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Overeem vs Volkov: Fight By Fight Preview

The UFC Returns To Vegas This Saturday. We Run Down The Entire Card, Top To Bottom.

So far this year we’ve had featherweights, welterweights, and lightweights in the main event, but this weekend, we get the big boys as Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov meet in a pivotal heavyweight clash.

So far this year we’ve had featherweights, welterweights, and lightweights in the main event, but this weekend, we get the big boys as Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov meet in a pivotal heavyweight clash.

Overeem ended 2019 on a down note, getting stopped by Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the waning moments of their headlining clash at the start of December, but he vowed to return in 2020 and embark on one last run at the UFC title. He arrives in Las Vegas for his 2021 debut having made good on that promise after posting consecutive stoppage victories over Walt Harris and Augusto Sakai to steady himself in the rankings and bring him back into the contender conversation.

Watch The Fights On ESPN+

The 32-year-old Volkov has been hovering on the fringes of contention since early 2018 when he pushed his promotional winning streak to four with a decisive win over former champion Fabricio Werdum. He’s been inconsistent since then, splitting four appearances and alternating between losses to Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes and victories over Greg Hardy and the aforementioned Walt Harris.

Now the towering Russian looks to halt Overeem’s late-career surge while propelling himself forward in a heavyweight division where things are taking shape and moving briskly.

The champion and each of the fighters ranked in the Top 7 are currently scheduled to compete in the opening third of 2021, which means there is movement on the horizon and the winner of this of this one will likely set themselves up for another marquee opportunity in the second half of the year.

Cory Sandhagen celebrates his victory over Marlon Moraes of Brazil in their bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on October 11, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Cory Sandhagen celebrates his victory over Marlon Moraes of Brazil in their bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on October 11, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Cory Sandhagen and Frankie Edgar square off in a bantamweight clash that could very well determine who is next in line to challenge for the title following the championship clash at UFC 259 on March 6.

An Elevation Fight Team representative, Sandhagen rebounded from a June submission loss to Aljamain Sterling with a slick, second-round stoppage win against Marlon Moraes four months later to cement his place as one of the top contenders in the division. The 28-year-old is 13-2 overall and 6-1 through seven UFC starts, with the best years of his career still in front of him.

MORE UFC VEGAS 18: Alistair Overeem's Greatest Fights

Frankie Edgar prepares to fight Pedro Munhoz of Brazil in their bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Frankie Edgar prepares to fight Pedro Munhoz of Brazil in their bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“The Answer” showed no signs of decline in his divisional debut, going shot-for-shot with the durable and dangerous Pedro Munhoz while landing on the happy side of a split decision verdict. In doing so, Edgar joined an exclusive group of fighters to have earned victories in three different UFC divisions, and now the former lightweight champ and perennial featherweight contender looks to earn a championship opportunity in a third weight class as well.

Flashback: The Making Of Frankie Edgar

Fight of the Year generally goes to a five-round battle, but in terms of skill, technique, and overall excellence, this has the potential to be a very special contest. Both men have diverse skill sets and outstanding conditioning, so a 15-minute classic that goes down to the wire is a very real possibility.

Marion Reneau of United States celebrates after defeating Jessica Andrade of the Brazil in their bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night at Gigantinho Gymnasium on February 22, 2015 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Marion Reneau of United States celebrates after defeating Jessica Andrade of the Brazil in their bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night at Gigantinho Gymnasium on February 22, 2015 in Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)

Bantamweights aiming to make headway in the 135-pound rankings in 2021 clash in this main card contest, as veteran Marion Reneau squares off with former Ultimate Fighter winner Macy Chiasson.

It’s been a frustrating couple of years for the 43-year-old Reneau, who touches down in Las Vegas on a three-fight skid, searching for her first victory since February 2018. That being said, the tough-as-nails teacher has never been finished and has the veteran savvy and all-around grit needed to make Saturday’s pairing a long night for Chiasson.

After claiming victory in the featherweight competition on Season 28 of the long-running reality TV competition, the 29-year-old Chiasson kicked off her rookie campaign in the Octagon with consecutive wins over Gina Mazany and Sarah Moras before dropping a decision to Lina Lansberg. She rebounded with a good win over late replacement Shanna Young last February, and now the Fortis MMA product looks to build a winning streak at Reneau’s expense.

Each woman remains entrenched in the Top 15 and would likely land opposite someone higher up in the rankings next time out with an impressive outing this weekend, so you should expect to see both Reneau and Chiasson come out guns blazing, looking to start their respective 2021 campaigns off with a win.

