It wasn’t the main event the UFC had planned, but it’s one that should have greater implications for the future of the featherweight division, one of the promotion’s most competitive proving grounds.
Following Junior dos Santos’s withdrawal due to a bacterial infection from the originally scheduled heavyweight headliner between “Cigano” and Alexander Volkov, featherweight contenders Zabit Magomedsharipov and Calvin Kattar were promoted to close out UFC Moscow. Fortunately for the matchmakers, it’s a bout more than worthy of main event status.
Magomedsharipov entered the UFC with reputation of a monster, and he hasn’t disappointed, defeating his first five opponents, including a recent decision over veteran Jeremy Stephens. Then there’s Kattar, who’s earned knockout victories in three of his last four appearances.
Katar took one for the UFC when the matchup was moved from his native Massachusetts to Moscow – an easy commute for Magomedsharipov. An impressive performance on Saturday would vault him over the Dagestan native in the rankings and put him in prime position for a future title shot.
As for Volkov, he still has a place on the card thanks to Greg Hardy accepting a short-notice call. The ever-controversial ex-NFLer returns after yet another head-scratching bout three weeks ago, where a surefire win was overturned to a no contest for his use of an inhaler between rounds. Regardless, Hardy appears to have found a way to fall upward, and he could crack the top-10 with a win over Volkov.
In other main card action, prospects Zelim Imadaev and Khadis Ibragimov search for their first UFC wins when they face veterans Danny Roberts and Ed Herman, respectively. Welterweight Ramazan Emeev looks to improve to 4-0 in the Octagon with a victory over Anthony Rocco Martin, and recent PFL 2018 light heavyweight contender Shamil Gamzatov makes his UFC debut against Klidson Abreu.
What: UFC Moscow
Where: CSKA Arena in Moscow
When: Saturday, Nov. 9. The entire card will air on ESPN+, with the seven-fight preliminary card beginning at 11 a.m. ET and the six-fight main card starting at 2 p.m. ET.
Ever since Zabit Magomedsharipov went to a decision with Kyle Bochniak in April of last year, critics have questioned Magomedsharipov’s ability to close out a fight. In both the Bochniak fight and his recent win over Jeremy Stephens, Magomedsharipov appeared to fade in round three, and the theory is that if someone can drag him into deep waters, it will spell the end of his unbeaten run in the UFC.
Unfortunately, Saturday’s main event won’t be a five-rounder because it was promoted to headliner status on late notice. If fans were hoping to see Magomedsharipov’s mettle tested in the championship rounds, they’ll have to wait. The good news is that Calvin Kattar is more than capable of ending things early.
Kattar’s former “Boston Finisher” moniker seemed almost sarcastic as he debuted in the UFC two years ago on a lengthy run of decisions. But he’s proven his KO power with finishes of onetime title challenger Ricardo Lamas, Chris Fishgold, and Shane Burgos. There’s nothing fancy about what Kattar wants to do: He has an orthodox approach, good head movement, and quick hands. His solid balance will keep him from being thrown off by Magomedsharipov’s more exotic techniques, and he’ll tag Magomedsharipov enough times to keep the Dagestani fighter honest.
Where Magomedsharipov has a major advantage is in the wrestling department. He has the option of taking this one to the mat, or at least threaten with the takedown, and that will be enough to disrupt Kattar’s rhythm. Kattar is at his best when he’s able to close the distance and set up combinations, which Magomedsharipov won’t let him do.
Fighting his home country can only help and after a competitive first round, Magomedsharipov will snag a submission in round two to cement his status as a top-5 contender.
Let’s get this out of the way: Alexander Volkov is much, much better than Greg Hardy in every facet of martial arts. That said, this is MMA, and the better fighter doesn’t always win, especially when we’re dealing with heavyweights who can end things with one punch.
This is particularly true for Hardy, a rapidly developing prospect with speed and athleticism over most opponents. He’s still an unrefined striker, but he has the kind of power that can’t be taught, and that makes him a threat to turn Volkov’s lights out at any moment.
Other than that, this matchup favors Volkov. He knows how to use his range well, he can wrestle, and he’s no slouch when it comes to KOs either – 20 opponents met such a fate. Just his teep kick could to be a serious problem for Hardy.
One thing Volkov can’t do is get caught flat-footed, or with his head on stuck a line, because even a relative neophyte like Hardy can find his chin in that situation. Volkov will need to utilize his usual patience and precision to defuse Hardy.
The towering Russian has great finishing instincts, and I expect him to hurt Hardy late in the first or early in the second and seal the deal in business-like fashion.
Call this Danny Roberts’s shot at redemption after being stunned by the flashy Michel Pereira in his last outing. Zelim Imadaev is another skilled striker who loves to spin and win, so Roberts will have to show that he’s upped his defensive game to deal with unconventional tactics.
Roberts is a good boxer and a willing brawler, which is both a gift and a curse when dealing with someone like Imadaev. If he has success early, Roberts could open up as the fight goes on and invite Imadaev to trade with him. That’s the kind of strategy that will spell disaster for him, as Imadaev has a broader vocabulary on the feet, and Roberts is certainly susceptible to the knockout.
This is a potential showcase fight for Russia’s Imadaev, and I think he delivers the highlight-reel finish that the fans—and possibly the matchmakers—are hoping for.
Khadis Ibragimov’s first UFC fight against Da Un Jung was a major learning experience for him. Like a lot of prospects, he figured he’d just come out firing and blow out the competition like he had on the Russian MMA scene. Instead, he visibly gassed and dropped the second round before being submitted in the third.
Just 24 years old, it’s fair to assume that Ibragimov will make the necessary adjustments for his sophomore effort. If he hasn’t, he’s going to get a rude awakening from Ed Herman, a veteran of 22 UFC fights. “Short Fuse” can still go, though he’s unsurprisingly a step slower than he was in his prime, and his inactivity means it takes him a while to get out of the gates. Ibragimov can pounce early – he just has to be smarter about it this time.
The old Herman would probably look to get this to the ground early, but Ibragimov has the wrestling defense to keep this one standing. The speed advantage will be too much for Herman, and I see Ibragimov hurting him on the feet and finishing with a choke on the ground.
I’m liking Anthony Rocco Martin for the upset here in what could be a fun grappling matchup filled with scrappy scrambles on the mat. Ramazan Emeev loves to pressure, close the distance, and work from the clinch – an exhausting style.
Emeev is used to fighting with a deficit in reach, so getting past Martin’s range striking shouldn’t give him too many problems. What Martin does bring to this fight is a willingness to mix it up on the ground that previous Emeev foes like Alberto Mina and Sam Alvey either struggled with or avoided altogether. He’ll constantly be looking to attack with submissions, which will prevent Emeev from getting comfortable in top position.
Martin actually completing a submission will be difficults against Emeev, who hasn’t been made to tap out in a decade. But I think he’ll threaten enough on the ground and on the feet to score points with the judges and win a close decision.
Klidson Abreu hasn’t really had a chance to show off his ground game in the UFC and he probably won’t this weekend either as he faces Sambo specialist Shamil Gamzatov.
That grappling stalemate could end up being a good thing for those watching as neither man has been shy to mix it up on the feet when the takedown isn’t there. However, this scenario definitely favors the more technical Gamzatov as opposed to Abreu, who’s prone to winging heavy punches and not much else. Gamzatov will take his time finding the range and pick Abreu apart on the feet.
Even on the ground, it’s more likely that Gamzatov times takedowns and uses a conservative approach on the mat to snuff out Abreu’s offense before resetting the fight in the stand-up and getting back to work from there.
Gamzatov wins a comfortable decision.