Welcome back to the MMA DFS Playbook! We’re here again for UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. Struve, also referenced as UFC Fight Night 115. In the headliner, #7 ranked heavyweight Alexander Volkov fights #8 ranked Stefan Struve in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Here’s my take on the fights, and who I believe are worthy targets for DFS.
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass)
Alexander Volkov ($8,400) vs. Stefan Struve ($7,800)
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Former Bellator and current M-1 Global heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov looks to take another step forward in the rankings when he takes on fellow giant and long-time UFC veteran, Stefan Struve. Volkov has continued the success he enjoyed in the M-1 Global promotion, winning his first 2 bouts in the UFC, and now headlining a card in his third match. After a shaky, albeit successful UFC debut against Timothy Johnson last November, Volkov looked much more impressive in his fairly dominant victory over Roy Nelson in April. Volkov out struck Nelson by a wide margin, 122-32, and controlled the match from start to finish. An impressive win over Struve would undoubtedly set up much bigger bouts for the Russian heavyweight.
Struve makes his return following a layoff of nearly a year, but will do so on the heels of 2 stoppage victories. In May of last year, he destroyed Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in just 16 seconds in front of his home crowd in Rotterdam. Struve continued his momentum with an impressive submission of Daniel Omielanczuk at UFC 204. He too would take a big leap forward in the heavyweight rankings with a dominant win over Volkov.
This should be an entertaining fight between 2 of the tallest fighters on the UFC roster, with Volkov listed at 6’7” and Struve at 7’0”. I think different approaches are needed from both men to gain a victory in this one. Facing a size disadvantage, Volkov would be wise to move continuously, avoiding becoming a stationary target for the longer Struve to pick apart. For Struve, I believe he should try to impose his will and make this a dirty fight. I think he can bully Volkov if he truly wants to, but should also pump his jab at the Russian for as long as this one stays on the feet. Struve owns the reach advantage 84”-80”. Struve also has proven to be an extremely proficient submission artist, and Volkov will certainly have to contend with that aspect if Struve lands a takedown. While the odds slightly favor Volkov, I’m taking Struve in this one. I feel like he has too many tools for Volkov to overcome, and that Struve’s submission game will play a big factor. Struve finishes Volkov in the 3rd round in his home country via submission following a knockdown.
Siyar Bahadurzada ($8,300) vs. Rob Wilkinson ($7,900)
Fighting for just the second time in almost 4 years, Siyar Bahadurzada looks to stay relevant in a crowded welterweight division, taking on short-notice replacement Rob Wilkinson. Bahadurzada ended his 2-fight losing streak in March of 2016 with a win over Brandon Thatch, and will be competing for the first time since. Since debuting with the UFC in April of 2012, Bahadurzada has competed just 4 times, compiling a 2-2 record. He’s got dynamite in his fists, and will surely attempt to ride that power to a victory over the debuting Australian.
Wilkinson makes his debut against a tough opponent on less than a month’s notice, and with a win in the card’s co-main event, he could instantly become a household name for UFC fans. The Aussie is undefeated with a 11-0 record, with all but one victory coming via stoppage.
I’m expecting fireworks in this bout. Both fighters bring an exciting element into this one, as both fighters look for spectacular victories. With a combined 28 stoppage victories, there’s a reasonable expectation that there will be a finish here. While Bahadurzada won in his last bout with Thatch, he didn’t look all that impressive, and I’m worried that the layoffs play into that. Couple the time off with a young, hungry opponent, and this spells disaster for Bahadurzada. I think Wilkinson dazzles in his debut. He’ll use his speed and technical ability to frustrate the seasoned brawler early, and polish the Afghan off with a TKO victory in the 1st round.
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Marion Reneau ($9,100) vs. Talita Bernardo ($7,100)
Originally slated to fight former featherweight champ Germaine de Randamie, Marion Reneau takes on newcomer Talita Bernardo. Bernardo slots into this bout on just a week’s notice, and gets a tough fight for her debut. Though she doesn’t sport the flashiest record, the 40-year-old Reneau has fought elite fighters in her UFC tenure, and is a tough out for any woman in the bantamweight division. She enters this bout following a draw with Bethe Correia in her last appearance. With a record of 5-1, Bernardo enters the UFC in a tough spot, but will undoubtedly push Reneau to earn a victory. The Brazilian is a submission artist, so Reneau will have to be on point despite the advantage in experience in high profile bouts.
While I believe Bernardo poses a legitimate threat on the mat, I just don’t see how she beats an opponent of Reneau’s caliber on just a week’s notice. If Reneau is able to defend takedown and trip attempts from Bernardo, she should be able to strike her way to victory. She owns a competent ground game, and I’m sure she has drilled plenty of takedown defense in the lead-up to this bout. I’m taking Reneau and her UFC experience here. Reneau wins by unanimous decision.
Leon Edwards ($9,000) vs. Bryan Barberena ($7,200)
Welterweights Leon Edwards and Bryan “Dad Bod” Barberena open the main card on UFC Fight Pass, and I expect a competitive scrap. Edwards has quietly been on a roll, winning his last 3 bouts in a row, including an extremely impressive submission victory over Albert Tumenov in October of last year. After dropping his UFC debut to Chad Laprise, Bryan Barberena became a household name when he submitted the uber-prospect Sage Northcutt on national TV. He was victorious in his last bout, a TKO over Joe Proctor, and will look to take another step in the right direction against Edwards.
