Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Cirkunov vs Oezdemir for UFC Fight Night 109 in Stockholm, and everything you don’t about throwaway ’90s teen romcoms
Volkan Oezdemir and Misha Cirkunov try to make sense of light heavyweight’s misery this May 28, 2017 at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden.
One sentence summary:
David: Evil Ethan Embry can’t hardly wait to prove his win over OSP was no fluke.
Phil: The light heavyweight division stumbles into a bar, flecked with vomit and stinking of booze, and slurs “I used to be the marquee division, I swear”, while the other weight classes awkwardly try not to make eye contact
Record: Volkan Oezdemir 13-1 Misha Cirkunov 13-2
Odds: Volkan Oezdemir +385 Misha Cirkunov -485
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
David: Seriously? First the Reebok coupons, and now this?? Or should it be “first the Cyborg/Magana melee and now this??” Whatever the case, this is an improbable co-main event that would barely crack a fight pass curtain jerker in most circumstances. Yes, MMA snobs. I know. They’re both undefeated in the UFC which should disqualify any potential snark prima facie. I can respect that. But their competition has been middling at best. Only Oezdemir has cracked a high profile-ish bout and won. It was a good performance against a massively inconsistent fighter. It’s a question of degree rather than kind? Oezdemir is talented and belongs at light heavyweight. But a perennial co-main eventer? I’m not so sure. To his credit, the fight itself should posit fireworks.
Phil: As ex-BE mainstay Smoogy put it on Twitter, perhaps the most consequential action of Anthony Johnson’s MMA career has been turning Volkan Oezdemir into a top 5 light heavyweight in the Year of Our Lord 2017. The thing is, in another lifetime this wouldn’t be a bad matchup. Oezdemir has some skill, he overperformed in his debut. Two talented up-and-comers, what’s not to like? It’s the bleak realization that there’s just nowhere for them to go afterwards, really.
David: It feels like Cirkunov has been around forever but we haven’t been paying attention because he’s been stuck on undercards and prelims. For as much flack as we might give this fight for being on the prelims, there’s no reason to kid about Cirkunov’s talents. This is a guy who cranked a man’s neck so hard, it broke both sides of his jaw. Still, we haven’t really seen what Cirkunov can do against the elite. Nikita Krylov as evolved beyond a punchline but he remains an enigmatic question mark. Cirkunov is the heavy favorite in this bout, but perhaps he deserves question marks too.
Phil: For all that we make fun of this fight, it could have been so much worse. With the loss of Nikita “The Fighting Al Capone” Krylov, Cirkunov is one of the few remaining bright prospects left in the shambling corpse of the 205lb division, and we were within inches of losing him as well, until Zuffa and Cirkunov managed to hash out a deal which was acceptable to both of them. I’m also curious to see how he does, at least partially because there are such vast, stretching voids in athleticism and technique in this division between the tiers of fighters. Crashing and burning in the dead space is a distinct possibility.
What’s at stake?
David: Nothing important. This bout is cotton candy pugilism. It’ll probably be pretty entertaining, but any lasting effects will be revealed in subsequent fights for the victor.
Phil: The winner is going to be somewhere around title contention. Honest! There really isn’t anywhere else to go. Gus can’t be matched with Jimi again: if he wins then Manuwa may need a dance partner for a #1 contender’s fight, and it can pretty much only be these guys, or (brrr) Shogun.
Where do they want it?
David: Volkan’s style doesn’t change from sport to sport. He has this Late Pleistocene quality of moving forward, throwing his arms from his hips like he’s lobbing molotov cocktails at a Contra boss. It was good enough to beat OSP even when OSP was actually doing a good job of countering Volkan’s sloppy punch entries. But that happens to be Volkan’s strength – it doesn’t always look pretty, but he pressures effectively with his reach, and ability to avoid reaching with workmanlike but persistent footwork. With a powerful left hook he can chase with, Volkan has a complement of boxing tools he uses well within his means. Good chopping right leg kicks too. His wrestling is rudimentary. He has a good base for sprawling, and reacting – using his hips and first step to separate and reset. But as we saw with Kelly Anundson, once he’s locked and playing with underhooks he’s lost in space.
