Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, UFC Vegas 56
Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, UFC Vegas 56 face-off Credit: Alex Behunin/Cageside Press

Two of the UFC’s most seasoned heavyweights are expected to put on a high level striking display when Alexander Volkov meets Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC Vegas 56.

For Alexander Volkov, the story of the last several years has been one of starts and stops.  The former Bellator and M-1 champion has proven himself to be one of the heavyweight division’s most battle-tested contenders, with a number of high profile victories including Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem dotting his resume.  A perennial contender with a fan-friendly style, the UFC has recognized the skills of “Drago” as he will have headlined seven events (including this Saturday) in the past five years.

Despite this, Volkov’s title aspirations have been slowed by several setbacks in key bouts.  His six fight win-streak to get into title contention was heartbreakingly snapped in the closing seconds against Derrick Lewis.  Over the next three years, losses to Curtis Blaydes, Ciryl Gane, and most recently Tom Aspinall this past March have splashed cold water on the once hot ambitions of the Russian contender.  At 33 years-old, and as a heavyweight, there is still time to for Volkov to make the proverbial run and secure the key victories necessary to get that elusive title shot.  But it must begin with getting his hand raised in key bouts such as this Saturday.

For Jairzinho Rozenstruik, the biggest challenge has perhaps been living up to his electrifying rookie year in the UFC.  Few could forget his run, stopping his first three opponents in less than a combined five minutes before closing out 2019 with Comeback of the Year against the decorated Alistair Overeem in the fifth round of a fight he was losing.  The victory brought his record to a perfect 10-0 and in his second year in the promotion he was already booked for a title eliminator.

It should be noted that Rozenstruik was very much given a chance against future champion Francis Ngannou when he fought him with a title shot on the line in 2020.  The bout did not go his way, but “Bigi Boi” was now established as a top-ranked contender and has since alternated wins and losses against the likes of Junior dos Santos, Ciryl Gane, Augusto Sakai, and Curtis Blaydes.  Though he is similar in age to Volkov at 34 years-old, he has far more wear-and-tear on his body with over 80 kickboxing bouts to go with his 15 fights in mixed martial arts.  A win over Volkov would go a long way in building him back towards the title, and he would need to pursue the right matchups moving forward considering he has already fought several of the division’s top-ranked fighters.

Rozenstruik’s experience and pedigree as a striker will be tested against the size and technicality of Volkov.  “Bigi Boi” will need to exercise excellent shot-selection and get in-and-out in key moments to overcome the reach of Volkov.  Targeting shots to the legs and body patiently in the opening rounds will be key in this regard.  Volkov will need to use high volume and work behind his jab once again to make Rozenstruik a more stationary target.  Secondly, he will need to be prepared to slip-and-counter following his combinations as to spend as little time in the pocket with Rozenstruik as possible.

The heavyweight division is expected to take center stage this summer with several top contenders in action beginning in July.  Considering that both Volkov and Rozenstruik have fought many of the top names in the division, the winner will likely wait to see who is the odd man out in the title picture. As winter is expected to see one contender secure a title shot, another heavyweight may be the odd man out and likely face this Saturday’s winner.

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