Russian heavyweight Alexander Volkov saw off a gutsy Greg Hardy to claim a unanimous decision victory in their heavyweight co-main event at UFC Moscow.
Volkov took a sweep of the judges’ scorecards 30-27 after doing the cleaner work against a game but limited Hardy, although the American will have impressed many with his performance against a man of vastly superior experience.
Hardy knew he was taking a major step up in quality in facing Volkov, a 10-year pro who was in heavyweight title contention before being spectacularly knocked out by Derrick Lewis at UFC 229 last October.
In contrast to Volkov’s year-long hiatus since that bout, controverisal former NFL star Hardy was stepping into the octagon for the fifth time in 2019, and less than a month since his decision win over Ben Sosoli was ruled a no contest due to his use of an inhaler between rounds.
Hardy was called into action again so soon as a late replacement for Volkov’s originally scheduled opponent, Junior dos Santos, who pulled out of the Moscow event due to a leg infection.
Amid a fiercely partisan atmosphere at CSKA Arena in the Russian capital on Saturday night, Volkov went straight to work with his kickboxing while Hardy appeared content to bite down and throw the big shots.
Volkov began to add his jab to the mix as the opening round wore on, although Hardy stood firm, planting his feet and landing a big left toward the end of the round that let the giant Russian know he would not get things all his own way.
Volkov kept his distance at the start of the second, perhaps wary as a result of the crunching left from Hardy. The Russian pressed the pace amid chants from the crowd but Hardy landed a big right hand midway through the round to remind him of his potent punching threat.
‘Drago’ continued to do the tidier work, landing with a sharp left hand that rocked a tiring Hardy momentarily toward the end of the second stanza.
Hardy went out swinging at the start of the third, waving Volkov forward in a show of bravura. Volkov stayed out of trouble, landing with his jab and low and high kicks as he ground down Hardy.
The Russian landed with punches but still the gutsy Hardy came forward, already surpassing the expectations of many against the vastly more experienced man.
As the bout went to the cards Volkov was the clear winner, although ‘Prince of War’ Hardy will have done his prospects and reputation no harm with his efforts in Russia, particularly given the short notice at which he took the fight.
Volkov’s victory moves him to a 31-7 overall record and gets him back to winning ways as he seeks to reinsert himself in the heavyweight title frame.
Hardy heads home beaten for the second time in his short career, but far from disgraced after his performance.