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UFC London preview: ‘Volkov vs. Aspinall’ predictions

UFC 267: Blachowicz v Teixeira Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will finally branch out from the nearby APEX facility and ship its cast and crew across the pond for the upcoming UFC London fight card, locked and loaded for tomorrow night (Sat., March 19, 2022) from inside O2 Arena in London, England, featuring a heavyweight headliner between local hero Tom Aspinall and Russian bruiser Alexander “Drago” Volkov.

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 55 On ESPN+

Bantamweight Battle! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., May 21, 2022, with a must-watch women’s Bantamweight contenders’ bout between former champion and No. 2-ranked contender, Holly Holm, taking on No. 5-seeded Ketlen Vieira. In UFC Vegas 55’s co-main event, No. 14-ranked Santiago Ponzinibbio will lock horns with Michel Pereira in an absolute Welterweight firecracker.

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, which includes the featherweight showdown between Arnold Allen and Dan Hooker, check out Patrick Stumberg’s preliminary card breakdowns here and here. In addition, fighter-turned-writer Andrew Richardson did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the UFC London main card right here.

For the latest “Volkov vs. Aspinall” odds and betting lines courtesy of our fiscal friends over at Draft Kings go here.

Let’s get to work.

265 lbs.: Alexander Volkov vs. Tom Aspinall

Alexander “Drago” Volkov

Record: 34-9 | Age: 33 | Betting line: +100
Wins: 22 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 9 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 5 DEC
Height: 6’7“ | Reach: 80” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.86 | Striking accuracy: 57%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.95 | Striking Defense: 54%
Takedown Average: 0.53 (70% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 73%
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Marcin Tybura

Tom Aspinall

Record: 11-2 | Age: 28 | Betting line: -120
Wins: 9 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 0 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 0 DEC, 1 DQ
Height: 6’5“ | Reach: 78” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 7.19 | Striking accuracy: 65%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.37 | Striking Defense: 70%
Takedown Average: 2.73 (100% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 100%
Current Ranking: No. 11 | Last fight: Technical knockout win over Sergey Spivak

Alexander Volkov sits just outside the Top 5 at No. 6 and whether or not you find that to be a generous placement may depend on how you view his strength of schedule — or the rest of the Top 10 at 265 pounds. That’s one of many reasons why some fans are pulling for Tom Aspinall because let’s face it, outside of the resurgent Tai Tuivasa we’ve been recycling the same five or six contenders for the last several years. Volkov comes into this fight with a unanimous decision victory over Marcin Tybura and I think that performance is indicative of where “Drago” fits into this heavyweight puzzle. Give him athletic (but unskilled) big men like Greg Hardy or Walt Harris, or even shopworn veterans like Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Wedrum, and Volkov looks like a million bucks. Against legitimate contenders or punishing wrestlers like Ciryl Gane and Curtis Blaydes and he comes up short of the mark. So where does Aspinall fit into that equation?

I’m not sure we have the answer just yet. Like Volkov, he’s done a good job of separating himself from promising up-and-comers like Sergey Spivak, while also shutting down past-their-prime ex-champions like Andrei Arlovski. What we haven’t see is Aspinall take on the kind of killers “Drago” has been paired with so we can’t say for certain if the power-punching Brit can withstanding the bludgeoning force of Derrick Lewis, or technical acumen of Ciryl Gane. At the same time, I don’t like to punish fighters for doing what they’ve been contracted to do. UFC sent Aspinall to the cage four times since crossing over from Cage Warriors a few years back and not once in any of those fights did Aspinall look anything but exceptional. If we look beyond the “names” and focus only on his offensive numbers, you’ll see a staggering 7.19 strikes landed per minute with 65-percent accuracy, complemented by equally impressive metrics on defense. Aspinall has the ability to beat you wherever the fight goes and more importantly, mix it up on the fly. That’s something we don’t see very often at heavyweight, where most fighters either hit like a Mack Truck or wrestle-mug their way to victory.

Volkov performs his best when he’s in control of the action, something he relies on his height (6’7”) and reach (80”) to facilitate. Against Aspinall, his advantage is marginal (two inches in both categories) and probably not enough to serve as the deciding factor in a potential standup battle. “Drago” is also a competent offensive wrestler who can change things up when needed, but as we saw against Sergey Spivak, Aspinall is not going to the floor just because you want him to. I would expect a fairly protracted feeling out process — not atypical for a 25-minute fight — but eventually the pendulum will swing in favor of Aspinall. I believe he’ll be able to shut down most of the offense from his Russian foe and frustrate Volkov on the feet, and as we’ve seen time-and-time again, a frustrated fighter is a sloppy fighter. In a performance not dissimilar to the one we saw against Gane, Volkov will find himself befuddled by the end of the bout and likely staring down the barrel of a five-round shutout.

Prediction: Aspinall def. Volkov by unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Dan Hooker vs. Arnold Allen

Dan “The Hangman” Hooker

Record: 21-11 | Age: 32 | Betting line: -105
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 7 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 6 DEC
Height: 6’0“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Switch
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.90 | Striking accuracy: 47%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.61 | Striking Defense: 52%
Takedown Average: 0.90 (36% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 78%
Current Ranking: No. 8 | Last fight: Submission loss to Islam Makhachev

“Almighty” Arnold Allen

Record: 17-1 | Age: 28 | Betting line: -115
Wins: 5 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 70” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 2.96 | Striking accuracy: 40%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.15 | Striking Defense: 66%
Takedown Average: 1.44 (50% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 76%
Current Ranking: No. 7 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Sodiq Yusuff

Longtime lightweight contender Dan Hooker is moving back to featherweight after a respectable 8-4 run at 155 pounds. That being said, three of those four losses came in his last four fights and two of them were finishes, including his submission defeat against Islam Makhachev at UFC 267 last October.

Here’s a quote from MMA Fighting, circa 2017:

“Let’s just put it this way, it’d take a million bucks to get me back down to featherweight. I ain’t going back. I was stepping in there at featherweight and I just felt like I was taking away from my abilities. I think the most was mentally. I felt not clear-headed in there and I couldn’t think, and my skill and my ability to out-think the other guy is what separates me from the rest of the pack. Drunk, I fight better than that.”

So what changed?

Hooker told the media he was not going to stick around and play gatekeeper at lightweight while also pointing out the resources that are now available — like the UFC Performance Institute — that did not exist back when he was dieting down to 145 pounds. At the same time, it’s hard to ignore that Hooker is six feet tall and now 32 years old, so even with a perfect diet, the featherweight mark will continue to prove challenging. Remember, “The Hangman” isn’t moving down to fight some “Contender Series” graduate or journeyman not ranked in the Top 15. Arnold Allen is seated at No. 7 and 8-0 under the UFC banner. If there’s a complaint to be levied against the “Almighty” contender — in his prime at 28 years old — it’s that six of those eight wins have gone to a decision and his competition has been good, but not great.

It’s hard to count out someone as tough and gritty as Hooker, who is capable of winning the fight both on the ground and on the feet. I just can’t make a confident pick when “The Hangman” was a mere 3-3 at 145 pounds and complaining about the adverse effects of cutting weight. Allen has not fought the same level of competition and this will prove to be a step up for the “Almighty” prospect, but I think he rises to the challenge (sivako!) in front of his hometown crowd. Getting a dried-up opponent with a compromised chin will certainly aid his cause.

Prediction: Allen def. Hooker by technical knockout

Remember, the rest of the UFC London main card predictions are RIGHT HERE.

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+ preliminary card bouts at 1:30 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 4 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC London news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive here. For the updated and finalized “Volkov vs. Aspinall” fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.