Phil: Oezdemir’s best attribute is his fearlessness. He’s an average athlete, and not a particularly large LHW either, but he has a slightly Mousasi-esque sangfroid that allows him to step in without much fear of what’s coming back. Other than that, like you said, there isn’t much to be said- meat and potatoes kickboxing is the order of the day. Neither particularly high-pace, or particularly powerful, although his inside leg kick to draw the opponent into the left hook counter is nice. I was also relatively impressed by how well he handled himself in the clinch and grappling exchanges against the larger and more experienced Ovince Saint Preux.
David: The real reason we’re here is because of Cirkunov. He’s the closest thing to a LHW blue chip talent the UFC has. In fact, he should probably be in better matchups than this but I can’t complain too much. Volkan earned his keep, and Cirkunov has been earning his. Cirkunov’s greatest strength is not just his actual strength, but the way he combines an engineer’s attention to detail to his fight craft. With his strength. You don’t break a man’s jaw with a neck crank just by squeezing. Cirkunov shines in close quarters, using his judo like a ginsu knife – able to uncork violent knees in the clinch if the takedown isn’t there, and capable of finding submissions and applying pressure with ground and pound once on the ground. On the feet, Cirkunov is a patient southpaw of awareness more than acumen. He doesn’t throw a whole lot and keeps his offense contained, if even subdued you might say. Volkan will have an advantage here but despite Volkan’s pedigree I don’t know that it’s a massive advantage.
Phil: My main worry for Cirkunov in his early UFC fights was how glacially footslow he was. He was clearly absurdly powerful, but it looked like he might run into the same issues as Latifi, where he’d just be completely unable to track down opponents if they decided to fight him from the outside. He’s developed in a number of encouraging ways. He’s much lighter on his feet than he was, and has actually started to cut the cage somewhat. This has come alongside far more effective, functional striking (ex: the left hand that he rocked Krylov with) and he hasn’t abandoned the skillset that took him to the dance, either. He’s still more than happy to try and take people down and twist their heads off. That’s all good signs. He’s still not exactly greased lightning, however, and I think his speed remains the potential flaw to keep an eye on.
Insight from past fights?
David: Volkan against Kelly Anundson showed just how susceptible he could be against someone who knew what they were doing in the clinch. Anundson is a solid fighter – he may not have cut it on TUF (losing to TUF winner Corey Anderson) but he knows what to do in the clinch and has a rich history in wrestling. Granted, Anundson cuts the ring off better with wrestling than Cirkunov, who doesn’t explode into the clinch, but once there you’ll see a similar result.
Phil: You know, I’m not sure that Volkan won the OSP fight that got him that fabled top 5 ranking? It was close enough and bad enough that I don’t really care that much, but it basically looked like a better-coached but inferior athlete getting worn down because the guy he was fighting was just bigger, stronger and faster than him. That’s going to be an issue if Oezdemir can’t show fight-ending power going forward.
David: Russian contract negotiations? Cirkunov has a surprisingly colorful media history, saying Jon Jones has been “hyping up cocaine” (I almost want to say Cirkunov is totally unaware of the Chappelle show but making the joke anyway). Could the weight of all this media exposure be affecting Cirkunov in psychologically detrimental ways? LOL
Phil: Volkan’s last fight was on fairly short notice, and a debut. I expect him to look better, but I’m not really sure how much he can elevate himself above what looks like a relatively clear physical ceiling.
David: The Anundson fight is like revealing a 4th grade math problem. If Cirkunov clinches with Volkan, Cirkunov wins. Cirkunov will clinch with Volkan (sounds like a gladiator match between two Star Trek characters). Misha Cirkunov by Neck Crank, round 1.
Phil: I’m interested to see if Volkan looks better after a full camp. While he was able to close Krylov down, Cirkunov did eat a fair few kicks from him. I can see a mobile, leg-kicking Oezdemir picking up rounds. That said, I’m still impressed by Cirkunov’s strategic improvements, and don’t trust Oezdemir’s baseline athleticism. Misha Cirkunov by submission, round 2.