After a week off after another stint on Fight Island, we are back at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas for UFC Vegas 18. This will be the first of three consecutive Fight Nights headlined by heavyweights and we will certainly see a shuffle at the top of that division leading up to Miocic vs Ngannou 2 at UFC 260. I would argue this main event, Alistair Overeem vs Alexander Volkov, is the best of the three and has the widest range of outcomes, or another way of saying, the most live underdog.
This Fight Night card is a really good one top to bottom, let’s get to the select fight breakdowns.
Alexander Volkov -190 vs Alistair Overeem
Fight is five rounds at heavyweight and is -250 to end inside the distance.
Over the course of his last three fights, we have seen a true resurgence from Alistair Overeem, and the heavyweight division is more fun and exciting when Reem is at the top of his game. While he is not at the same level he was when he earned a title shot, he is still quite capable at 40 years old, and is still making efforts to round out his game.
After being outwrestled and beaten on the floor by Curtis Blaydes in 2018, he opted to go train with Blaydes and sharpen his own wrestling so as to put his own top game to good use. In five fights since, he has scored at least one takedown in four of the five, with the outlier being against a dangerous grappler in Aleksei Oleinik, who Reem knocked out in the first round. In those five fights, he is 4-1 with the loss being a KO late in the 25th minute against Jair Rozenstruick in a fight Reem would have assuredly won had he not made that late mistake. Overeem is still quite solid in the stand up and still packs real power, and he now both brings and employs a rounded skill set that works to his advantage.
On the other side, we have tight striker Alexander Volkov who I would deem a fighter we can predict outcomes on with a reasonable level of accuracy. He has lost to Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis, while his wins are all against lower level competition or fighters who had faded past their prime.
The biggest question in this fight is, where does Overeem slot in among those two groups? I believe he is still at or near the tier including Derrick Lewis and I see value in Overeem in this main event, but Volkov certainly has paths to victory. He is the taller fighter and the busier striker, and while he may not have the power to match Overeem, he will certainly be more active on the feet.
If he is keeping Overeem at the end of his strikes, he will not have to worry as much about being taken down and put on his back. While Overeem brings the better power and is much more capable of a one shot KO, Volkov is the tighter striker and he would be the pick should this fight take place on the feet in its entirety. Alas, it is MMA, and Volkov’s takedown defense is shaky against more capable grapplers. He has been able to stuff takedowns against the likes of Greg Hardy, Walt Harris Derrick Lewis, Timothy Johnson and Roy Nelson, but has been taken down 17 times in 34 tries against Curtis Blaydes and Fabricio Werdum. I would slot the wrestling and ability to initiate takedowns of this version of Overeem as clearly less than Blaydes but better than that of Werdum. This means we can expect rounds to get close or side to Overeem due to the work on the ground, and just the threat of those takedowns could slow the striking volume of Volkov.
While a finish is clearly for either fighter, it is the heavyweight division, I simply cannot ignore the value on Overeem as a flat underdog in what I see as a pickem fight. The +160 on the underdog is best avenue of attack, as he is in play for a win by either finish or decision.
Cory Sandhagen -420 vs Frankie Edgar
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +155 to end inside the distance.
While it is difficult to discount a fighter who has had the career Frankie Edgar has had, the betting line speaks volumes as to what to expect in his matchup with Cory Sandhagen. Sandhagen’s length and volume are simply going to overwhelm Edgar in the standup in a massive way, Edgar is going to have absolutely no choice but to try to force this fight to the floor. While he may have some level of success with the takedowns, it is difficult to envision enough control time on the floor to steal two rounds to take this fight from Sandhagen. More likely is by the time Edgar figures out the movement of Sandhagen to shoot a competent shot, he will already have been touched up plenty in the striking department and well on his way to a loss. While I am not a fan of laying anywhere near the over four to one required price on Sandhagen, he is the easy pick in this fight.
Karol Rosa -240 vs Joselyne Edwards
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +175 to end inside the distance.
When I saw that this matchup was made, I thought it was going to be a fun and close fight. When I saw the line at upwards of -200 on Rosa and growing, I got fairly excited for the value on the underdog. While Rosa is 2-0 in the promotion, her wins have come against lesser competition. Her first opponent, Lara Procopio (note: Procopio fights on this card at her natural weight class and is a very live underdog), a grappler who was fighting up a weight class to get her foot in the UFC door, landed 165 significant strikes and earned the nod on one of the judge’s scorecards.
Her second opponent, Vanessa Melo, is just 1-3 in the promotion and I believe she would be a sizeable underdog to Edwards as well. I was unsure of the grappling capability of Edwards, but for me, she answered those questions in her debut against Wu Yanan en route to both outstriking and outgrappling Yanan en route to an easy debut win. That would have been the advantage for Rosa to press, but I have my doubts about her ability and willingness to force this fight to the floor, and moreover her ability to keep it there if she does. In the striking, Rosa remains quite hittable and I believe Edwards to be the better striker of the two and certainly the more defensively responsible fighter. I think Edwards clearly takes rounds with more volume landed and more powerful strikes and I would deem her to be the best value on the card at +195.
Devonte Smith -300 vs Justin Jaynes
Fight is at a catch weight of 160 lbs and is -380 to end inside the distance.
After a 17 month hiatus, the best jab in MMA returns to the Octagon. Of course, that jab belongs to fellow Bedford, OH native Devonte Smith, who takes on short-notice replacement Justin Jaynes in this catchweight bout. Smith had perhaps the worst showing of his career against his friend Khama Worthy in his last fight, and you can bet he will be eager to get his career back on track. He is the superior striker and is much longer than Jaynes. He will have 2” of height but will also have a whopping 9” of reach to let his elite jab go to work.
While Jaynes can be explosive in the first round, he is certainly a fighter that fades as time and damage take their toll, and we may not get out of the first round before he has had enough in this one. After an early finish of Frank Camacho in his debut, Jaynes has not looked great and has been finished in both fights since. From a striking perspective, Smith is light years ahead of both of the opponents that finished Jaynes, and we are likely to see a hat trick of Jaynes finishes in a span of five months. Look for Smith to put on a precision clinic in this one en route to a knockout as he celebrates his return. His ITD line of -165 is dripping with value.
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