Post-Fight Thoughts: Fabricio Werdum -vs- Alexander Volkov
Before I get into the main event, it bears mentioning that UFC Fight Night 127 was easily the best fight card the UFC has put on in 2018. This was a Fight Pass exclusive, and the stars aligned to make for one really excellent event. Since the fights were broadcast from London, the show began at 1:45pm EST, was not subject to the Fox Sports 1 pacing, featured a litany of violence and exciting finishes, and it was over and done with by 7:00pm. UFC Fight Night 127 fit perfectly into my Saturday plans and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The main event was significant for 2 reasons: signalling a changing of the guard in the heavyweight ranks, and highlighting the continual improvements of Alexander Volkov. On paper, this looked to be a match-up which favoured the former heavyweight champion, Werdum, but things played out quite differently. Despite being taken down almost immediately, and losing several rounds to Werdum's wrestling and smothering top-control, the young Russian maintained his composure and eventually capitalised as Werdum began to tire. Finally, in the 4th round, Werdum's right eye was badly swollen and he seemed exhausted; Volkov saw his opponent waning and moved in for the kill, dropping him with an uppercut and knocking Werdum unconscious with the follow-up ground-and-pound.
Fabricio Werdum looked 'off,' but did not appear to be shot. His stamina seemed to be lacking, which perhaps explains how quickly he shot for a takedown in the opening seconds of the fight — hoping for a quick night's work. Volkov's wrestling has always been a weakness, but it has improved over time; Werdum was still able to secure takedowns, but Volkov's defensive grappling and ability to get back to his feet were also more effective. Werdum seemed to be banking on chaining a takedown into a quick submission, but Volkov seemed prepared and maintained his composure despite being put in a lot of bad positions. The grappling appeared to exhaust Werdum, and the tide of the fight began to shift after the 2nd round.
It's difficult to say what happened to Werdum. Did he skimp on conditioning? Did he have an injury? Did he just badly underestimate Volkov? Is this simply a case of Father Time catching up to a professional fighter whose career began in 2002? Whatever combination of factors lead to the diminished version of Fabricio Werdum we saw in the cage, no one should overlook the improvements made by the challenger. After a very unimpressive UFC debut, taking forgettable decision wins over Timothy Johnson and Roy Nelson, before TKO'ing fellow giant Stefan Struve and now knocking out a former UFC champion. At 29 years of age, Volkov is coming into his prime and has made significant improvements between fights — and I expect this trend to continue.
Prior to this loss, Fabricio Werdum looked to be maneuvering himself back into title contention. A win over Alexander Volkov, ostensibly, would have secured a title shot for Werdum, but that's off the table now. This is the heavyweight division, so he could still string together a pair of wins and get back in the title mix. Until he fights again, we won't know if he's begun to decline or if this was an anomaly. It is worth noting that this was Werdum's 4th fight in 8 months; it would behoove him to take some extended time off. Werdum was one of my favourite fighters, prior to his association with Ramzan Kaydrov and his Akhmat Fight Club, so this loss is bittersweet from a fan perspective.
I fully admit that I overlooked Alexander Volkov, for the most part. I did pick him to beat Stefan Struve, but figured the big man's wrestling deficiencies would be took much of a weakness to stop Werdum from submitting him. While far from complete, Volkov's defensive grappling was very impressive — especially when you consider he was once out-wrestled by Cheick Kongo during his Bellator stint — and I'm very excited to see him continue to develop. With Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis looking to pair off and throw down, slotting Volkov against the winner of that potential contest — for a crack at the heavyweight title — makes the most sense to me right now.
Published: March 18th, 2018.