No, the UFC Vegas 30 main event probably isn’t giving us the next heavyweight title challenger, not with the quartet of Francis Ngannou, Derrick Lewis, Stipe Miocic, and Jon Jones still sorting itself out. But it is as high level a heavyweight bout as you can get outside of those names and that’s something to be appreciated.
Gane is a surefire future title challenger, regardless of whether he gets past Volkov or not. With just eight MMA bouts under his belt, he’s already lived up to much of his pre-UFC hype, completely outclassing Jairzinho Rozenstruik and making short work of former champion Junior dos Santos, so whenever he suffers his first loss the result will serve more as an opportunity for him to learn and retool as opposed to being discouraged. He’s legitimately great, is what I’m saying.
Volkov remains one of the heavyweight division’s most underappreciated fighters, a towering figure who makes the most of his physical gifts and smarts and has rarely looked bad even in defeat. Seeing how his experience stacks up against the sheer potential of Gane will be fascinating. Don’t count out the former Bellator champion from someday competing for another major title.
In other main card action, Tanner Boser and Ovince Saint Preux meet in a makeshift heavyweight bout, blue-chip bantamweight contenders Raoni Barcelos and Timur Valiev face off, featherweight Andre Fili looks to get back on track against veteran Daniel Pineda, Tim Means takes on Nicolas Dalby in a potential thriller at 170 pounds, and Renato Moicano fights former Cage Warriors lightweight champion Jai Herbert.
What: UFC Vegas 30
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, June 26. The entire event airs on ESPN+, beginning with a six-fight preliminary card at 1 p.m. ET, followed by a six-fight main card at 4 p.m. ET.
Ciryl Gane vs. Alexander Volkov
The main event is the most difficult fight of the night to pick for me and isn’t that how it should be?
I’m leaning towards Ciryl Gane, but it makes a lot of sense to go the other way with Alexander Volkov’s experience advantage. He’s been through situations in MMA competition that Gane just hasn’t yet and there’s no substitute for that, no matter how many rounds “Bon Gamin” puts in at the gym. So if you foresee Volkov getting the better of a 25-minute decision or finishing Gane with a well-timed flurry, I don’t blame you.
But there’s something special about Gane that I can’t ignore. He’s an excellent athlete at heavyweight and has the kind of natural striking instincts that at times make him look like a fighter with twice his level of experience. The finishing power is there too, but I’m thinking he should employ a conservative strategy similar to what he showed against Jairzinho Rozenstruik in his most recent outing. It will be a fascinating chess match, the kind we rarely get to see in the Godzilla division.
It’s the quickness of Gane that really stands out and what separates him from most of his heavyweight peers. I expect that to hold true on Saturday when he catches Volkov with a hard shot in the later rounds and finishes.
Tanner Boser vs. Ovince Saint Preux
Now this is the kind of freaky-deaky heavyweight action I mess with.
For those who aren’t aware of how this bout came together, Tanner Boser is stepping in for Maxim Grishin, who was forced to withdraw from this fight with Ovince Saint Preux for undisclosed reasons. You’re probably thinking, ‘Wait, isn’t Grishin a light heavyweight now? Isn’t ‘OSP’ also a light heavyweight?’ Correct and correct. So what happened here is Saint Preux wanted to stay on the card and since the matchmakers couldn’t find an appropriate 205er on short notice, the brought in Boser for a new pairing that Saint Preux doesn’t have to cut weight for. Everybody wins!
Keep in mind that Boser is eager to get back in there after a narrow split decision loss to Ilir Latifi (another light heavyweight transfer) just three weeks ago. A win over a veteran name like Saint Preux will go a long way towards turning his 2021 around, while a loss shouldn’t hurt his reputation much since he’s doing the UFC a favor here (even if it would be his third straight). And again, for OSP, he gets to enjoy a few extra slices of pizza before fight night.
Skill for skill, I like Saint Preux here as I feel he has more ways to win all around. Forget the weight classes, the rangy Saint Preux is going to look like the bigger man in there at times especially if he can secure a takedown or two and turn this into a ground fight. That’s going to take some work as he’ll be dealing with one of the UFC’s most mobile heavyweights in Boser, a skilled striker who rarely stays in one place for more than a couple of seconds.
