Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
With a logjam at the top of the heavyweight division, Curtis Blaydes has no recourse but to get back into the octagon and defend his spot in the rankings.
On Saturday, Blaydes meets Alexander Volkov in the main event of UFC on ESPN 11. It’s anything but a “stay busy” fight for either man as it will go a long way towards showing who has better rounded out their games. Can Blaydes avoid Volkov’s rangy standup and impose his wrestling on the matchup? Does Volkov have enough takedown defense to avoid spending five rounds on his back?
The winner gets the next title shot after Francis Ngannou.
The co-main event is pure fun as featherweight contenders Josh Emmett and Shane Burgos face off. It’s unfortunate that one of these crowd-pleasers will take a step back in the rankings, but it’s also super fortunate for us watching at home that we really don’t have to worry about that and can just focus on the face-punchy goodness these two are guaranteed to deliver.
In other main card action, one-time bantamweight title challenger Raquel Pennington fights Marion Reneau, Belal Muhammad meets Lyman Good in a welterweight contest, and lightweight lifer Jim Miller fights Roosevelt Roberts in a 160-pound catchweight bout.
What: UFC on ESPN 11
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, June 20. The entire event will air on ESPN and ESPN+, with the seven-fight preliminaries starting at 5 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card starting at 8 p.m. ET.
You have to admire Curtis Blaydes’ honesty.
FYI if y’all were hoping to see a 25 minute stand up war you probably shouldn’t tune in to the main event cause I fully intend on ragdolling my opponent just figured I’d let y’all know ahead of time ♂️
— Curtis Blaydes (@RazorBlaydes265) June 19, 2020
You could call it gamesmanship, but more likely Blaydes is serious when he says he wants no part of Alexander Volkov’s striking. As much power as he has and as improved as his striking is, the best path to victory for “Razor” is to shoot early and often and drag Volkov to the mat.
Volkov has excellent footwork and his defense will prevent him from just being a training dummy for Blaydes, but the towering Russian hasn’t faced a wrestler of Blaydes’ caliber in the UFC. Until you’ve faced an opponent capable of putting unrelenting grappling pressure on you like Blaydes can, there’s no way to simulate the experience.
Blaydes is right. It’s not going to be a 25-minute standup war. It’s not likely to be a 25-minute anything for that matter because he’ll get the finish with ground-and-pound in the third round or later.
Any concerns I have about Shane Burgos’s hittability are only amplified by the smaller octagon currently in use at the UFC APEX. When you have someone like Josh Emmett walking you down, you need all the space you can get to stay out of the way of his Howitzer hands.
Burgos also likes to come forward for 15 minutes, which is why this is arguably the most highly-anticipated fight in the card. He has great footwork and head movement, but he’s also going to be eager to step into the pocket with Emmett and throw. His cardio is a touch above Emmett’s, so his strategy could be to push the pace early and work for a late finish.
Again, were this fight taking place in the larger octagon, I’d probably lean towards Burgos, but Emmett having knockout potential in both fists is difficult to ignore. He’s going to have an easier time getting inside than usual even though he’s giving up half a foot of reach to Burgos and he can do major damage once he gets there.
As good as Burgos’s chin is, I don’t see it holding up to too many punches from Emmett. If Emmett can fight strategically enough to avoid catching a big shot himself, he’ll find the off-switch first.
I don’t like Marion Reneau’s chances of keeping Raquel Pennington off of her for three rounds. While it was Pennington who got a lesson in clinch work in her most recent fight against Holly Holm, the one-time UFC title challenger knows how to bully opponents against the cage and that’s a strategy she should utilize here against the explosive Reneau.
There’s some sleeper Fight of the Night potential here if Reneau is the one who establishes the range. Her striking is enjoyable to watch when it gets going, but finding a rhythm against the gritty Pennington is a challenge. It’s more likely that Pennington makes this one ugly, pressing in whenever Reneau starts to get her hands going and piecing the 43-year-old up with dirty boxing. Pennington will trade if the occasion calls for it too and she has the standup to make Reneau respect her.
This has all the makings of a grueling three-round fight, one that should see Pennington walk out with a win on points.
I favor the power of Lyman Good over the busy, unorthodox striking of Belal Muhammad in this matchup. Muhammad’s standup game is definitely a puzzle, but as with the Emmett-Burgos pairing above, Good will benefit from having a smaller cage to navigate.
Muhammad does a fine job of striking from distance, throwing straight punches while also mixing in winging shots from angles that some fighters wouldn’t consider. This allows him to constantly be scoring points. He’s also a smart fighter who quickly adapts during fights and knows how to mix in takedowns.
Good tends to be more traditional with his striking approach, which is where that adaptability of Muhammad becomes an important factor. Can Muhammad find a way to throw Good off of his game or is Good just going to pick him apart?
It’s the finishing ability of Good that gives him the edge here. He puts Muhammad away inside the distance.
Normally, I’d be critical of a fighter like Roosevelt Roberts competing again on short-notice (this is Roberts’ second fight in three weeks) especially against such a veteran opponent like Jim Miller. But Roberts shined against Brok Weaver in his most recent outing and it might actually be a good idea for him get back into the cage ASAP to build on that performance.
The physical gifts of Roberts are undeniable, the question is whether he has the skills to knock off someone like Miller who has literally faced every possible combat scenario in his career. You have to give the edge to Miller on the ground. No UFC lightweight has recorded more submission victories (nine) than him and he has only been submitted himself three times in his 46-fight career. Unless Roberts hurts Miller on the feet first, rolling with Miller could prove to be a huge mistake.
I like Roberts to show off his evolving standup in this matchup, getting out to an early lead and forcing Miller to have to take more chances as the fight goes on. He’s going to make life difficult for Roberts no matter where the fight goes and might even catch Roberts in some scary submission predicaments, but the prospect’s standup skills should prevail in the end.
Roberts by decision.