Diggin’ Deep: Will Volkov be the first to upend the Gane hype train?
Ciryl Gane fighting Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC Vegas 20 | Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Dig into the main card action of UFC Vegas 30, topped by a heavyweight clash between potential title contenders in former kickboxer Ciryl Gane and former Bellator champion Alexander Volkov.
For some reason, the UFC loves putting together heavyweight main events for Fight Night cards. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Most heavyweight fights don’t need five rounds and those that do tend to devolve into slopfests in the championship rounds. However, I’m not going to bitch about it this time around as Ciryl Gane and Alexander Volkov are amongst the few heavyweights that would appear capable of fighting at a high level for five rounds.
Though the undercard is lacking in name value — Ovince Saint Preux is the most recognizable, and he isn’t what he used to be — there’s plenty of intriguing contests that are not only expected to be entertaining scraps, they’re hard to pick too. More than cards with big names — or as some believe, cards with no name value — hard to pick fights tend to lead to high entertainment value.
Ciryl Gane vs. Alexander Volkov, Heavyweight
There has been a lot of hype behind Gane. After an undefeated Muay Thai career, Gane transitioned into MMA. Just a year into his MMA career, he debuted in the UFC, in large part because he was a sparring partner of current heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. He’s picked up five wins in dominant fashion since that time, not dropping a single round in that time. Is there any reason to believe he won’t just cruise past Volkov?
It could be argued Gane is the most technical striker in the heavyweight division. The lack of wasted motion and distance management have seen in all of his contests, in addition to attacking at excellent angles. It has allowed him to outland his opposition by a margin greater than 2.5-to-1. Gane has appeared to do so with little effort, his technique requiring the least amount of energy expenditure. It helps to not only have an 81” reach, but knowing how to use it. Plus, Gane mixes his strikes to all levels. Jabs to the head and body, low kicks, power punches, elbows in the clinch… there’s no shortage of areas from which he can attack.
However, to answer my earlier question, there is reason to believe Gane could fall. Gane hasn’t endured any sort of difficulty. While the goal of a fighter is to avoid difficult situations, they inevitably come up at some point in a career. How will he respond if that happens? Will he panic? While Gane has every reason to be confident in his abilities, it could be argued it crosses over to overconfidence. How will he respond to an opponent who is in his prime, is a technical striker, and has significantly more experience than him?
I won’t say Volkov is more technical that Gane, but it’s hard to name a heavyweight outside of Gane who is. Though his reach isn’t quite as long as Gane’s, Volkov is taller and knows how to make great use of his height. Simple punching combinations and power front kicks are his favorite strikes, but opponents have underestimated his abilities in the clinch as well. However, there appears to be a change in Volkov’s attitude in his recent contests. While he still spends most of his time on the outside to take advantage of his size, he’s shown more willingness to move forward and sit down on his punches in the process. While Volkov isn’t the first to finish off Walt Harris or Alistair Overeem, he aggressively pursued the finish as opposed to his usual strategy of death by a thousand cuts.
Volkov also has proven to be exceptionally durable. Everyone remembers Derrick Lewis finishing him in the waning seconds of their contest, but Lewis could stop a Mack truck if given the opportunity. Volkov has also put on a lot of healthy weight, coming near the heavyweight limit without seeming to sacrifice any of his stamina. The Russian seems to understand if he’s ever going to make a run to the top, this is the time. It’s going to be a hell of a chore to get past Gane as the Frenchman is the superior athlete. It could be argued Gane’s ground game is superior as well, but Volkov has proven to be extremely difficult to keep down. Plus, it’s hard to name a situation Volkov hasn’t endured in his 40-plus fights. I’m a big fan of the attitude Volkov has displayed recently too. I’m going with the Russian to give Gane the first setback of his career in an upset. Volkov via TKO of RD4
Tanner Boser vs. Ovince Saint Preux, Heavyweight
At this stage, OSP is living off his reputation. I can’t think of any other reason the UFC would put him in the co-main event spot at this stage. That isn’t to say the former collegiate football player – as if the UFC would ever let anyone forget that – doesn’t present a formidable degree of danger for whomever he steps in the cage with, but his decline is very noticeable at this stage. At the age of 38 with 40 fights under his belt, it’s no surprise.
OSP’s strategy doesn’t appear to have evolved as he has aged. He still tends to amble through fights looking for an opportunity to spring into action. Though not quite as explosive as he was in his prime, there’s still enough burst in OSP to catch a large chunk of his opponents off-guard, especially given his power doesn’t seem to have declined. However, the loss of speed makes him more prone to his opponent’s offense coming back at him. Given defense was never much of a strong suit for OSP, that’s a scary proposition.
When you’re a volume striking heavyweight, there are two requisites to be successful: a willingness to actively engage and a granite chin. No one is questioning Boser’s chin, but the Canadian has dropped his last two contests by sitting on the outside to much, content to touch them up with low kicks… and that’s about it. When Boser is willing to engage, he can put together slick boxing combinations. The problem is, his recent strategy can’t help but leave one questioning if Boser doesn’t trust his own chin. I’m not saying it’s bad to be defensively conscious, but given power isn’t a strong suit of Boser, he needs to engage more than what he has been recently.
