Ever since Francis Ngannou defeated Ciryl Gane to end the ongoing debate about who is the best heavyweight in the UFC, the conversation has shifted to who his next opponent should be. As the title holder, Ngannou has looked invincible at times and he is as formidable a champion as the organization has ever known. However, like any champion, the public’s interest in him revolves around his ability and willingness to defend his belt. There are many challengers who would like a shot at defeating the current King of the Hill; Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik are two names near the top of the list…
What’s at Stake
Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik are set to be the main event of the evening on June 4th, at the Apex Center in Las Vegas. This is a showdown of two of the top ten fighters in the heavyweight division. Generally, when two top ten fighters in any division lock horns, the winner is catapulted into the top five when the next week’s rankings are released. This is a fact that is in the back of the minds of every member of Volkov’s and Rozenstruik’s respective camps. Win one more fight, and enter the top five. If the fan support is loud enough, any top five fighter can be granted a title shot; it doesn’t always immediately fall to the number one contender.
As a Black belt in Tsu Shin Gen, who also holds Brown belt certifications in Karate and Jiu-Jitsu, Alexander Volkov is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the UFC. He is both an elite grappler and a seasoned striker. His combination of size, power and agility have helped him earn his spot as the 7th ranked fighter in the division.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik is a former kickboxer with 85 professional bouts under his belt. His combination of powerful strikes and well-timed kicks, which often land on his opponents’ jaw, have made him a force to be reckoned with. His place as the eighth best fighter in the division could easily improve with another impressive performance. Both men have earned their way into the top ten; now each wants to take the next step into truly elite status.Embed from Getty Images
Both Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik know what it’s like to be crowned a champion. Each man has worn the championship belt before; however, neither man has been able to accomplish the feat since joining the UFC. In December of 2012, Volkov won the vacant heavyweight championship in rival organization, Bellator, when he defeated Rich Halle by unanimous decision. Unfortunately, he lost his very first title defense and has not been crowned a champion since that night.
In May of 2016, Rozenstruik won the EEN World Heavyweight Kickboxing Championship. However, he left the organization immediately after being crowned the champion and never defended his belt. He went on to win several more kickboxing tournaments but has never obtained the prestigious moniker of “champion” since relinquishing his belt all those years ago.
While neither man has been granted a title shot since joining the UFC, they both know what it’s like to perform in big moments and underneath the bright lights. They both know that a victory at UFC Vegas 56 could result in a matchup with Francis Ngannou; both men are prepared to perform against the best in the world at a sold out arena for the heavyweight title, if given the opportunity.
Looking for Momentum
Although each of these warriors is among the best in the heavyweight division, they’ve each run into recent obstacles in their quest for the title. Volkov lost in disappointing fashion when he was submitted by Tom Aspinall in an armbar during the first round of their match in March of this year. Rozenstruik lost a unanimous decision to Curtis Blaydes in September of last year at UFC 266.
Each man has suffered defeat in two out of their last three fights; however, they each lost to ranked opponents and neither man turned in a performance devoid of good moments. The fact that they were beaten by other members of the top fifteen does not nullify their place among the best in the world. It only goes to show that no one is exempt from defeat in the world of combat sports. In any given matchup, it could be your opponent’s night to shine.
Alexander Volkov was born in the Soviet Union, during the cold war. His entry into this world occurred just a few months after the release of Rocky IV, making his nickname of “Drago” all the more appropriate. He does not hail from a rich family, and was forced to carve out a niche for himself in regional circuits in Eastern Europe before finally making his way onto the UFC’s roster.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik emerged from a poor family in South American Suriname. Being an Afro-Latino man from a family with very little money made his chances of obtaining his dreams in life slim to none. Yet, after years of toiling in different regions throughout South America, he finally made his way onto the UFC’s roster.
Volkov and Rozenstruik may come from different parts of the globe, but their rags to riches story is one that should resonate with audiences worldwide.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan who cares about the future of the heavyweight division, Volkov versus Rozenstruik is not a fight you’ll want to miss. Each of these men is worthy of their high ranking, and each of them will undoubtedly be prepared for the moment. Neither man has been given anything on a silver platter; they’ve earned absolutely everything that they have. Needless to say, they will both lay it all on the line when they climb into the octagon to face one another on June 4th at the Apex Center.
UFC Vegas 56 can be viewed on BT Sport in the United Kingdom and on ESPN Plus in the United States. As always, we’ll have all the latest updates about the outcomes of the fights, as well as in depth analysis available right here at World in Sport!