11: 31 PM ET
Marc RaimondiESPN Staff Writer
Blaydes used takedown after takedown to ground the much taller Volkov in a unanimous decision (49-46, 48-47, 48-46) victory Saturday night in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. The bout was a pivotal one in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
Blaydes scored 14 takedowns in total, setting the record for the most in a UFC heavyweight fight. The number is also tied for the third-most takedowns in a UFC fight overall.
Judges Sal D’Amato and Chris Lee scored the first three rounds for Blaydes and the final two for Volkov. Lee gave Blaydes a 10-8 in the first round. Judge Eric Colon had the first four rounds for Blaydes and only the fifth for Volkov.
It was no great surprise as to what Blaydes’ strategy would be. Blaydes even warned fans about how the fight with the 6-foot-7 Volkov was likely to go. He tweeted Thursday night that if people were expecting a striking battle the entire way, “you probably shouldn’t tune in to the main event cause I full intend on ragdolling my opponent.” After Saturday, Blaydes extended his own record for the most takedowns landed in UFC heavyweight history to 57.
The fight was originally supposed to take place Saturday in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, but it was moved to Las Vegas due to the coronavirus pandemic. The card took place at the UFC Apex, which is across from the promotion’s corporate campus, in front of no fans.
ESPN had Blaydes ranked No. 4 among MMA heavyweights coming in, while Volkov was No. 7. It was a bout billed as a classic grappler vs. striker matchup — Blaydes and his excellent wrestling against Volkov’s world-class kickboxing.
“There’s nowhere to go right now,” Blaydes said.
For the first three rounds going into the fourth, Blaydes’ wrestling was oppressive. Volkov had a hard time stopping takedowns. While Blaydes didn’t do a ton of damage on top, he didn’t allow Volkov to get any offense of his own, either.
Regarding fans not being happy with his wrestling-heavy performance, Blaydes said after the fight: “I realized I’m a heel. … I know a lot of fans don’t like it. I’m OK with that. That makes me happy.”
At the end of the fourth, Blaydes slowed down. Volkov was able to land a small flurry and land his own takedown on Blaydes. He landed shots from top position. Blaydes came out of the fourth exhausted and bleeding from his mouth. Volkov had some hope in the fifth. He landed a kick to Blaydes’ head as Blaydes was leaning in for a takedown. But Blaydes eventually got Volkov down again and rode out the rest of the round.
Blaydes acknowledged after the fight that he needs to work on his conditioning after the third round.
“Volkov was a lot harder than I thought to take down,” Blaydes said. “He had big, strong legs. When I got to the thighs and the legs, I’m usually able to win there. He was real strong.”
UFC president Dana White said in the postfight news conference that Blaydes “talked a lot of s—” this week, but ended up looking “stupid” because he gassed out in the third round.
White said Blaydes should not wait for the Miocic vs. Cormier fight in August before fighting again.
“With his performance tonight and his cardio, I wouldn’t wait around if I was him,” White said. “I’d stay active and stay busy. … When you talk s— like he talked this week, man you better come in and whup somebody’s ass.”
Blaydes (14-2, 1 NC) has won four straight. He has lost just twice in his career, both times to top UFC heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou. Blaydes, 28, has just one loss in his past 11 bouts. The former NJCAA national champion wrestler from the Chicago area is tied with Ngannou for the second-most UFC heavyweight wins since 2016 (9). Only Derrick Lewis has more (10).
Volkov (31-8) has dropped three of his past four bouts. The Russia native was on a six-fight winning streak prior to that and closing in on a title shot. Volkov, 31, is a former Bellator and M-1 heavyweight champion.