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Fighting is one of the world’s most unpredictable sports. And heavyweight fighting is even more unpredictable than the rest. A good heavyweight is usually one two things away from a major bout: A punch and an opportunity.
So it is for Alexander Volkov, the supremely talented UFC heavyweight who hasn’t quite nailed the consistency thing down yet. Volkov has pretty much alternated wins and losses in the last three-plus years.
Volkov, who fights Jairzinho "Bigi Boy" Rozenstruik Saturday at Apex in the main event of UFC Fight Night, is 4-4 over his last eight fights dating to a match with Derrick Lewis at UFC 229 on Oct. 6, 2018.
The towering Russian striker entered that bout on the undercard of the lightweight title scrap between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor on a six-fight winning streak and with an overall record of 30-6.
He was coming off of a knockout win over former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum. And for two-plus rounds in the fight with Lewis, Volkov looked like a future UFC champ. He was dominating the action until the waning seconds, when Lewis suddenly exploded and stopped Volkov with 11 seconds left in their bout.
Volkov has been up-and-down since then, facing the best the UFC has to offer. Saturday’s bout will be his fifth main event in his last seven outings.
So he wasn’t too excited simply to be headlining another card on Saturday against the heavy-handed Rozenstruik.
“It’s just like another day at the office for me,” Volkov said.
He was arm-barred in the first round of a March 19 loss to Tom Aspinall in London and wanted to get back as soon as possible. The pairing with Rozenstruik is an interesting one, because he has the power to end any fight at any time with one punch. But like Volkov, Rozenstruik has been inconsistent. After a 10-0 start to his career, he’s gone 2-3 since with wins over Junior dos Santos and Augusto Sakai and losses to Francis Ngannou, Ciryl Gane and Curtis Blaydes.
Volkov needs a win badly to remain in contention. He’s ranked seventh, one spot ahead of Rozenstruik. The loser will probably drop out of the Top 10. But ahead of them are only the elite: Ngannou, the champion, followed by ex-interim champion Gane, ex-champion Stipe Miocic, Tai Tuivasa, Blaydes, Lewis and Aspinall.
Heavyweight fighters want to be in that group, not the one below it that includes No. 9 Chris Daukaus, Marcin Tybura, Sergei Pavlovich, Shamil Abdurakhimov and Alexandr Romanov.
Volkov believes it will be his overall skills that lead him to the win Saturday.
“He is pretty dangerous,” Volkov said of Rozenstruik. “He has a lot of power in his hands. He’s a good standup fighter, but I have fought many of those same guys who have a lot of power in their hands and have good standup and everything.
“I believe I’m good on standup, too, so I will try to show my best in this fight. I believe my technical skills are much better than his. Maybe I don’t have the same kind of power in my punch, but for sure I’m more technical and for sure I have a lot of power in my kicks. For sure, I feel I have much better wrestling and grappling than him, so I’m feeling it’s a good fight for me. But we’ll see how it goes.”
Volkov has fought professionally for more than 13 years, but he still has a lot to give. He’s a well-rounded fighter with a lot of good wins on his résumé, but who is capable of beating the top guys at any point.
It’s all about getting the opportunity and the way to get that is to win fights like this. Beat Rozenstruik and he’ll remain with the big boys. Get knocked out and it’s back to the junior varsity.
It’s a major difference and Volkov knows it. Now, it’s a matter of executing and staying ready. Because injuries happen and opportunities pop up at the strangest times.
As a heavyweight, stay ready because if you do, that big punch can make all the difference in the world.