If you’re predicting a decision, it’s probably wise to go with Boser, but I’m going with Saint Preux to eventually assert himself in the grappling department and find a submission.
Pick: Saint Preux
Raoni Barcelos vs. Timur Valiev
Sometimes you have to just shout it out to remind everyone how ridiculous this division is right now. Raoni Barcelos has clearly separated himself from the middle of the pack at 135 pounds with his speedy kickboxing and strong jiu-jitsu game. This will actually be Timur Valiev’s return to the weight class at which he should be competing despite having success at featherweight.
The real danger for Barcelos here is if Valiev is aggressive with his wrestling and Barcelos decides that he wants to win the fight off of his back. He can certainly do that, but Valiev has the kind of smothering top control that wins decisions, which is what I expect to happen here. That’s not to say that we won’t see entertaining exchanges on the feet, just that Valiev has the option to douse a firefight if he has to.
Valiev on points.
Andre Fili vs. Daniel Pineda
This could be the beginning of a run up the rankings for Andre Fili.
The Team Alpha Male product has long been seen as an action fighter at 145 pounds, with the occasional hint of contender aspirations. His recent results have done little to change that perception as he’s won more than he’s lost and even in his losses he’s shown flashes of how high his competitive ceiling can be. Fili just turned 30 on Friday, he’s in his prime.
He’s also tough to put away, having not been finished since 2016, and that’s going to be the biggest problem for Daniel Pineda. As incredible as it sounds, the 43-fight veteran has never won a decision. He has to find a way to either land a big bomb on Fili or keep this fight on the ground, otherwise I don’t see him winning on points.
If this stays standing for the most part, and it should, the faster Fili will pick Pineda apart as the fight progresses. That’s assuming it even goes that long. The best version of Fili should put Pineda away inside of a round and that’s who I expect to see enter the octagon tonight.
Nicolas Dalby vs. Tim Means
After missing out on a booking last weekend, Tim Means was still looking for a fight and boy, is he getting one in Nicolas Dalby.
Dalby can be a tricky striker to figure out. The Dane utilizes plenty of movement, stance switching, and wrestling to keep his opponents guessing. He’s also blessed with a granite chin, so even if Means manages to occasionally draw him into a brawl, that’s a storm that Dalby can weather.
Unfortunately for Dalby, toughness alone doesn’t win you fights, and he’s going to fall behind on the scorecards in the face of Means’ constant pressure. Even when “The Dirty Bird” isn’t threatening with a KO, he makes his opponents miserable for 15 minutes. Dalby won’t shy away from adversity, I just don’t see him thriving in it against Means.
Means by decision.
Renato Moicano vs. Jai Herbert
Jai Herbert’s UFC debut didn’t go as planned, to put it kindly. An otherwise fine day at the office against Francisco Trinaldo nearly a year ago ended in the worst way possible, not just with Herbert losing by knockout, but by seeing his first octagon appearance overshadowed by the Herb Dean-Dan Hardy drama. That’s right, if you’re wondering why Herbert’s name sound so familiar, that’s why.
It’s a shame because Herbert showed a lot of the attributes that make him one of the most promising prospects to come out of Cage Warriors. He uses his reach well to control spacing, but also knows how to string together his attacks to produce exciting combinations. Had he not slipped on the proverbial banana peel, he was in position to win the third round against Trinaldo and take the fight.
That didn’t happen and now Herbert has to deal with another Brazilian veteran in Renato Moicano. It’s been a rough stretch of fights for Moicano as he’s faltered against top competition with Rafael Fiziev, Chan Sung Jung, and Jose Aldo all finishing him in under six minutes. That said, his losses have only come against elite competition, which isn’t a tier that Herbert has reached yet.
This is one of the most tempting upset picks on the card, especially if Herbert can keep the fight on the feet. He wins a striking battle, hands down. But there are a lot of question marks around his ground game and though he’s never lost by submission, he’s never faced a grappler like Moicano either. It’s only a matter of time until Moicano gets in deep on a shot, takes Herbert’s back, and chokes him out.