Alexander Volkov and Tom Aspinall | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik probably aren’t competing for the heavyweight title anytime soon, but here’s what is on the line for both fighters Saturday: the loser will see consecutive losses in the octagon for the first time.
That should surprise you given that the UFC Vegas 56 headliners have been with the promotion for some time (Volkov since 2016, Rozenstruik since 2019) and consistently faced top competition. But in their combined 21 UFC appearances, neither fighter has ever been on a losing streak. In fact, Volkov’s career-worst skid is two while Rozenstruik has never lost back-to-back fights.
Something has to give tonight with Volkov coming off of a first-round submission loss to Tom Aspinall and Rozenstruik having been a recent victim of Curtis Blaydes’ indomitable wrestling game. Will the stakes bring out the best in both men or will we see a more cautious approach with a dubious distinction looming?
In the featherweight co-main event, Dan Ige has the tall task of attempting to hand Movsar Evloev his first loss. The Russian fighter is 15-0 with five wins to start his UFC career and he’s looked like the real deal as far as being a threat to someday challenge for a world title.
Ige represents Evloev’s highest ranked opponent yet and if Evloev puts on an impressive performance against him, he could become the leader of a pack of hungry featherweight contenders.
In other main card action, The Ultimate Fighter 27 champion Michael Trizano welcomes Contender Series signing Lucas Almeida to the UFC in a featherweight bout, flyweight finisher Karine Silva makes her UFC debut against Poliana Botelho, Ode Osbourne takes on Zarrukh Adashev in a flyweight bout, and light heavyweight Alonzo Menifield fights twice-delayed debutant Askar Mozharov.
What: UFC Vegas 56
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, June 4. The entire event airs on ESPN+, with the eight-fight preliminary card beginning at 1 p.m. ET, followed by a six-fight main card at 4 p.m. ET.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Alexander Volkov (8) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (9)
Conventional wisdom suggests this will be a highly technical and occasionally plodding heavyweight affair, so screw it, let’s go with the most fun outcome possible: First-round knockout. But for whom?
Alexander Volkov is the logical favorite here due to his more well-rounded game, his size and reach advantage, and the edge he has in experience. Though they have a few notable shared opponents (Alistair Overeem, Curtis Blaydes, Ciryl Gane), Volkov has been mixing the martial arts a lot longer than Jairzinho Rozenstruik has so he just has a more fully stocked library to pull from. If this goes to a decision it will most likely result in a Volkov victory.
In our ideal scenario, we get the Rozenstruik of days past. The version that once knocked out consecutive UFC opponents in a combined 38 seconds. The dangerous striker that needed just one burst of offense to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Overeem. Because in a pure striking battle, Rozenstruik is more than a match for Volkov and that’s exactly how this main event should unfold.
Volkov will surely attempt to make use of takedowns and clinch work to slow Rozenstruik, but if Rozenstruik can manage distance and time his counters right, he’s going to be a handful to approach. Like I said at the top, in the interest of fun and the hope that we get a memorable highlight as opposed to a five-round slog, I’m picking Jairzinho for a quick finish.
Dan Ige (13) vs. Movsar Evloev (14)
When this fight is over, we’ll be talking even more about Movsar Evloev’s championship prospects and it won’t be because of any shortcomings on Dan Ige’s part.
Ige has become the consummate top 10 gatekeeper. He’s difficult to finish, is a threat on the feet and on the ground, and he competes from bell to bell every time he goes out there. It’s just that he’s in tough against one of the featherweight division’s most complete fighters.
Make no mistake, that’s what Evloev is. There’s certainly room for the 28-year-old to grow, but he already has the tools to be a top 5-ranked fighter and will likely reach those heights by early 2023 the latest. He’s a plus athlete with sharp striking and fantastic wrestling, as winning a formula as you can get in MMA.
Evloev won’t become the first fighter to finish Ige, but he’ll make a loud statement all the same with a dominant decision victory.