Alexandre Pantoja stands in his corner between rounds of his flyweight bout against Askar Askarov during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 19, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Alexandre Pantoja stands in his corner between rounds of his flyweight bout against Askar Askarov during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 19, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Botta

The flyweight renaissance is in full swing and this pairing between top contender Alexandre Pantoja and ultra-talented newcomer Manel Kape will be another contest that highlights how competitive and entertaining the 125-pound weight class is every time out.

Pantoja has been a constant presence in the Top 10 since arriving in the UFC following his time on The Ultimate Fighter, however he’s yet to take the final step needed to enter the title picture. He dropped a close unanimous decision to Askar Askarov in his lone 2020 appearance but is 6-3 inside the Octagon as he heads into his 10th UFC start.

A nasty finisher viewed as one of the top talents in the lighter weight classes competing outside the UFC, Kape finally makes the walk to the Octagon for the first time. The 27-year-old from Portugal has won three straight, all by stoppage, including consecutive second-round finishes over Takeya Mizugaki and Kai Asakura.

This is the perfect immediate test for Kape, who arrives with a ton of hype and expectations, but is now tasked with proving it against a dangerous, established veteran. Both men have solid power and quality finishing instincts, so we could very well see a barnburner that helps clear up the title picture in the flyweight division here.

CODY STAMANN VS. ASKAR ASKAR

Cody Stamann prepares to fight Jimmie Rivera in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 16, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Cody Stamann prepares to fight Jimmie Rivera in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 16, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Following a summer where he freelanced at featherweight, Cody Stamann returns to the bantamweight division, envisioning a push towards the top of the heap. After a late switch in opponents, the 31-year-old Michigan native now faces off with UFC newcomer Askar Askar.

The 31-year-old Stamann dealt with personal tragedy last spring when his younger brother passed away suddenly. He fought less than a week later, earning a victory over Brian Kelleher he dedicated to his brother, then returned the following month, dropping a unanimous decision to veteran Jimmie Rivera.

View The Entire UFC Vegas 18 Fight Card

Askar arrives in the UFC with an 11-1 record after rebounding from the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision victory in October. The 26-year-old Palestinian, who trains out of the Midwest Training Center in Schaumberg, Illinois, has steadily worked his way through the regional ranks and now gets an opportunity to make a massive impression in his UFC debut this weekend.

Bantamweight is one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC at the moment and the depth of talent continues to get deeper every year. This is a chance for Stamann to get back in the win column and begin a push to crack the Top 10, a perfect opportunity for Askar to make a solid first impression, and the kind of fight that could steal the show on Saturday night.

Diego Ferreira of Brazil reacts after the conclusion of his lightweight bout against Rustam Khabilov during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on February 23, 2019 in the Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Diego Ferreira of Brazil reacts after the conclusion of his lightweight bout against Rustam Khabilov during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on February 23, 2019 in the Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Top 15 lightweights who collided earlier in their UFC careers run it back in hopes of maintaining their winning ways as Diego Ferreira looks for a measure of vengeance against Beneil Dariush.

Ferreira pushed his winning streak to six with a second-round submission win over Anthony Pettis at UFC 246 last January, but then had a pair of dates against Drew Dober fall through, keeping him out of the Octagon and off the radar the remainder of the year. The 36-year-old Brazilian has looked terrific during his current run of success and could become a dark horse threat with a victory here.

With five straight victories and four consecutive finishes, Dariush has put his rocky 12-month stretch from March 2017 to March 2018 behind him, re-establishing himself as a legitimate Top 15 lightweight. The Kings MMA product hasn’t seen the third round since going the distance with Thiago Moises towards the end of 2018, dispatching Dober, Frank Camacho, Drakkar Klose, and Scott Holtzman on the road to this rematch with Ferreira.

These two first squared off in October 2014, with Dariush earning a unanimous decision victory on 30-27 scores across the board. Both have improved significantly since then and enter on extended hot streaks, so it will be interesting to see how things play out when they do it again this weekend.

Michael Johnson celebrates his knockout victory over Dustin Poirier in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at State Farm Arena on September 17, 2016 in Hidalgo, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Michael Johnson celebrates his knockout victory over Dustin Poirier in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at State Farm Arena on September 17, 2016 in Hidalgo, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Michael Johnson and Clay Guida each enter 2021 looking to break out of funks that have prevented them from having their hand raised in victory for far longer than they would like. Unfortunately, only one of the veteran lightweights will get to experience that euphoric sensation after this one.

It was four years and five months ago (minus a few days) that Johnson established himself as a member of the lightweight elite by stopping Dustin Poirier just 95 seconds onto their main event pairing in Hidalgo, Texas. Since then, “The Menace” is 2-6 and he enters this weekend’s event looking to snap a three-fight slide and start the long road back to the Top 10.

