The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight division hosts a crossroads fight this Saturday (March 19, 2022) when veteran Alexander Volkov looks to derail the fast-rising Tom Aspinall inside O2 Arena in London, England. Also on tap are a Featherweight battle pitting Dan Hooker against Arnold Allen, Paddy Pimblett’s clash with Kazula Vargas and the return of Gunnar Nelson after more than two years away.
Before all that, though, there’s three more “Prelims” undercard bouts to look at (check out the first batch here). In we go ...
155 lbs.: Jai Herbert vs. Ilia Topuria
Jai Herbert (11-3) entered the Octagon as the Cage Warriors Lightweight champion, only to suffer stoppage losses to Francisco Trinaldo and Renato Moicano in his first two UFC efforts. The third time proved the charm, however, as “The Black Country Banger” smashed Khama Worthy midway through the first round.
Nine of his 10 stoppage wins have come by knockout.
Ilia Topuria (11-0) battered his way to victory in his first three UFC appearances, among them brutal knockouts of Damon Jackson and Ryan Hall. He was slated to make his fourth Octagon walk against late replacement Charles Jourdain in Jan. 2022, but a botched weight cut both scrapped the fight and prompted a move up to 155 pounds.
“El Matador” steps in for Mike Davis on just over one month’s notice.
I get that Herbert was a titlist in a well-regarded organization and thus merited a toss into the deep end, but fighting Trinaldo, Moicano, and Topuria in three of his first four UFC fights just seems cruel. His punching power and hypothetical size advantage isn’t enough to save him from a toxic style matchup; Topuria both hits hard enough to exploit Herbert’s defensive lapses and sports the venomous grappling to run him over on the mat.
Unless Topuria winds up massively undersized, it’s his fight to lose. In the end, he bullies Herbert to the fence, drags him to the mat and snatches up his neck before long.
Prediction: Topuria via first round submission
125 lbs.: Muhammad Mokaev vs. Cody Durden
The 21-year-old Muhammad Mokaev (6-0) amassed an eye-popping 23-0 amateur record before turning professional in 2020. He proceeded to make his name under the Brave CF banner, most recently choking out SBG’s Blaine O’Driscoll in Sept. 2021.
He stands two inches taller than Cody Durden (12-3-1) at 5’9.”
Durden took a while to find his footing in the Octagon, fighting Chris Gutierrez to a draw in his debut before getting caught by a flying triangle from Jimmy Flick. He made his first appearance in UFC’s win column against Aoriqileng, whom he out-lasted to claim just his second decision victory as a professional.
He haas knocked out and submitted five professional foes apiece.
I actually like the matchmaking here. Mokaev — though a terrific talent who’s already realized a good chunk of his considerable potential — has some grappling liabilities that the well-credentialed Durden could potentially exploit. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Durden out-muscle him in the early going and keep him stuck on his back.
It would, however, surprise me to see Durden maintain that. He gassed badly after a single round against Aoriqileng and only emerged victorious because of the latter’s mental lapses. Mokaev’s proven able to push a hard pace for 15 minutes, meaning the fight will tilt more and more in his favor as the rounds go by. He bounces back from a rough first round to wear down Durden with scrambles and snowball to a decisive victory.
Prediction: Mokaev via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Mike Grundy vs. Makwan Amirkhani
Despite entering the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion in the midst of a lengthy layoff, Mike Grundy (12-3) started his UFC run strong, knocking out Nad Narimani late in the second round. He’s yet to taste victory since, dropping decisions to division standouts Movsar Evloev and Lando Vannata.
He stands three inches shorter than “Mr. Finland,” but boasts an identical reach.
Makwan Amirkhani (16-7) established himself as a Featherweight to watch with wins in six of his first eight UFC bouts, two of which earned him “Performance of the Night.” He enters Saturday’s bout in the midst of a three-fight losing streak, however, including a brutal knee knockout courtesy of Lerone Murphy last time out.
He’s ended 12 professional fights inside the distance, 11 via submission.
The book is out on Amirkhani at this point. He’s a marvelous wrestler and submission artist with no stand up and one (maybe 1.5) rounds of cardio. Honestly, though, that may be enough here because Grundy is just about as one-note with his approach. And based on their respective performances in the Octagon, I actually like Amirkhani to win a ground battle.
Grundy’s gas tank is the X-factor, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him force some scrambles and survive some rough patches to take over down the stretch. I just don’t think he’s got the goods to beat Amirkhani in the latter’s wheelhouse. In short, “Mr. Finland” finds his neck early and snaps his losing streak.
Prediction: Amirkhani via first round submission
UFC London is absolutely loaded with quality prospects .... you’ll want to tune in. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2022: 37-16
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC London fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 4 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC London: “Volkov vs. Aspinall” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.