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UFC on ESPN 11 preview, ‘Blaydes vs Volkov’ predictions

UFC 213: Romero v Whittaker Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is roughly 24 hours away from kicking off its UFC on ESPN 11 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, topped by a heavyweight headliner featuring top-ranked bruisers Curtis Blaydes and Alexander Volkov. The action gets underway tomorrow night (Sat., June 20, 2020) inside UFC APEX facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. In addition to what could be a title eliminator between “Razor” and “Drago,” 145-pound upstart Shane Burgos collides with veteran knockout artist Josh Emmett in a battle for featherweight supremacy. Burgos could blast his way into the division Top 5 with a decisive victory over Emmett, assuming “The Hurricane” can weather the storm from his heavy-handed foe.

Before we deconstruct those two bouts, be sure to check out the complete UFC on ESPN 11 preliminary card breakdown, expertly deconstructed by the jet-setting Patrick Stumberg here and here. Fighter-turned-writer-turned-fighter again, Andrew Richardson, did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the main card right here. For the latest “Blaydes vs. Volkov” odds and betting lines click here.

Let's get to work.

265 lbs.: Curtis Blaydes vs. Alexander Volkov

Curtis “Razor” Blaydes

Record: 13-2, 1 NC | Age: 29 | Betting line: -390
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 3 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’4“ | Reach: 80” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 692 of 979 (71%) | Takedown attempts: 45 of 81 (56%)
Current Ranking: No. 3 | Last fight: TKO win over Junior dos Santos

Alexander “Drago” Volkov

Record: 31-7 | Age: 31 | Betting line: +320
Wins: 20 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’7“ | Reach: 80” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 557 of 932 (60%) | Takedown attempts: 6 of 9 (67%)
Current Ranking: No. 7 | Last fight: Decision win over Greg Hardy

Curtis Blaydes is not going to secure a heavyweight title shot until Francis Ngannou is eliminated from the 265-pound title chase, the price he has to pay for losing to “The Predator” — convincingly — in a pair of titanic tilts. In the interim, Blaydes has done a pretty good job of eliminating the rest of the division, scoring dominant wins over well-traveled veterans like Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem, just to name a few. I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest his performance against Junior dos Santos was his most compelling to date, as “Razor” was as good on his feet as he was on the ground. That technical knockout victory should go a long way in silencing critics who labeled him as a one-dimensional wrestler. What’s frightening about the career of Blaydes, is just how dangerous the NJCAA National Champion has been with just the ground, turning “Demolition Man” into dust when they went to war at UFC 225. If his striking is really as evolved as it looked against “Cigano” and not simply a case of “Razor” having a good night, the heavyweight division could be in serious trouble for the next several years.

With that in mind, his performance against Alexander Volkov will be the deciding factor. Unlike Dos Santos, who is clearly not the same fighter he was during his championship heyday, “Drago” is competing in his athletic prime and proved that fight I.Q. combined with technical prowess can still be difference makers in the heavyweight division, evidenced by his safe (but intelligent) victory over heavy-handed Greg Hardy last November. No conversation about Volkov would be complete without mentioning his burial at the hot balls of Derrick Lewis, but that was a fight he was clearly winning until breaking out the silver platter in the waning seconds of round three. “Drago” is not perfect, of course, but no fighter is and this is about as stiff a test as Blaydes is likely to see while competing against the Top 10 of the division. A lot of that has to do with the Russian’s footwork and 80-inch reach. Blaydes also has a full 80 inches to work behind, though I’m not sure he’s quite mastered its effectiveness as well as his fight night foe. For this contest, it’s likely to be an excuse to set up the takedown.

That’s really what this fight boils down to for me. Blaydes has come too far in the stand up for me to label this “striker vs. grappler” and I do believe that “Razor” has a strong enough beard to see what can be done with his hands. Even if he finds early success, taking Volkov to the ground and smashing him to pieces is a far more attractive option than throwing leather deep into the fourth and fifth rounds. To his credit, the long-legged Volkov has done a pretty good job of defending the takedown thus far in UFC, but shucking off non-wrestlers like Stefan Struve and Greg Hardy are poor practice for a wrestling machine like Blaydes. I fully expect “Drago” to control the stand up for the first round or two, but once Blaydes gets his timing and rhythm, this fight is going to the floor. From there, it’s academic.