Guida arrives in Las Vegas having dropped consecutive appearances to push his record over the last decade to 8-9 inside the Octagon. Like Johnson, he’s shuffled between divisions, constantly faced quality competition, and remains a tough out in the 155-pound ranks, even now as his career winds down.

Will Johnson snap his streak and start a potential run in his first appearance of 2021 or will “The Carpenter” wrestle and hustle his way back into the win column?

Mike Rodriguez poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Mike Rodriguez poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Light heavyweights looking to build momentum in the ever-changing division clash in this one as Mike Rodriguez faces off with Brazilian sophomore Danilo Marques.

Rodriguez was involved in one of the stranger contests of 2020, suffering a third-round submission loss to Ed Herman after time was called late in the second round following a knee that didn’t seem to land below the belt. “Slo Mike” has struggled to find consistency since coming off the Contender Series (Class of ’17) and will look to return to the win column here.

MORE UFC VEGAS 18: Mike Rodriguez Doesn't Sweat The Small Stuff

The 35-year-old Marques’ UFC debut was his first appearance in more than two years and he made the most of it, grinding out a unanimous decision victory over Khadis Ibragimov to extend his winning streak to three. The Kings MMA product should have shaken off the rust following an extended hiatus, so an improved effort in his sophomore showing should not come as a surprise.

There are always opportunities to climb the ladder in the light heavyweight division, so each victory carries a little more potential impact. Both these men are eager to move forward and string together some wins in 2021, so it’s just a matter of sorting out which one will get to do that this weekend.

Timur Valiev of Russia prepares to fight Trevin Jones during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Timur Valiev of Russia prepares to fight Trevin Jones during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Fighters searching for their initial triumph inside the Octagon clash in this short-notice pairing as Timur Valiev and Martin Day meet on Saturday night.

The highly regarded Valiev made his promotional debut last August, coming out of the gates quickly before ultimately falling to Trevin Jones in a bout that would later be ruled a no contest. The 31-year-old lost his professional debut, but has only been beaten once since, and avenged that setback, sending him into Saturday’s event sporting a 16-2 (1 NC) record overall.

Day has made three trips into the UFC cage thus far and the results have gotten progressively less satisfying. After landing on the wrong side of a split decision verdict in his debut, the 32-year-old Hawaiian was stopped in the third round of his second appearance, and most recently, he was caught in a guillotine choke late in the opening round by Anderson Dos Santos.

Outside of UFC and UFC-related bouts, Day is 8-1, but he’s 0-4 between the UFC and his Contender Series appearance and he enters this weekend’s short-notice opportunity looking to finally snap that streak.

Each of these men have shown promise in the past and have something to prove after their most recent showings, so expect a spirited affair from start-to-finish when they hit the cage this weekend.

Devonte Smith celebrates after knocking out Julian Erosa in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Pepsi Center on November 10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Devonte Smith celebrates after knocking out Julian Erosa in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Pepsi Center on November 10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Following a harrowing 17-month absence, Devonte Smith returns to the Octagon to take on Justin Jaynes in a pairing of lightweight finishers on Saturday.

A rising star after graduating to the UFC through the Contender Series (Class of ’18) and consecutive first-round finishes in his first two outings, Smith’s difficult period began with an unexpected stoppage loss to friend and former training partner Khama Worthy at UFC 241. A ruptured Achilles tendon and the tragic death of his sister followed, leaving “King Kage” on the sidelines questioning his place in the sport and dealing with incalculable grief.

But the Factory X Muay Thai product is still only 27 years old and looked the part of a future lightweight contender before his loss and hiatus, and there is no reason to believe he’s incapable of returning to that track in 2021.

RELATED: The Proud Return Of Devonte Smith

Jaynes makes his second short-notice appearance in eight months, looking to replicate the results of the first. The Las Vegas-based veteran jumped into his UFC debut during Fight Week last June and promptly knocked out Frank Camacho. Consecutive losses to Gavin Tucker and Gabriel Benitez have followed, but the 31-year-old “Guitar Hero” remains a heavy-hitter with an in-your-face approach in the Octagon, making him the type of short notice opponent capable of upsetting the apple cart every time he crosses the threshold into the UFC cage.

Can Smith put everything that has transpired in the last 17 months behind him and get back in the win column or will Jaynes score his second UFC victory in a similar fashion to his first?

Joselyne Edwards of Panama poses for a portrait after her victory during the UFC Fight Night event at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 17, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Joselyne Edwards of Panama poses for a portrait after her victory during the UFC Fight Night event at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 17, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Joselyne Edwards makes a hasty return to the Octagon, stepping in to replace Nicco Montano in this clash with Brazilian prospect Karol Rosa.

