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Alexander Volkov got split open by a knee and poked in both eyes, and somehow it only seemed to make him more dangerous. The more Stefan Struve did to hurt him, employing techniques on both sides of the rules, the more committed to victory the Russian seemed to become.
Next thing we knew, Volkov (29-6 MMA, 3-0 UFC) sat Struve down against the fence and punched him until Struve (28-9 MMA, 12-7 UFC) performed the international hand signal for “I would like to go home now,” which is when we knew for sure that the UFC Fight Night 115 headliner had reached its violent conclusion.
If there were any doubts about Volkov’s toughness before, they vanished along with all the disappointed Dutch fans who filed out of Ahoy Rotterdam in the Netherlands on Saturday night. What’s left in their place is something the UFC sorely needed: a new potential heavyweight contender who was born some time within the last three decades.
Those are in short supply in an aging heavyweight class where there are only two fighters under 30 in the UFC’s top 10. One of them is Volkov. The other is the very tall man he just beat up.
The win makes it three in a row for the big Russian, and he’s still two months shy of his one-year anniversary with the UFC. This is usually the point where we start taking young heavyweights seriously. Watching them blink away the blood to put away an opponent who matters is also a pretty good indicator that we should start paying attention.
Not that Volkov is doing too much to sell us on his swift rise to prominence. After the biggest win of his career, he set his sights on the always popular “Whoever the UFC decides” as his next opponent. Backstage, he spent more time arguing in favor of a UFC event in Russia than he did plotting out any specific future for himself.
But maybe that’s not such a bad way to go. After all, as of now the only things most fans know about him is that he’s big, Russian, and he’s nicknamed “Drago.” If you’re hoping to eventually finagle a fight with the plucky American champion, there are worse approaches then handing the UFC a ready-made “Rocky IV” storyline to work with.
Still, at the moment, the 28-year-old Volkov has one asset that most UFC heavyweights don’t – time. If he were a lightweight, he’d just be one more faceless talent. On the other end of the spectrum, he’s a rare commodity.
Exactly how far he can take that remains to be seen. It’s one thing to knock off Struve, but higher up the heavyweight ranks things start to get more serious. Some of those guys near the top might be old, but they’re also dangerously experienced.
For them, it might take more than toughness alone. The good news about being Volkov right now? He has no need to be in any particular rush.
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