad from Liverpool starts to make his way to the cage this weekend.

Free Fight: Paddy Pimblett vs Luigi Vendramini | UFC Apex Banger

Vargas landed on the wrong side of the results in his first two Octagon appearances but played spoiler against the debuting Rong Zhu last spring to register his first UFC victory. Now the 36-year-old Mexican veteran will look to do the same, on the road, as he ventures to London to dance with Pimblett.

All eyes will be on the former Cage Warriors champion, who has historically thrived in spots like this. Will it be more of the same for Pimblett or can Vargas take the air out of the partisan crowd by pulling off the upset?

Gunnar Nelson vs. Takashi Sato

Takashi Sato of Japan punches Jason Witt in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Takashi Sato of Japan punches Jason Witt in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Fighting for the first time in more than two years, Gunnar Nelson returns looking to stop a two-fight skid as he squares off with Japanese veteran Takashi Sato on Saturday.

The 33-year-old Nelson has been a fixture on cards in the United Kingdom and Europe throughout his UFC career, with only three of his 13 appearances taking place in North America. He last competed in 2019, dropping consecutive decisions to Leon Edwards and Gilbert Burns, so it will be interesting to see what the Icelandic veteran can bring to the table this weekend.

Sato steps up to replace Claudio Silva here, making his first appearance since suffering a second-round stoppage loss to Miguel Baeza in late 2020. The 31-year-old is 2-2 in four UFC appearances, and trains with the elite crew at Sanford MMA, so there is no reason to expect him to be anything less than 100 percent and fully capable of spoiling Nelson’s return when they step in against one another in London.

Nelson is a skilled, patient submission artist and was a rankings fixture for much of his previous tenure, but more than two years away from competition and three years removed from his last victory sends him into this one surrounded by question marks. For Sato, this is an all-upside opportunity on short notice, which means he should come out of the chute firing on all cylinders.

Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Sergei Pavlovich

Gregory Rodrigues of Brazil punches Junyong Park of South Korea in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 23 2021 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Gregory Rodrigues of Brazil punches Junyong Park of South Korea in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 23 2021 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The second heavyweight pairing on the main card is a clash between ranked Russian fighters as Shamil Abdurakhimov welcomes Sergei Pavlovich back to the Octagon.

A staple in the Top 15 for the last several years, Abdurakhimov arrives in London on a two-fight slide, having suffered consecutive second-round stoppage losses to Curtis Blaydes and Chris Daukaus at UFC 242 and UFC 266, respectively. Prior to that, “Abrek” had won five of six to solidify his place in the rankings and show what he’s capable of inside the cage.

Watch UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs Aspinall On ESPN+

Pavlovich debuted as an undefeated prospect in November 2018, landing opposite Alistair Overeem in a fight that went the wrong way for him early. He rebounded with consecutive first-round finishes of Marcelo Golm and Maurice Greene in 2019 to establish himself as someone to watch in the division, but has been out of action since due to injuries and visa issues.

Can Abdurakhimov get back in the win column or will Pavlovich pick up where he left off more than two years ago?

Nikita Krylov vs. Paul Craig

Paul Craig of Scotland punches Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua of Brazil in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC 255 event at UFC APEX on November 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Paul Craig of Scotland punches Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua of Brazil in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC 255 event at UFC APEX on November 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Ranked light heavyweights Nikita Krylov and Paul Craig clash in this main card matchup as each man looks to begin their 2022 campaign with a victory and cement their standing in the division.

Krylov has alternated losses and victories in his five fights since returning to the UFC in the fall of 2018 and enters Saturday’s contest off a unanimous decision loss to Magomed Ankalaev last February. The 30-year-old has grown significantly as a fighter over the course of his career, developing into a perennial tough out and well-rounded talent capable of maintaining permanent residence inside the Top 15.

Craig has really started to find his stride over the last couple of years, entering this clash with Krylov having won three straight, and he is unbeaten in his last five. Last time out, the Scotsman collected a first-round stoppage win over Jamahal Hill, dislocating his elbow in a submission attempt before putting him away with strikes in a tick under two minutes.

