After a brief break over the past few weeks, the UFC returns with a card headlined by a heavyweight fight that promises a ton of fireworks in Rotterdam.
Alexander Volkov, who has gone undefeated thus far in his UFC campaign, will face his stiffest test to date when he takes on Stefan Struve in a matchup of heavyweight juggernauts. Volkov has looked impressive lately, but Struve will give him everything he can handle as he enters the fight after two straight wins inside the Octagon.
Also on the card, noted striker Siyar Bahadurzada returns to action to face Rob Wilkinson, while the always exciting Leon Edwards looks to build on his recent win streak as he takes on tough as nails Bryan Barberena.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the advantage going into Saturday's card and who might be primed for an upset at UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. Struve.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Alexander Volkov vs. Stefan Struve
Alexander Volkov will look to build on his recent four-fight win streak as he competes in his first UFC main event against one of the most experienced heavyweights on the roster in Stefan Struve.
Struve has certainly suffered through some ups and downs throughout his career, including a heart condition that nearly knocked him out of the game for good, but the Dutch fighter has pulled himself back into the top 10 rankings on a pair of very impressive performances in recent fights. Struve has faced the best of the best during his time with the UFC while building an impressive resume where he has the third most wins and fourth most finishes in heavyweight history.
Lately, Struve has really started to put his entire MMA game together while working under head coach Henri Hooft in Florida. Struve has shown crisp striking where he's really beginning to use his massive reach advantage, which will be four inches longer than Volkov in this fight as well. Plus, Struve's ground game is no joke, because he's wrapped up the second most submission attempts in heavyweight history as well.
Now Volkov will present some interesting problems for Struve, including a strong kickboxing game that sees him land nearly six significant strikes per minute. Volkov is best at distance, which could potentially give him some issues given Struve's size, but he's also shown some very good clinch work, as evidenced by his fight against Roy Nelson. Volkov also shows tremendous takedown defense where he's blocked 87 percent of attempts against him, so if Struve wants to get this fight to the ground, he's really going to have to work at it.
That being said, Struve has really started to turn it on lately with his performances, as he's not only going out to win, but he's looking for the kill. Struve has always been a prolific finisher, but with a home crowd behind him, look for him to really put the pressure on Volkov as he attempts to break him in the early rounds. Volkov has been a dangerous fighter throughout his career, but he's gone to two straight decisions in the UFC. If he can't find a way to damage Struve early, Volkov may end up playing defense while trying to fend off a strong striking attack or even a slick submission game on the ground.
Either way it's tough to pick against Struve pulling off his third straight finish on Saturday in the Netherlands.
Prediction: Stefan Struve by TKO, Round 2
Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Rob Wilkinson
Noted striker Siyar Bahadurzada will make his return to action for the first time in over a year when he takes on UFC newcomer Rob Wilkinson this weekend.
Wilkinson is a UFC rookie but he has plenty of experience outside of the Octagon, where he's put together a perfect 11-0 record. As a career-long middleweight, Wilkinson will have a size advantage in this matchup while he also employs an impressive wrestling game from the clinch and from the outside. Wilkinson is especially dangerous when he's on top, where he applies a dangerous submission game and a ton of pressure whenever he gets the takedown. He'll need to use those skills if he hopes to slow down Bahadurzada's rapid fire striking attack.
Bahadurzada is a fighter who has been plagued by injuries throughout his UFC career, but when he's healthy, he's been a very tough out for anybody in the world. While he's best known for his vicious knockout power, Bahadurzada has shown off some ground chops as well including his submission win over Brandon Thatch last year. Bahadurzada is an aggressive fighter who will absolutely push the pace early, and that will be a key factor while going up against a UFC newcomer like Wilkinson.
The notorious Octagon jitters have gotten to more than a few fighters over the years and Wilkinson would be no different. Despite a year off, Bahadurzada would be wise to come out on the attack and put the pressure on Wilkinson early and often. That forward pressure could mean the difference for Bahadurzada to pull off the victory in this one as he looks to get his second win in a row.
Prediction: Siyar Bahadurzada by unanimous decision
Darren Till will put his undefeated record on the line this weekend as he takes on Bojan Velickovic in a very interesting matchup at 170 pounds.
Velickovic has gone 2-1-1 during his UFC campaign, and he looked better than ever in his last performance, where he knocked out Nico Musoke in the third round back in May. Velickovic has started to add more and more weapons to his game while training with the Elevation Fight Team in Colorado, where he works with a ton of top fighters, including fellow welterweight contender Matt Brown. Velickovic is a very tough matchup for anyone at 170 pounds and he won't go away easy in this fight with Till either.
Till has been a very good prospect for quite some time as he's made his way up the ranks in one of the UFC's toughest divisions. Till has remained undefeated through his first three fights in the UFC while applying a strong striking game where he's landing more than 50 percent of his attempted significant strikes. Till has also shown outstanding takedown defense while blocking over 83 percent of those attempted against him. While he's earned a couple decision wins in the UFC, Till has a career finishing rate of 78 percent, so he's more than ready to put a stop to this contest if Velickovic gives him any openings.
Till remains the pick in this fight based on his ability to issue damage over three rounds while putting the pressure on Velickovic from the start of the fight until the finish. Neither fighter has shown great defense on the feet, but that probably favors Till this time around, considering his heavy hands and knockout power. Velickovic won't make it easy and he'll likely stick around until the final bell, but the edge still goes to Till to get the job done.
Prediction: Darren Till by unanimous decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Expect a potential Fight of the Night when Mairbek Taisumov takes on Felipe Silva in a matchup between two very explosive lightweight strikers.
