“This was one of the best for me, for sure,” Volkov said on the event’s post-fight show on ESPN+. “I’m happy, but now I’m looking forward.”
In his ninth appearance in the UFC’s octagon, the former Bellator heavyweight champ faced the most decorated opponent of his professional career in Overeem, who hoped to put himself in position for another shot at the one major belt that’s eluded him in over two decades of MMA.
Early on, Overeem appeared to be defending himself well against the long punches of his taller opponent. Meanwhile, he exploded in with several hard punches and kicks that landed against his Russian counterpart. But despite his high guard, he toppled to the mat and took several shots that appeared to diminish his abilities, including one that bloodied his nose and mouth.
In the second round, Volkov picked up his tempo and battered away at Overeem’s guard. More punches found Overeem’s face, which bled generously as he tried to cover up. One particularly shot prompted him to flee the exchange with his opponent in hot pursuit. Then, at the 2:06 mark of the frame, he landed a left hook that landed flush and knocked Overeem to his knees.
As the multi-time MMA champ flopped to his back, referee Jason Herzog had seen enough and called the fight.
“He punched me really hard, and he touched me with some punches,” said Volkov. “But I concentrated on my target and did what I wanted to do. The hard thing was that he blocked all my kicks. But he maybe didn’t think about my punches, and I could land punches and jabs to his face.”
In the wake of the stoppage, Overeem knelt on the canvas, his face a bloody mess as Volkov attended to the fallen legend. It was Volkov’s second straight win after a decision loss to Curtis Blaydes that derailed his heavyweight title run.
“I learn a lot from every fight, from every loss especially,” Volkov said. “I just tried to train hard, and train a lot, and listen to my coaches and my team and become a better version of myself.”
Blaydes is set to face Derrick Lewis in the headliner of UFC Vegas 19 later this month. Lewis was the first man to hand Volkov a setback in the octagon, stopping him with just 11 seconds to go in a fight he was winning at UFC 229. Blaydes is ranked No. 2 while Lewis is No. 4 on the promotion’s top-15 list.
With a win over the No. 5 ranked fighter, Volkov is creeping slowly into title contention. Only a few hurdles remain until he fights for the belt; one might be avenging a previous loss, and that will require more improvement.
Perhaps that’s why Volkov isn’t celebrating too hard.
“I’m looking to be a champion,” he said. “I’m going to concentrate on the next camp [and] the next fight.”