UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. Aspinall
March 19, 2022
Emrick’s UFC Fighter Pick Record (31-19)
FLY: Muhammad Mokaev (6-0, 1 NC) vs. Cody Durden (12-3-1)
- Pick: Muhammad Mokaev
BW: Nathaniel Wood (17-5) vs. Vince Morales (11-5)
- Pick: Nathaniel Wood
WSTRAW: Cory McKenna (6-1) vs. Elise Reed (4-1)
- Pick: Cory McKenna
BW: Jack Shore (15-0) vs. Timur Valiev (18-2, 1 NC)
- Pick: Jack Shore
LHW: Nikita Krylov (27-8) vs. Paul Craig (15-4-1)
- Pick: Paul Craig
HW: #10 Shamil Abdurakhimov (20-6) vs. #15 Sergei Pavlovich (14-1)
- Pick: Sergei Pavlovich
FW: Mike Grundy (12-3) vs. Makwan Amirkhani (16-7)
- Pick: Mike Grundy
Main Card Predictions:LW: Jai Herbert (11-3) vs. Ilia Topuria (11-0)
- Deciding Factor: Topuria’s ground game is just too strong. First fight at lightweight for Topuria? Don’t care, the guy is just super well-rounded and Herbert has performed sub-par against accredited grapplers. Herbert has dropped 2 of his first 3 fights in the UFC, most recently defeating Khama Worthy – who is now on a 3 fight KO skid – midway through the first round. However, Herbert’s most recent loss via submission to Renato Moicano is the most telling and comparable to Topuria. Moicano is also a featherweight by nature that came up to lightweight and dominated Herbert with controlling the position for 76% of the time prior to his submission finish. Herbert hasn’t been able to prove himself on the ground, nor attempt a takedown on his opponents in his 3 fights in the UFC. While Topuria’s stature and reach are slightly smaller than Moicano’s, Topuria averages twice as many takedowns per match (3.4), has greater takedown accuracy (56%), and lands more accurate strikes (50% vs. 45.7%) and significant strikes per minute (2.77 vs. 2.18) than Herbert. Topuria has been able to finish his past 2 opponents – Ryan Hall and Damon Jackson – via KO, both who are undefeated in the UFC outside of their losses to Topuria. I believe, even with the height and reach advantage, that Topuria is too much to handle as a solid dual threat (3 KO’s, 7 Submissions). He could be a realistic threat in the featherweight and lightweight division moving forward. Topuria by finish, most likely submission is the play.
- Pick: Ilia Topuria (-440)
WFLY: Molly McCann (11-4) vs. Luana Carolina (8-2)
- Deciding Factor: How can you not choose someone nicknamed “Meatball”? But seriously, McCann is a legitimate contender and a local favorite vying for a ranked spot. These hopes may have taken a hit after dropping 2 straight UD’s to Taila Santos and Lara Procopio, largely by losing the control battle by almost 20 minutes of combined fight time. McCann lost the control battle again in her recent victory over Ji Yeon Kim, but managed to outstrike her opponent to her own UD victory. Carolina has taken two victories in a row, coming by SD and UD against Poliana Botelho and Loopy Godinez on less than a week’s notice. Both fighters have control issues, maybe McCann more so than Carolina, but I believe this fight will be decided on the feet. McCann has a greater significant strike output (5.67 vs. 4.49) than Carolina, but a slightly lower accuracy rating (52.71% vs. 59.83%). Meatball at least averages 1.7 takedowns per fight and lands 1 of every 3 attempts, compared to 0’s across the takedown board for Carolina. I think McCann has a slight edge in this fight, but it is a genuine toss-up. While I’m choosing McCann, the real play should be this fight going to a decision, as neither fighter has a victory by finish in the UFC and 9 of their 11 combined bouts have gone the full 3 rounds.
- Pick: Molly McCann (-130)
WW: Gunnar Nelson (17-5-1) vs. Takashi Sato (16-4)
- Deciding Factor: Even in a battle of long layoffs, strength of schedule and ground game reigns supreme for Nelson. Nelson hasn’t competed since September 2019, while Sato hasn’t battled since his November 2020 loss via submission to Miguel Baeza. Nelson has dropped 3 of 4 fights dating back to July 2017, with two of those losses coming from current top 5 welterweights in a SD to Leon Edwards and UD with Gilbert Burns. Facing Sato after his previous 2 fights is a nice change of pace for Nelson. Gunnar is a certified menace on the ground, finishing 7 of his 8 UFC wins by way of submission. Guess who doesn’t have a good ground game? That’s right, Sato has been finished by submission twice in his 4 UFC bouts. These defeats have come from Belal Muhammad and the aforementioned Baeza, who each earned their first and only professional submission victories against Sato. One area that would provide an edge to Sato is his KO power. Sato has KO’d his opponents in 11 of 16 professional victories, including his 2 UFC victories. He lands more strikes per minute than Nelson, but he’s less accurate in doing so. While I do see a slight advantage in striking for Sato, Nelson has been KO’d only once in his professional career and I don’t see it happening again on Saturday. Unless Sato’s ground game has improved drastically, I’d give Nelson a strong edge to return to the win column via submission.
