Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 56’s Alexander Volkov


Rangy kickboxer, Alexander Volkov, will battle fellow knockout artist, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, this Saturday (June 4, 2022) at UFC Vegas 56 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Volkov has a bit of a problem on his hands. Highly experienced at 33 years of age, “Drago” should be entering his prime, picking up momentum toward the top of the division. Instead, Volkov has struggled fairly consistently with the Heavyweight elite, coughing up main event losses to Tom Aspinall, Ciryl Gane and Curtis Blaydes in recent years. Obviously, those are all top-tier names among the big men, but those defeats are really limiting Volkov’s ability to move up the ladder. He seems a bit stuck in the lower half of the Top 10, though perhaps a strong performance this weekend will help grease the wheels.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

Volkov has a deep background in Karate, which mostly makes itself known in his snappy kicks. A rangy fighter who throws a lot of volume for a Heavyweight, Volkov excels at breaking opponent’s down.

Volkov does his best work as the aggressor. Unsure of how to navigate his range, many opponents tend to circle the far outside, attempting to make their way inside with sudden bursts or lunging shots. Those punches may sometimes land, but for the most part, it’s Volkov controlling the flow of combat.

Volkov does a lot of his damage with kicks. He really loves kicking with his lead leg, suddenly stabbing his opponents’ mid-sections by quickly bringing his toes up to the target. He’ll occasionally throw a right leg teep as well. To mix it up, Volkov also digs to the inside of the leg, and he’ll occasionally finish combinations with a left high kick. His high kicks really demonstrate his Karate background, as Volkov raises his knee before unfurling his foot with a dangerous snap.


When Volkov faced a Southpaw opponent in Timothy Johnson, he switched up his approach a bit. As Johnson rushed in, Volkov would plant and send a hard knee up the middle into his opponent’s mid-section. That’s a technique he’s utilized in previous fights, but it never worked quite as cleanly than against the thick Southpaw wrestler.

Volkov’s did really great work opposite Walt Harris, a fellow rangy striker who fights as a Southpaw. In that bout, Volkov really did tremendous work with his snap kicks. Faced with an opposite stance opponent, little setup was required for Volkov to dig hard right toe kicks into the mid-section. He kept his foe on the defensive with stiff jabs and lead hooks, leaving Harris stuck on the outside and vulnerable to the toe stab (GIF).

Volkov’s boxing is simple, but effective. He’s actually got a rather sharp jab, and unlike many Heavyweights, is unafraid to stick back at his opponent when pressed.


Faced with a fellow overly tall man in Stefan Struve, Volkov demonstrated that his skills go beyond height and length. Opposite “Skyscraper,” Volkov did far better than Struve with basic range strikes, namely the jab and lead leg kick. Repeatedly, Volkov slipped his head off the center line and stabbed at Struve’s skull with a long jab, interrupting whatever combination or step knee Struve was looking to throw.

Perhaps Volkov’s biggest improvement from his Bellator days is his boxing. Back then, he was guilty of merely alternating straights from either side. Nowadays, Volkov is more likely to hook off the jab, and he’s found good success in mixing the uppercut into his combinations. For example, Volkov really stunned and picked apart Alistair Overeem with ease. From the first bell, Overeem seemed distinctly uncomfortable with just how thudding Volkov’s jab has grown. As he began to cover up more and more with a high guard, Volkov found his way through the guard with his left hook and right uppercut (GIF).

As mentioned, Volkov likes to stalk his opponents. When foes are able to flip the script and pressure Volkov consistently without being sloppy, things often come apart. Ciryl Gane was very effectively able to force Volkov into a reactive shell with his feints and punishing distance kicks. Marcin Tybura doesn’t quite have the grace of Gane, but he still forced an uglier performance out of Volkov by consistently pressing forward.

Aspinall did really great work in feinting to disguise his forward pressure vs. Volkov. Still, Volkov was doing decent work with his lead hand and lead leg snap kick, but Aspinall’s superior wrestling and ground skills prevented the kickboxing from playing out for long.

Wrestling

Volkov is rarely one to wrestle offensively, though he does deserve big props for successfully cage double-legging Curtis Blaydes! More important, he’s a distinctly inconsistent defensive wrestler.

There are several defensive elements that Volkov does well. First and foremost, his size and range mean that most fighters try to shove him into the cage before wrestling. From that position, Volkov does two things particularly well. For one, he dips down and gets his head in good position, driving his forehead into his opponent’s jaw. This prevents level changes and makes it easier to circle away from the fence.

Aside from that, Volkov makes full use of his length by spreading them out when his opponent attempts to hit a double leg. With his stance split wide, it’s very difficult for opponent’s to lock their hands and complete the shot.

Volkov tends to struggle more when forced to wrestle in open space. Fighters have simply run him over with double legs when able to time a shot well, as he does stand rather tall. Werdum is not an amazing wrestler, but he routinely off-balanced Volkov with his single leg takedown prior to fatiguing as well.

Blaydes repeatedly took down Volkov, both in the open with running double legs and along the cage, where Blaydes’ own size helped mitigate Volkov’s usual advantage of lankiness. In that loss, Volkov showed he still doesn’t have a great answer for consistent and determined takedown attempts along the fence.

Is additional mass the answer? If nothing else, it will make it more exhausting to push Volkov around.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, Volkov doesn’t often look for submissions. He’s scored just three in his rather lengthy career, and similarly, Volkov hasn’t actually been submitted since 2010.

In his bout to win the M-1 Global title, however, Volkov did show a pretty slick technique opposite Denis Smoldarev. Smoldarev is a hulking wrestler and was finding success in clinch tossing Volkov to the mat, but “Drago” was slowly gaining momentum as his foe fatigued. In the third round, Smoldarev landed a sacrifice throw directly into a triangle choke. Because of Smoldarev’s wide shoulders, Volkov had difficulty finishing the triangle in usual fashion, so he adjusted. Instead of clamping down from the triangle position, he crossed his ankles and straightened his legs out, squishing his foe’s neck and arm with his thighs.

It’s another effective way to squeeze on the trapped neck, and Volkov was able to force the tapout.

In an even older but excellent example of Volkov’s grappling, he was able to counter Blagoi Ivanov’s wrestling to land a rear-naked choke. Ivanov committed hard to an outside trip and landed it, but Volkov’s body type allowed him to hip heist directly into mount instead. Ivanov tried to scramble, but he instead gave up a quick submission.


Defensively, Volkov proved that the effectiveness of basics against Werdum. When Werdum took him down, Volkov reacted calmly, keeping his guard locked and looking to control wrists. It cost him a couple rounds on the scorecards, but it also exhausted Werdum to keeping have to score takedowns then fight his hands free. As a result of his defensive fundamentals, Volkov didn’t absorb much damage and simply outlasted Werdum.

Volkov looked to be applying a similar strategy opposite Aspinall. However, one moment of passivity from half guard allowed Aspinall to secure a kimura grip. Volkov didn’t seem too worried, having just defended an Aspinall kimura without too much trouble and used that submission attempt to stand up.

When Aspinall switched to a straight armbar, all of a sudden Volkov was screwed. What can you say — smart work from the Englishman!

Conclusion

Volkov is experienced, skilled and consistently in good shape. He should have all the tools to contend, but a loss opposite Rozenstruik would pretty definitively force Volkov out of the mix of relevant contenders.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 56 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 (on ESPN+) at 4 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 56: “Volkov vs. Rozenstruik” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.



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