Jai Herbert vs. Ilia Topuria

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 10: Ilia Topuria of Germany reacts after his victory over Ryan Hall in their featherweight fight during the UFC 264

British veteran Jai Herbert makes his first UFC appearance on home soil this weekend as he welcomes unbeaten prospect Ilia Topuria to the lightweight division.

After dropping his first two fights in the UFC to talented Brazilian veterans Francisco Trinaldo and Renato Moicano, Herbert finally got into the win column last time out, sparking Khama Worthy midway through the opening round of their October clash in Las Vegas. The former Cage Warriors lightweight champion has earned finishes in all but one of his 11 career wins and will have the partisan crowd on his side as he squares off with Topuria this weekend.

Unbeaten in 11 professional bouts, including three UFC appearances, Topuria moves up the lightweight division after medical issues stemming from his weight cut forced him out of a pairing with Charles Jourdain earlier this year. Topuria, who is of Georgian descent and resides in Alicante, Spain, possesses a wealth of skills and finishing abilities, though it will be interesting to see if all that carries over now that he’s competing up a division.

With Herbert riding high off his victory last fall and Topuria looking to prove he’s still as dangerous and dynamic at lightweight as he was in the featherweight division, this should be an all-action affair to close out the preliminary card on Saturday evening.

Jack Shore vs. Timur Valiev

 Jack Shore of Wales punches Hunter Azure in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Jack Shore of Wales punches Hunter Azure in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Bantamweights looking to take the next step forward in the crowded division collide this weekend as Jack Shore puts his unbeaten record on the line against Timur Valiev.

The 27-year-old Shore is 15-0 as a pro, with his last four victories coming inside the UFC Octagon. He earned finishes in 12 of his first 13 fights, won and defended the Cage Warriors bantamweight title, and enters Saturday’s clash with Valiev with a pristine 27-0 mark across his amateur and pro career.

Related: Jack Shore Feels Like His Time Is Now

Valiev initially lost his promotional debut to Trevin Jones, but the fight was later deemed a no contest, putting the 32-year-old Russian back on an unbeaten streak that stands at nine heading into this one. He’s followed up that bout with Jones with consecutive decision wins over Martin Day and Raoni Barcelos, and he has all the tools to potentially hand Shore the first defeat of his career.

There is no more competitive division in the UFC than bantamweight at the moment, and this fight helps illustrate that fact. Each of these men has the talent to be Top 15 fighters and would arguably be there in a more shallow weight class, but as it stands, they’re batting on Saturday for a chance to move closer to cracking the rankings.

This should be a scramble-heavy, closely fought contest that provides a little more clarity about where each man fits within the divisional hierarchy at the moment and what to expect from each over the next 18 months.

Molly McCann vs. Luana Carolina

Fan favorite Molly McCann steps into the Octagon searching for a second consecutive victory on Saturday, while Luana Carolina has designs on pushing her winning streak to three at the Liverpool native’s expense.

It’s been an up-and-down go of things for McCann since migrating to the UFC from Cage Warriors. After losing her debut, she rattled off three straight victories, but then dropped consecutive decisions to Taila Santos and Lara Procopio. She got back into the win column with a hard-fought victory over Ji Yeon Kim last time out and looks to build off that result this weekend in London.

Carolina lost her first professional fight and then won six straight, including her promotional debut at UFC 237 before having her winning streak — and nearly her leg — snapped by Ariane Lipski two summers back. Since then, “Dread” has secured decision wins over Poliana Botelho and Loopy Godinez to move to 8-2 overall, and aims to spoil McCann’s return to British soil on Saturday.

Will “Meatball Molly” give the fans at The O2 something to get fired up about or will the progressing Brazilian put a damper on their celebrations instead?

Muhammad Mokaev vs. Cody Durden

One of the top prospects in all of MMA makes his UFC debut in this one, as unbeaten flyweight Muhammad Mokaev steps into the Octagon for the first time to take on Cody Durden.

A multi-time world champion during his outstanding amateur career, Mokaev has maintained his unbeaten record since transitioning to the professional ranks, posting six victories and one no contest verdict in seven starts. A standout wrestler with sharp hands, the 21-year-old from Dagestan, who resides in Wigan and trains in Manchester, is one of the most promising new arrivals to touch down in the UFC in years.