Taisumov has looked like a beast in his last few performances, as he's reeled off four straight wins by knockout while tearing through some very solid fighters along the way. Taisumov is a patient, methodical striker until he finds an opening and then unleashes a barrage of punches and kicks to get the knockout. Taisumov lands with good volume and accuracy while also mixing in over two takedowns per fight, which helps keep his opponents off balance.
Now Silva will definitely come in looking to put Taisumov away, as he's best known for his devastating power on the feet as well. Silva has a whopping 88 percent finishing rate throughout his career, and after his first fight in the UFC, he's averaging more than nine strikes landed per minute, which is just off the charts. Where Silva gets hurt is with his lack of defense while striking because he'll often take a punch to give one of his own and while that has worked out well for him in the past, it may be a disastrous approach against someone like Taisumov.
Look for Taisumov to plod forward while waiting for Silva to get overly offensive, and then he'll likely unleash his hellish striking combinations until he can put this fight away. Don't blink when these two step into the Octagon together because Taisumov and Silva are going to look to take each other's heads off in what should be a knockout affair.
Prediction: Mairbek Taisumov by TKO, Round 2
Michel Prazeres has quietly become one of the toughest outs in the lightweight division while racking up four straight wins over the likes of Joshua Burkman and noted submission specialist Gilbert Burns. Prazeres even holds a win over the aforementioned Mairbek Taisumov, with his only recent loss in the Octagon coming to current interim lightweight title challenger Kevin Lee. Prazeres is a tank when he fights and he has a very well rounded skill set, but he's best known for his powerful grappling game, where he averages more than four takedowns per fight.
Mads Burnell will be making his UFC debut as he looks to build upon an 8-1 record built competing in numerous regional promotions around Europe. Burnell has a slick grappling game where he's pulled off some interesting submissions during his career, including back to back wins by using the rarely seen Japanese necktie.
Unfortunately, Burnell's willingness to engage in a grappling battle could be what costs him in this fight with Prazeres.
Prazeres will not only march forward to look for the takedown, but once he lands on top, he is unrelenting with his attacks, including submission attempts and heavy punches coming from inside the guard. Prazeres has shown incredible conditioning in the past, so he can hammer away at Burnell for all three rounds, and with each passing minute, it's going to get harder and harder for the UFC newcomer to pull off a submission. Prazeres is going to be a tough matchup for anyone, but especially a UFC rookie like Burnell.
Prediction: Michel Prazeres by unanimous decision
Rustam Khabilov vs. Desmond Green
Desmond Green made an impressive showing in his UFC debut earlier this year, but he's going to take a decided step up in competition when he faces Rustam Khabilov this weekend in the Netherlands.
Khabilov is a multi-fight veteran of the UFC who has most recently picked up four straight wins, including victories over Jason Saggo and Leandro Silva. Khabilov also holds a win over current top 10-ranked welterweight Jorge Masvidal, so it's easy to tell why this Russian monster is considered one of the toughest matchups at 155 pounds.
Khabilov is best known for his powerful wrestling attacks, where he literally tosses opponents around the Octagon with almost effortless exertion. Khabilov averages over four takedowns per fight with nearly 50 percent accuracy, which is incredible. On the feet, Khabilov is very capable of doing damage, but perhaps his best offense is a good defense, as he blocks over 66 percent of the strikes attempted against him.
Now Green is no pushover, so he'll definitely give Khabilov a fight on Saturday. Green looked outstanding in his UFC debut and he has plenty of experience to rely on when he steps into the Octagon against Khabilov. Green also showed great takedown defense in his first UFC fight, where he stuffed every attempt from previously undefeated lightweight Josh Emmett.
Still, Green is going to have to fend off takedowns from a much bigger and stronger opponent this time around, and Khabilov is absolutely relentless when he's looking to put someone down. Khabilov is a force of nature when he latches onto an opponent's hips and looks for his signature throws and takedowns. Green will have to be wary of those moves, which could leave him open for a variety of other offensive options from Khabilov.
Green won't fade, so he might stick around for all three rounds, but Khabilov should be able to find a way to take this fight to the ground multiple times to earn a unanimous decision victory.
Prediction: Rustam Khabilov by unanimous decision
Bryan Barberena vs. Leon Edwards
Leon Edwards might be one of the top names to watch in the welterweight division right now, but he will definitely have a tough test this weekend in Bryan Barberena.
Edwards has been dominant in his past few fights, picking up several impressive wins, including a submission against always dangerous striker Albert Tumenov. The only stumble in Edwards' recent performances came against Kamaru Usman, who is one of the best wrestlers and grapplers in the welterweight division. That could be a harbinger of what he'll deal with in this fight, as Barberena is tenacious with his striking attacks while also possessing a very good ground game.
Barberena isn't best known for his grappling, but he's a bear when he gets the fight to the ground. Barberena also averages over five significant strikes landed per minute with nearly 50 percent accuracy, so he's more than capable of doing damage on the feet or on the ground. Barberena has a slick submission game, but it's complimented best by his grinding style on the feet, where he's just relentless with his attacks. Barbarena only has two losses in the UFC, but he's never been finished, and that means he'll be in Edwards' face from the first bell until the last.
Now make no mistake, Edwards has looked brilliant lately and it wouldn't be a shock to anyone if he pulled off another impressive performance in this matchup. Still, Barberena's toughness and ability to make his opponents uncomfortable with an unconventional attack on the feet and on the ground puts him in the interesting position to pull off the upset this weekend. It won't be pretty, but Barberena has the ability to get the win.
Prediction: Bryan Barberena by split decision