Michael Trizano vs. Lucas Almeida
Michael Trizano is a long and rangy featherweight who typically focuses on controlling distance and scoring from range, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with an opponent in Lucas Almeida with similar dimensions and a more aggressive approach.
Almeida marches forward and throws hard. He’s constantly pursuing a finish and I expect him to employ that strategy as he did on his Contender Series appearance last September. It didn’t work out for him then, but it could be just the right approach to beat Trizano. One issue with Trizano is that he hasn’t shown that extra gear to really punish his opponents. That’s definitely not a problem for Almeida.
On the flip side, Trizano’s more steady style will benefit him if Almeida tires or loses his composure. Trizano is the better boxer and I’m also curious to see if he’ll mix in some wrestling to mess with Almeida’s rhythm.
Give me Almeida by club and sub in the first or second round, working under the assumption that Almeida puts his best foot forward on Saturday.
Karine Silva vs. Poliana Botelho
Poliana Botelho can be fun to watch when she gets her striking going and there will be stretches of this fight where Karine Silva indulges her. Silva’s best path to victory though is to get this fight to the ground.
Silva has more than her fair share of knockouts so it’s not as if she’s afraid to stand and scrap, but Botelho has the more sophisticated Muay thai game. A standup battle favors here even if she isn’t able to put Silva down for the count. Where Botelho will be in trouble is if she messes around in the grappling too much because Silva has a serious submission game.
It’s a game I see Botelho being forced to play at some point and whether that’s through Silva having to go all out and pull guard or just win a timely scramble, the end result will be the same: a third straight loss for Botelho.
Ode Osbourne vs. Zarrukh Adashev
I’m a believer that Zarrukh Adashev turned a corner in his most recent win over Ryan Benoit. The former Bellator fighter joined the UFC with the reputation of being an elite kickboxer and after losing his first two appearances, he lived up to expectations in his third kick at the proverbial can.
After fighting Benoit, Sumudaerji, and Tyson Nam, Adashev has another stiff test in the form of Ode Osbourne. “The Jamaican Sensation” has seen uneven results in the UFC (though losses to Manel Kape and Brian Kelleher are nothing to be ashamed of), but remains an intriguing talent especially with his recent drop down to 125 pounds. Similar to the main event, if this were just about who’s more versatile, then Osbourne gets the edge, but since I believe Adashev can keep the fight where he needs it to be than I have him striking his way to a win.
Osbourne will have to navigate some nasty leg kicks and Adashev’s sneaky power if he wants to avoid the upset here and while I know he’s capable, I still need to see Osbourne show more consistency before I can pick him.
Adashev by decision.
Alonzo Menifield vs. Askar Mozharov
Here’s a summary of the Askar Mozharov drama if you haven’t been keeping track:
Mozharov is signed as a short-notice replacement for Philipe Lins to fight Ben Rothwell at a UFC event in May of last year, but is forced to withdraw due to visa issues. At the time, his pro record is listed at 23-7 (give or take, depending on what database you’re looking at)
Mozharov’s debut is rescheduled for a card the following August against Dustin Jacoby, but he again is forced to withdraw for undisclosed reasons
Mozharov is booked to fight Alonzo Menifield on June 4
This is where it starts to get wacky
Earlier this week, Sherdog’s Jay Pettry did a deep dive into Mozharov’s pro record (you can and should read about this here) and found numerous discrepancies, starting with the fighter twice changing his name so as to attribute previous losses to other identities
As Pettry and his team dug deeper, they were able to discredit certain victories while verifying previously unrecorded losses. As of now, Sherdog.com lists Mozharov at 19-12 and the UFC has followed suit by changing its listed record to match
So what does Mozharov actually bring to the cage? He’s got a solid physique, for sure, and while he may have faced lackluster competition, he has legitimate speed in his hands and feet. Whether he can actually land against a UFC-level fighter is another question entirely.
Alonzo Menifield by first-round knockout.