Prediction: Blaydes def. Volkov by technical knockout

145 lbs.: Shane Burgos vs. Josh Emmett

Shane “Hurricane” Burgos

Record: 13-1 | Age: 29 | Betting line: -130
Wins: 5 KO/TKO, 5 SUB, 3 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 492 of 1031 (48%) | Takedown attempts: 2 of 2 (100%)
Current Ranking: No. 10 | Last fight: TKO win over Makwan Amirkhani

Josh Emmett

Record: 15-2 | Age: 35 | Betting line: +110
Wins: 6 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 7 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 5’6“ | Reach: 70” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 326 of 882 (37%) | Takedown attempts: 9 of 20 (45%)
Current Ranking: No. 8 | Last fight: TKO win over Mirsad Bektic

Josh Emmett blasted his way into the featherweight Top 5 back in late 2017 after his murderous finish over former 145-pound title contender, Ricardo Lamas, at UFC on FOX 26. Then came the reason we have that “live by the sword” proverb, as Emmett was nuked by Jeremy Stephens in his very next fight. Apparently that upset loss didn’t have much of an effect on his brawl-for-all style, judging by his blistering knockout finishes over Michael Johnson and Mirsad Bektic in follow-up fights. There is some concern that the Team Alpha Male product has fallen in love with his power and abandoned some of the other attributes that made him such a dangerous fighter, which includes his wrestling, and I think we’ll see if those complaints are justified this weekend in “Sin City.” Emmett turned 35 back in April and while that would normally be a concern for most elite athletes, I’m not sure you’ll find a more conditioned fighter at 145 pounds. He’s also managed to avoid excessive abuse, with the “Lil’ Heathen” knockout serving as his only loss-column finish.

Shane Burgos has flown under the radar for the most part after joining UFC in late 2016. In fact, “Hurricane” made his debut just a few months after Emmett, outlasting Tiago Trator at UFC Fight Night 108. That victory is part of a 6-1 run inside the Octagon with his only defeat coming by way of knockout to Boston boxer Calvin Kattar. Getting stopped by strikes in a previous fight is something we have to consider when talking about 15 minutes against a powerhouse like Emmett. Personally, I believe the KO had more to do with the skill of Kattar than it did with the chin of Burgos, who rebounded with three straight wins, including last November’s destruction of Makwan Amirkhani. “Hurricane” is a complete fighter boasting a black belt from Tiger Schulmann’s Martial Arts along with multiple medals from NAGA grappling competitions on the local circuit. That is undoubtedly in the back of Emmett’s mind as he gameplans for this fight. Takedowns will certainly be available, but at what cost? Burgos has five submissions to complement his five knockouts.

You can argue that Burgos is the more technical fighter both on the feet and on the ground, but I wouldn’t pick finesse over power in any UFC fight. “Hurricane” has two very difficult tasks ahead of him. Not only must he avoid the knockout blow, he must also avoid getting dumped on the ground and elbowed into oblivion. Considering how much Burgos favors the leg kick — and rightly so — leaving that tool in the toolbox to shut defensive doors leaves him at a marked disadvantage. “Hurricane’s” path to victory depends on how well he can commit to his footwork and patience, because if he fights from his back leg in fear of the incoming blitzkrieg, he’s going to get smoked like an unfiltered Camel. I’m not trying to sell Emmett as some kind of pint-sized Yoel Romero, I just think his power is enough to make every fight a ticking time bomb.

Prediction: Emmett def. Burgos by technical knockout

Remember, the rest of the UFC on ESPN 11 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 10 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” undercard bouts at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN/ESPN+ main card start time at 9 p.m. ET.

For the rest of the UFC on ESPN 11 fight card and line up click here.

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