Edwards becomes the first athlete to log two appearances this year after securing a unanimous decision victory in her promotional debut last month on Fight Island. The Panamanian out-hustled Wu Yanan from the jump and should be even sharper the second time around.

Rosa navigated myriad cancellations and scheduling changes to secure her second straight UFC victory last summer, pushing her overall winning streak to four with a unanimous decision win over Vanessa Melo in July. The 26-year-old Brazilian is a teammate and training partner of flyweight contender and former strawweight titleholder Jessica Andrade, so you can be certain that she’s been put through the paces in preparation for this one.

There are opportunities to climb the divisional ladder at bantamweight right now, so a quality effort here should position the winner for a step up in competition next time out.

Molly McCann of England prepares to fight Taila Santos in their flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 16, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Molly McCann of England prepares to fight Taila Santos in their flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 16, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

British fan favorite “Meatball” Molly McCann makes her 2021 debut in search of a return to the win column as she takes on gritty Brazilian Lara Procopio on Saturday night.

After putting together a tidy little three-fight winning streak in 2019, McCann landed on the wrong side of things in her lone clash of last year, dropping a unanimous decision to Taila Santos. The 30-year-old former Cage Warriors champion has shown steady improvements throughout her UFC career, and has the talent and heart to turn things around in a hurry.

Procopio squared off with Rosa in her promotional debut in the summer of 2019 and came out holding the short straw in a tight contest that went the distance and left the judges split. In her return, you can be sure the tenacious 25-year-old will be looking to make up for lost time and finally get the bitter taste of defeat out of her mouth when she returns this weekend.

While McCann is a fixture in the flyweight division, this is only Procopio’s second time making the cut to 125 pounds and the first in a number of years. Even with all the high-profile pairings on the card, this has the feel of a bout that could establish where the Fight of the Night bar rests early in the evening.

Seungwoo Choi of South Korea poses on the scale during the UFC fight night weigh-in at Sajik Arena on December 20, 2019 in Busan, South Korea. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Seungwoo Choi of South Korea poses on the scale during the UFC fight night weigh-in at Sajik Arena on December 20, 2019 in Busan, South Korea. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Intriguing young featherweights clash in this re-adjusted pairing as SeungWoo Choi stays on the fight card and faces off with short-notice replacement Youssef Zalal.

Originally scheduled to face Contender Series alum Collin Anglin, Choi instead goes searching for his second consecutive victory in a “do over” assignment against Zalal, whom he was scheduled to face last October before being forced out of the contest. The 28-year-old South Korean faced difficult tests in his first two Octagon assignments, coming out on the losing side of matchups against Movsar Evloev and Gavin Tucker.

But he rebounded with a unanimous decision victory over Suman Mokhtarian on the final card of 2019 and looks to start his 2021 campaign with a quality win as he finally shares the cage with Zalal.

The 24-year-old “Moroccan Devil” enjoyed a breakout rookie season on the UFC roster in 2020, registering a 3-1 record and impressing in victories over Austin Lingo, Jordan Griffin, and Peter Barrett. The Factory X Muay Thai representative had his unbeaten UFC run halted by late replacement Ilia Topuria in October after Choi withdrew from their scheduled bout, but that setback did nothing to dampen the prospects of the promising Colorado-based competitor.

Featherweight is brimming with talent at all tiers and matchups like this carry great significance as these hopefuls clash looking to advance their careers at the momentary expense of one another. This was an exciting pairing when it was first made last fall and remains a quality matchup now, so you don’t want to miss it.

ODE’ OSBOURNE VS. Jerome Rivera

 Ode Osbourne poses on the scale during the UFC 246 weigh-in at Park Theater at Park MGM on January 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Ode Osbourne poses on the scale during the UFC 246 weigh-in at Park Theater at Park MGM on January 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Contender Series alum Ode Osbourne looks to bounce back from a quick loss in his promotional debut this weekend as he squares off with late replacement Jerome Rivera.

The 29-year-old Osbourne impressed with his first-round submission win over Armando Villarreal in the summer of 2019 to earn a UFC contract. He had a healthy dose of buzz behind him heading into his debut, but veteran Brian Kelleher snatched up his neck midway through the first round of their UFC 246 clash, halting his four-fight winning streak and spoiling his first appearance in the Octagon.

RELATED: Ode' Osbourne: Here To Make An Impact

Rivera makes a hasty return to action after landing on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict against Francisco Figueiredo last month on Fight Island. The “Renegade” looks to recapture the form that earned him an opportunity on the Contender Series last summer, and perhaps a return to the scene of his last triumph will do the trick.

Will Osbourne bounce back and even out his UFC record or will Rivera hand him a second straight loss while securing his first victory inside the Octagon?