An X-factor in the contest is OSP’s wrestling. He has a power shot and the first time Boser faced someone with a decent wrestling game, he performed poorly. It wasn’t just that Ilir Latifi took him down; it was that Latifi kept him down, Boser replicating a turtle on its back. The issue with OSP wrestling is it tends to sap his energy levels in a hurry. Perhaps not needing to cut to 205 will allow him to retain his stamina better. I can’t say for sure, but despite all the factors working against Boser, I’m still picking him. I trust OSP even less than Boser. Given OSP has always been so reliant on his physical skills and they are in decline, there’s even less reason to trust him than there was before. Boser via decision
There isn’t a more underappreciated member of the roster than Raoni Barcelos. Despite five consecutive wins in the shark tank that is the bantamweight division, the 34-year old still can’t manage to get a crack at a ranked opponent. It’s a crying shame as Barcelos isn’t just a hell of a fighter, he’s entertaining to watch too. He flows seamlessly in his strikes, regularly times high risk maneuvers such as flying knees, and does so at a fast pace. Oh, and it’s his ground game that is his biggest strength, not his striking. Even though it feels like Barcelos is being disrespected, he is getting a tough opponent in Timur Valiev, once one of the hottest prospects in the sport. Given Valiev tends to push an insane pace, it’s possible he could exhaust Barcelos, especially if his wrestling proves to be superior to Barcelos’. Most would believe that to be the case at first glance, but Barcelos is a top notch BJJ practitioner and Barcelos has had rock solid takedown defense. Then again, he hasn’t faced anyone with Valiev’s wrestling. What appears to be holding Valiev back is a lack of power and whether he has confidence in his chin given he engaged on the feet as little as possible against Martin Day after being put away by Trevin Jones. There’s a part of me that believes Valiev can pull off the upset – he does have a high fight IQ after all – but Barcelos’ flair for the finish has me sticking with the favorite. Barcelos via KO of RD3
Even though we’re coming up on eight years since Andre Fili joined the UFC, there are still some who tend to look at him as a prospect. That can partially be attributed to Fili still showing improvements, something that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given he was only 23 when he was signed. Still, while no one will be surprised to see Fili crack the official rankings and stay there for a while, the likelihood of him becoming a contender seems highly unlikely. The issue is Fili doesn’t excel in a single area. He’s a fundamentally sound boxer. A strong wrestler. An underrated grappler and scrambler too. But he doesn’t come close to ranking anywhere near the elite in any one of those categories. Fili’s survival skills will be put to the test by Daniel Pineda. While no one tends to refer to Pineda as a top notch striker, he packs one hell of a wallop and has good timing on his strikes. Of course, Pineda’s defense is easily his biggest weakness as he tends to take a kill-or-be-killed approach, never having won a decision in his 43 fight career. Pineda does have twice as many submissions as he does KO/TKO finishes, willing to pull guard on a guillotine or nabbing a triangle from off his back. Pineda’s approach makes this contest a strong favorite for FOTN, but I see Fili’s durability and improved submission defense will allow him to escape trouble and finish off a fading Pineda. Fili via TKO of RD2
The transformation of Tim Means has been a sight to behold. Formerly one of the most durable members of the UFC roster – at one point, only a slippery sauna could knock him out – Means couldn’t engage in the battles in the pocket and clinch he was notorious for when his chin began to deteriorate. Given Means has some of the most vicious elbows in the clinch, many predicted his UFC ride might end soon. Instead, Means began focusing on using his length to throw out a variety of kicks and jabs from the outside, becoming more of a point fighter as opposed to the action fighter in constant search of a finish. To be fair, he’s still entertaining to watch and is occasionally willing to sling fisticuffs in the pocket, but he’s far more selective about it. It’s hard to believe he won’t get the fight he wants from Nicolas Dalby, a karateka who, like Means, has found more success his second time around the organization. Though Dalby is a considered to be well-rounded, it doesn’t take a lot of film study to recognize he’d rather avoid sitting down in the pocket and trading fisticuffs, alternating between slinging kicks from the outside and clinching up in his most recent appearance. The problem there is those are the two areas where Means functions best, arguably better than Dalby. If Dalby can get his wrestling going – something he’s struggled to do in both UFC runs – it would help open up his striking and potentially put Means away. Given that getting his ground game going has been an issue for the Dane, the most likely scenario sees the busier Means outworking Dalby for a decision. Means via decision
Remember when Renato Moicano was considered to be a fringe title contender at featherweight? It wasn’t that long ago. In fact, it was just two years ago he was headlining a card with The Korean Zombie. Unfortunately for Moicano, he’s dropped three of his last four, his move to lightweight not doing a whole lot to improve his fortune. There’s no doubt Moicano is talented. A slick back take specialist with a stupendous jab and solid timing on the counter, the biggest problem for the Brazilian has been a fragile chin. Part of that is Moicano often forgetting the girl that brought him to the dance: his grappling and scrambling. In his last four contests, Moicano has one successful takedown… in the lone victory he’s had in that period. He’d be foolish to test his striking with Jai Herbert as the Englishman has a freakish 77” reach and a good knowledge of how to use that length. He touches up his opposition with simple combinations and lays the heavy lumber in the clinch. Herbert’s wrestling has been a major question mark, but he is a competent scrambler and grappler. Will it be enough against Moicano? I’ve got my doubts, especially if Moicano can find his back. Herbert may be able to touch up Moicano’s chin before the fight hits the mat, but given he’s more reliant on volume than power, I’d favor Moicano nabbing a sub. Moicano via submission of RD1