UFC Fight Night viewers guide: Near end of road, Alistair Overeem is still climbing

You can find tape of Alistair Overeem's professional MMA debut online if you want to see it -- although don't expect to watch it in high definition. It was Oct. 24, 1999. Overeem was 19 years old, and he fought a very muscular older opponent by the name of Ricardo Fyeet, aka "The Animal," in Haarlem, Netherlands.

When the opening bell sounded, Overeem's first action as a teenage professional fighter was a dead sprint across the ring into a flying knee.

The knee missed by about 5 feet, but looking back, what a fitting way to start what has become a storied career in MMA. More than two decades and 65 fights later, Overeem is 40 years old and on the cusp of retirement -- he's acknowledged many times recently that his career is nearly over -- but also potentially on the cusp of a UFC title shot.

Overeem (47-18, 1 NC) faces Alexander Volkov (32-8) in the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night at the Apex facility in Las Vegas. And just like that 19-year-old kid who went into his pro debut guns blazing (he would win the fight by first-round submission, by the way), Overeem remains fearless, confident and unmistakably optimistic.

Just 2½ years ago, Overeem was coming off back-to-back devastating losses to Curtis Blaydes and Francis Ngannou. It felt like an appropriate time to wonder how his career was going to end. And when Overeem chose to still talk about winning a title, it felt a little like delusion. It just didn't seem like that was still in the cards for him.

Ultimately, it might not be. Overeem came up short when he challenged Stipe Miocic in 2016, and time will tell if he can even make it back to a title fight.

But Overeem's willingness to fight anyone -- he has refused to cherry-pick highly ranked opponents, even at this stage of his career -- and his ability to still rack up big wins has him at least on the verge of the title picture. If he wins on Saturday, he could be just one more victory away.

It's rarely the case that a 40-year-old fighter can realistically discuss a pursuit of his first UFC championship and looming retirement at the exact same time. Overeem's self-titled #onefinalrun quest is certainly worth watching.

By the numbers

66: Career finishes by these two fighters combined. Overeem has had 42 finishes (25 knockouts, 17 submissions) in 47 wins. Volkov has had 24 finishes (21 KOs, 3 submissions) in 32 wins. A night off for the judges?

4: Seconds that stand between Overeem and a five-fight winning streak. In his December 2019 fight with Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Overeem was ahead on all three scorecards in Round 5 when Rozenstruik scored a one-punch knockout at 4:56 -- four seconds before the fight was scheduled to end.

5.22: Significant strikes landed per minute in the UFC by Volkov, the third-highest rate among active heavyweights, behind only Chase Sherman's 6.02 and Augusto Sakai's 5.27.

9: Knockouts in the UFC by Overeem, tying him for fourth most among heavyweights. The leader is Derrick Lewis, with 11. Overeem, aptly known as "the Demolition Man," has knockouts in his four most recent victories and seven of his last eight.

4-1: Volkov's UFC record as a betting favorite. He is the -190 favorite, with Overeem a +160 underdog (as of Tuesday).

Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats

Five vs. five

Alistair Overeem's most recent results
Win: Augusto Sakai (TKO5, Sept. 5, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Walt Harris (TKO2, May 16, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Jairzinho Rozenstruik (KO5, Dec. 5, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Aleksei Oleinik (TKO1, April 20, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Sergei Pavlovich (TKO2, Nov. 24, 2018)

Alexander Volkov's most recent results
Win: Walt Harris (TKO2, Oct. 24, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Curtis Blaydes (UD, June 20, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Greg Hardy (UD, Nov. 9, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Derrick Lewis (KO3, Oct. 6, 2018)
Win: Fabricio Werdum (KO4, March 17, 2018)

And the winner is ...

"This is going to be an extremely tactical chess match between two experienced fighters," says veteran MMA coach Din Thomas, a former UFC fighter. "The more tactical it is, I think it favors Overeem because he's fighting the best he's ever fought in his career."

UFC light heavyweight Anthony Smith envisions a different scenario. "I think we'll see a typical Volkov fight: stay long, attack the body and be super precise," says Smith, who serves as an analyst during UFC broadcasts. "I really love watching that guy strike."

Check out how these and other experts break down Saturday's heavyweight main event by going here.

How to watch the fights

Watch the fights on ESPN+. If you don't have ESPN+, get it here.

There's also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.

Saturday's fight card

ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Alistair Overeem vs. Alexander Volkov | Heavyweight
Cory Sandhagen vs. Frankie Edgar | Men's bantamweight
Michael Johnson vs. Clay Guida | Lightweight
Alexandre Pantoja vs. Manel Kape | Men's flyweight
Diego Ferreira vs. Beneil Dariush | Lightweight
ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Mike Rodriguez vs. Danilo Marques | Light heavyweight
Timur Valiev vs. Martin Day | Men's featherweight
Justin Jaynes vs. Devonte Smith | Catchweight (160 pounds)
Karol Rosa vs. Joselyne Edwards | Women's bantamweight
Molly McCann vs. Lara Procopio | Women's flyweight
Seungwoo Choi vs. Youssef Zalal | Men's featherweight
Ode' Osbourne vs. Jerome Rivera | Men's bantamweight

Four more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)

1. Frankie Edgar fights for the second time at bantamweight when he faces Cory Sandhagen in the co-main event as a 3-1 underdog. Edgar won his 135-pound debut against Pedro Munhoz in August, becoming the fourth fighter in UFC history to win fights at lightweight, featherweight and bantamweight. Edgar, Manvel Gamburyan, Lucas Martins and George Roop are among 13 fighters who have won in three UFC weight classes.

2. The main card opens with Diego Ferreira -- No. 10 in the ESPN lightweight rankings -- putting his six-fight winning streak on the line against Beneil Dariush, who has won five in a row. This is the sixth fight in UFC lightweight history in which both fighters enter on a streak of five or more wins, and the first since Khabib Nurmagomedov (nine straight wins at the time) became champ in 2018 by ending Al Iaquinta's streak at five in a row.

3. In the headline bout of the prelims, Clay Guida will become the eighth fighter in UFC history to have 30 fights in the Octagon when he faces 23-fight UFC veteran Michael Johnson. Their 52 combined fights will put them in a tie for the second-most combined fights entering a UFC matchup. The record is held by Guida along with Jim Miller (59 combined UFC fights entering their August 2019 bout).

4. Mike Rodriguez, who faces Danilo Marques, is returning to the Octagon for the first time since a controversial loss in September to Ed Herman -- in which the referee erroneously paused a fight Rodriguez appeared poised to win, believing there had been a groin strike. After recovering during the break, Herman ended up getting a submission win. Rodriguez is 2-3 with a no contest in the UFC, but he holds the light heavyweight record for highest striking accuracy (60.7%) and highest striking rate among active 205-pounders (5.28 per minute).

ESPN's Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight preview.