- Pick: Gunnar Nelson (-475)
LW: Paddy Pimblett (17-3) vs. Rodrigo Vargas (12-4)
- Deciding Factor: A spoonfed rising star and a home crowd bode well for Pimblett. No offense to Paddy, he has a lot of potential that I hope we will see in this fight and beyond. However, making this fight the third to final in only his second UFC bout with multiple ranked matches occurring in the prelims and before this is borderline disrespectful. While this should easily be a preliminary fight based on credentials thus far, the writing is on the wall. At this slot, the UFC London crowd is there to see Paddy put on a show, which I’m sure is going to happen within 3 rounds or 3 minutes. While Vargas should be 2-1 in the UFC without his DQ loss to Brok Weaver in 2020, I just don’t believe there is much hope for him in this atmosphere. Cutting to the point without the stats, I’ll give the people what they want to see. Vargas by submission is a possibility, but not in this reality. Pimblett will please the London crowd by whatever method of victory he wants.
- Pick: Paddy Pimblett (-450)
FW: #3 Arnold Allen (17-1) vs. Dan Hooker (21-11)
- Deciding Factor: Although the strength of schedule favors Hooker, Allen’s ability to get the fight to the mat and Hooker’s cut to featherweight could be game changing. Dan Hooker is, without a doubt, one of the toughest fighters in the game. His last 3 losses have come from #1 Islam Makhachev on short notice, Michael Chandler, and #10 Dustin Poirier. Although these fights might have been somewhat demoralizing to a surefire top 10 LW like Hooker, maybe this extra cut to featherweight to face a rising contender like Allen wasn’t a great idea. Hooker returns to a division where he went 3-3, and was taken down an average of 3 times in each of his featherweight defeats. Arnold Allen comes into this fight as a decision-dominant contender with solid grappling ability, completing 50% of takedown attempts and averaging nearly 1.5 takedowns per fight. He has also went the distance in 6 of his 8 UFC bouts, completing his 2 other victories via submission. While Hooker carries a striking output and accuracy advantage, Allen’s high-level defense has been on display by defending 66% of opponent’s strikes. There’s so much uncertainty coming into this fight with Dan Hooker’s cut back down to featherweight. While I want to believe this will be the lightweight version of Hooker will be coming, I fear that the extra cut will bring the old featherweight Hooker back in action. Of Hooker’s 11 UFC victories, 8 have come within the distance. It is also important to note that Hooker’s 3 featherweight losses came via decision. Arnold Allen has yet to be finished, and I’m not sure it’ll happen in the biggest fight of his career thus far. I believe Allen will get Hooker to the mat, defend well, and drain his opponent’s energy into a UD victory.
- Pick: Arnold Allen (-120)
HW: Alexander Volkov (34-9) vs. #3 Tom Aspinall (11-2)
- Deciding Factor: Tom Aspinall looks every bit like the future of the heavyweight division. Aspinall has finished each of his 4 UFC opponents in just over 6 minutes or earlier, with a total fight time of just under 11 minutes. He’s made every bit of his time in the cage must-see UFC action, but how does he perform against a veteran like Volkov? Alexander Volkov is 3-2 in his UFC main events, winning the three fights by KO and suffering his two losses by UD. Even as a heavyweight with 43 professional bouts under his metaphorical belt, Volkov has only been finished 4 times (2 KO’s, 2 Submissions) since 2009. More surprisingly, Volkov’s only loss via finish in the UFC came from a last-ditch KO effort from Derrick Lewis in 2018. I wish I had more statistics to compare Aspinall and Volkov’s performances, but this fight is extremely difficult to calculate due to Aspinall’s short time in the octagon. Just for some perspective, Volkov spent more time in his last fight with Marcin Tybura than Aspinall has in his 4 UFC fights. The big questions going into this include Aspinall’s chin (only 23 strikes absorbed), Aspinall’s stamina to go past the 2nd round if necessary, and if Volkov can absorb Aspinall’s well-rounded game (8 KO’s, 3 Submissions). Volkov has some of the most respect in the heavyweight division, but I just sense something special in Aspinall. This main event is my personal fight of the night and I can’t wait to see what happens in this heavyweight toss-up. Give me Aspinall by finish prior to round 4.
- Pick: Tom Aspinall (-125)