Related: UFC Signs Undefeated Flyweight Prospect Muhammad Mokaev

Durden has gone 1-1-1 in three UFC starts, opening his career with a draw at bantamweight against Chris Gutierrez and followed by a quick submission loss to Jimmy Flick before getting into the win column time out. He out-dueled Chinese banger Aoriqileng in November, fighting for the first time in nearly a year, and should be a good initial test for Mokaev on Saturday.

Despite this being his promotional debut, this is a high-pressure assignment for the young newcomer, who has been heralded as a future champion since his amateur days and now finally steps onto the big stage. Durden is a scrappy, experienced veteran who would love to spoil Mokaev’s debut, so it’ll be on the UFC freshman to validate the hype and rise to the occasion.

Mike Grundy vs. Makwan Amirkhani

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  (R-L) Makwan Amirkhani of Kurdistan punches Jason Knight in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at ECHO Arena on May 27, 2018 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Im

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 27: (R-L) Makwan Amirkhani of Kurdistan punches Jason Knight in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at ECHO Arena on May 27, 2018 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)


It should be a wrestling-heavy affair in the featherweight division when Mike Grundy and Makwan Amirkhani step into the Octagon on Saturday.

The 35-year-old Grundy represented England internationally in freestyle wrestling for a number of years, winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He’s 12-3 overall in his mixed martial arts career, but comes into this one on a two-fight slide, having dropped back-to-back decisions to Movsar Evloev and Lando Vannata.

Amirkhani literally kicked off his career in spectacular fashion, earning an eight-second stoppage win over Andy Ogle in Sweden, but that was seven years ago, and he’s been inconsistent since. The 33-year-old is 5-5 over his last 10 starts but has dropped three straight and four of his last five heading into this one, often starting quickly, but fading once the action hits the second round.

Cory McKenna vs. Elise Reed

Dana White’s Contender Series grad Cory McKenna finally makes her sophomore appearance in the Octagon, welcoming fellow sophomore Elise Reed to the London this weekend.

McKenna earned her UFC deal with a unanimous decision win over Vanessa Demopoulos in the summer of 2020, then quickly turned around and collected a similar result against Kay Hansen in her promotional debut. She’s been out of action since, but the 22-year-old Welsh grappler has been working extensively with the crew at Team Alpha Male and looks to rekindle the momentum with a return to the United Kingdom on Saturday.

Reed won the CFFC strawweight title with a victory over Jasmine Jasudavicius in her second pro fight, then successfully defended the belt twice before getting called up to the UFC. She made her debut up a division against SIjara Eubanks and was completely out-muscled, but a return to the 115-pound weight class and a more even pairing with McKenna should provide her with a better opportunity to secure her first win.

Both women are at their strongest in the grappling realm, so expect a scramble-heavy affair with lots of battling for position in the clinch and on the canvas once things get underway in this one.

Nathaniel Wood vs. Vince Morales

The crowd at The O2 should be in full throat to start the night as Morden man Nathaniel Wood makes his return to action, stepping in against Vince Morales in Saturday night’s opener.

Another former Cage Warriors champion competing this weekend, Wood rocketed out of the gate with three straight submission wins to start his UFC career before running afoul of John Dodson. He bounced back with a win over John Castaneda, but then dropped a decision to Casey Kenney in his third bout of 2020 and has been out of action since due to various injuries.

The 31-year-old Morales struggled upon arriving in the UFC, losing three of his first four as part of a tough stretch where he went just 2-4 in six fights. Since then, however, “Vandetta,” who now lives in Las Vegas and trains at Syndicate MMA, has earned back-to-back victories, most recently scoring a knockout win against Louis Smolka in December.

This should be an electric encounter to start the evening as Wood looks to make up for lost time and kickstart another push towards the rankings, while Morales aims to ruin his homecoming and add another victory to his resume across the pond.
 

UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs Aspinall took place on Saturday, March 19, 2022, live from a sold out O2 Arena in London. See Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses at #UFCLondon.