Heading to Russia for the first time, the UFC made sure to pack the main card with as much sheer size as possible.
Three of the four main card bouts will be contested at 205 pounds or higher, including the headlining fight between heavyweights Mark Hunt and Alexey Oleynik, two veterans who have seen it all in the world of combat sports. In addition to Hunt’s accolades in kickboxing and Oleynik’s grappling exploits, this will be Hunt’s 17th UFC appearance, while Oleynik competes in his 69th MMA bout.
In the co-main event, former UFC light heavyweight contender Nikita Krylov looks to make a return to the Octagon after picking up four impressive finishes competing in Russia and Ukraine. He’ll have to get past surging vet Jan Blachowicz, who is riding a three-fight winning streak including a thrilling unanimous decision win in a rematch with Jimi Manuwa this past March.
Also on the main card, another pair of heavyweight vets face off as former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski takes on Shamil Abdurakhimov, while Thiago Alves enters his 24th UFC bout looking to become the first man to defeat the debuting Alexey Kunchenko.
What: UFC Moscow
Where: Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Moscow
When: Saturday, Sept. 15. The eight-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 10:30 a.m. ET, and the four-fight main card begins at 2 p.m. ET, also on UFC Fight Pass.
Mark Hunt vs. Alexey Oleynik
As far as style clashes go, this is as fun as they get.
Obviously, Mark Hunt will want to keep this one standing and Alexey Oleynik should get this one to the mat where he can work for his 47th submission victory. But Hunt is no longer the sitting duck that he used to be, having shored up both his takedown defense and survivability on the mat, and Oleynik has shown himself to be a willing striker during his time with the UFC.
It’s actually been eight years since Hunt has been submitted, which isn’t to say that he isn’t vulnerable on the ground. Elite wrestlers like Curtis Blaydes and Brock Lesnar have shown how to neutralize the K-1 kickboxer, and if Oleynik gets on top, he’s going to have a lot of success. However, he’s not exactly known for his power doubles, so grabbing a hold of Hunt and finding a way to drag him down is going to be a considerable challenge for Oleynik.
Oleynik will have an eight-inch reach advantage, which he’ll use to throw lunging straights and overhands in an attempt to keep Hunt honest. A prolonged kickboxing bout does not favor him though, and at some point he’ll have to get in close to look for trips and takedowns.
That’s when Hunt’s knack for being able to generate power in close will pay dividends. Once he’s able to hurt Oleynik on the feet, he won’t hesitate to pounce and finish the job on the ground; that, or dare “The Boa Constrictor” to stand up again so that Hunt can knock him back down.
This should be another knockout win for Hunt.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Nikita Krylov
With all 24 of his wins coming by way of knockout or submission, Nikita Krylov plays the role of the unstoppable force well. He’ll be facing a relatively immovable object in Jan Blachowicz though.
The 35-year-old Pole has not been finished since March 2011 and he’s proven to be extraordinarily difficult to put away, even as he’s suffered losses on the scorecards inside the Octagon. Blachowicz is a smart fighter who always cuts a good pace and his veteran savvy will go a long way towards countering the explosive Krylov.
On the feet, Blachowicz should have a slight advantage as he knows how to use his jab to prevent his opponents from getting too aggressive and leg kicks to further frustrate them. That said, the power advantage has to go to Krylov.
Krylov is a glass cannon of sorts, having never gone to a decision, so one thing to watch will be to see how much he learned in his time away from the UFC. He showed improved patience, while still maintaining his killer instinct, not to mention the impressive speed and agility that made him such an intriguing prospect during his first run with the promotion.
It’s those physical advantages that are difficult to discount when assessing this matchup, and they should be enough to give Krylov the win here. Krylov may get out-struck early on, but if he stays patient, he’ll find an opening for a knockout blow.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
Even at age 39, Andrei Arlovski remains one of the sharpest strikers in the heavyweight division. Is that enough to pick up a win against the hulking Shamil Abdurakhimov?
Arlovski has top-notch boxing and cardio, which allows him to be competitive in any three-round matchup at this point in his career. His output and power certainly aren’t what they used to be and his chin is also suspect. If he’s not careful, Abdurakhimov is capable of putting him down with a single solid strike.
Abdurakhimov is patient on the feet and is a competent counter-puncher. He also has good grappling and works well when in top control. One of his specialties is getting takedowns off of his opponents’ kicks, so Arlovski will have to keep that in mind should he choose to open up with his striking. As for Abdurakhimov’s weaknesses, his defense is questionable, even more so in the later rounds when his tank starts to empty.
If this one goes the distance, Arlovski should be able to put the pressure on a fading Abdurakhimov and take the decision.
Alexey Kunchenko vs. Thiago Alves
Alexey Kunchenko is making his UFC debut against a fighter logging his 24th Octagon appearance and the oddsmakers have pegged him as a big favorite. Why?
Sporting an eye-popping 18-0 record, the 34-year-old Kunchenko has made a name for himself on the Russian regional scene with his nasty ground-and-pound. He has a Muay Thai background as well and likes to employ short, snappy strikes to set up takedowns. He’s also got pop in both of his hands, so it’s not as if he has only one route to victory.
With Thiago Alves, you know you’re getting a quality stand-up performance every time out. While Kunchenko has some Muay Thai skills, Alves has long been one of the best practitioners of that martial art at 170 pounds and it doesn’t seem wise for Kunchenko to test him in this area.
Instead, Kunchenko will likely employ just enough striking to create an opening for a takedown or scramble situation, and once he’s on top, it’s going to be a miserable experience for Alves. “Pitbull” just doesn’t have enough weapons on the mat to make Kunchenko worry about anything besides landing enough ground strikes to force a stoppage.