Initially Volkov was slated to headline this week’s return to Moscow opposite former champion Junior Dos Santos, but when “Cigano” came down with an illness and was forced from the matchup, Hardy stepped up to create an arguably more intriguing heavyweight clash.
The towering Russian is a Top 10 fixture and proven commodity in the big boy division, sporting victories over veteran stalwarts like Timothy Johnson, Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve, as well as a fourth-round finish of former champ Fabricio Werdum. Last time out, Volkov was seconds away from a seventh consecutive victory and potentially punching his ticket to a title shot when he got clipped and finished by Derrick Lewis at UFC 229.
He hasn’t fought since and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact that result and the subsequent time off had on the 31-year-old fighter.
Hardy has been one of the most active fighters on the roster this year, his first in the UFC, as this will be his fifth appearance in 2019 and second fight in less than a month. It has been an up-and-down rookie campaign for the former NFL defensive end, who has shown flashes of potential, but can’t seem to avoid controversy or intense criticism.
Many have longed to see the heavyweight novice take a step up in competition and now Hardy is bypassing a series of bouts with the heavyweight middle class to jump into the Octagon with one of the best in the world. It’s a high risk, high reward proposition for the American Top Team representative, especially just 18 months into his pro career, but it should provide a clear picture of where he fits in the heavyweight ranks going forward.