With a striking accuracy, striking defense, takedown accuracy, and takedown defense percentage south of 50%, it’s odd that Barberena has had the success that he has to this point in his UFC career, and I don’t believe that that is sustainable at this level. Edwards is just simply better in the physical aspects of MMA, and I think he leaves the cage as the victor here. He should be able to land enough offense on the feet, and mix in enough takedowns to frustrate Barberena for 3 rounds. Barberena will hang in there, as there aren’t many fighters with the heart that he has, but that kind of toughness will only get you so far without the exceptional talent it takes to be an elite fighter. The pick is Edwards by decision.
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)
Darren Till ($8,900) vs. Bojan Velickovic ($7,300)
In the last preliminary match, Darren Till will look to keep the momentum rolling against Bojan Velickovic in a battle at welterweight. Till is 2-0-1 in his young UFC career, and the UFC seems be bringing the bright prospect along slowly, allowing the 24-year-old to gain valuable experience. His opponent, Bojan Velickovic, has also been moderately successful in his short UFC tenure, going 2-1-1 in 4 fights. In May, he knocked out Nico Musoke and earned Performance of the Night in the process.
Till will look to win this fight on the feet, where he excels with a 53% striking accuracy and 58% striking defense. He has great takedown defense (83%), but a poor takedown accuracy (25%), so I expect him to try to take this bout with a heavy striking attack. He’ll have a strong advantage in the striking game, as Velickovic possesses just a 37% striking accuracy. With that in mind, I expect Till to avoid any takedown attempts from Velickovic, and should be able to do what he wants on the feet. I’m rolling with Till, and he wins the fight via TKO in the 2nd round.
Mairbek Taisumov ($9,200) vs. Felipe Silva ($7,000)
In a lightweight tussle, Chechen fighter Mairbek Taisumov takes on the Brazilian Felipe Silva. Taisumov is another elite talent that has come from the Russian MMA scene in the last few years, and has done well for himself in his 6 bouts with the UFC, compiling a 5-1 record, with 4 consecutive stoppages by KO or TKO. He’s racked up 2 straight Performance of the Night awards as well, and I believe he’s in a great position to grab another one here against Silva. Silva returns to The Octagon following a layoff of over a year, which followed a solid victory over Shane Campbell.
Obviously, anything can happen in MMA, but I feel like this is absolutely Taisumov’s fight to lose against Silva. He has looked like a killer thus far in his time with the UFC, especially in his last 4 wins. Though Silva looked great against Campbell, there just isn’t enough competition against UFC-caliber fighters for me to think that he’ll be that competitive with a fighter like Taisumov. Though Taisumov isn’t especially accurate in his striking attacks (just 44%), he makes his strikes count, and puts opponents out hard. Silva allowed Campbell to hit him a few times early in their bout, and if he cannot defend better here, he could go out quick. I’m taking Taisumov here, and I think he’ll blitz Silva, grabbing a brutal stoppage win. The pick is Taisumov by TKO in the 1st round.
Michael Prazeres ($9,400) vs. Mads Burnell ($6,800)
Michael Prazeres looks to win his 5th straight bout when he fights another short-notice opponent, Danish mixed martial artist Mads Burnell. Prazeres has won 6 of his last 7, with only a loss to upcoming title challenger Kevin Lee blemishing his record. While not especially exciting, Prazeres has the ability to effectively neutralize his opponents’ attacks, nullifying any potential offense. He’ll need to do just that in this one against Burnell, who has proven to be a submission wizard outside of the UFC, including 2 straight wins via the rare Japanese Necktie.
While I commend Burnell for stepping up on less than a month’s notice, I think he’s in for a rough night against Prazeres. As previously stated, Burnell does own a great submission game, however so does Prazeres, and I think Prazeres will completely nullify any attack that Burnell attempts. I envision Burnell looking for the takedown often, with Prazeres stuffing every one of them. He’ll employ a competent striking attack, and control the grappling exchanges with effective top control. Again, props to Burnell for stepping up here, but I’m taking Prazeres to win by unanimous decision.
Rustam Khabilov ($9,100) vs. Desmond Green ($7,100)
This is a decent fight buried on the preliminary card, and I think it could be one of the more exciting fights on the entire card. Rustam Khabilov faces Desmond Green in an enticing bout at 155 lbs. Khabilov has carved out a pretty successful career in the UFC since debuting in 2012, owning a 7-2 record with the promotion, and has won his last 4 in a row. After faring well in Bellator as well as the regional MMA scene, Green made a successful debut with the UFC at UFC 210 in April, taking a split-decision over Josh Emmett.
Khabilov doesn’t own any outstanding percentages in any of the important statistics in MMA, but with such a relentless pace, he doesn’t necessarily have to be as accurate as the average fighter. He may only have a 49% takedown accuracy rate, but he has averaged 4.32 takedowns per 3 rounds with nothing but tenacity. He will work for his offense. In his only fight with the UFC, Green landed a good amount of offense. His striking accuracy was fairly high, but what really impressed me was his striking defense at 71%. He also defended the takedown at 100%, and will need to defend the takedown in this fight if he is to take the victory. This is another instance where I think the UFC is feeding a prospect to a solid veteran way too early. Khabilov will do much of the same and bully his way to a win over Green. He’ll hunt for the takedown, landing enough to punish Green on the mat with ground-and-pound. Khabilov lands enough offense to take a clear-cut unanimous decision.