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One to Watch: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Misha Cirkunov

With the light heavyweight division long needing fresh blood, two upcoming 205ers will slug it out on Sunday to determine who’s next to be considered in line for title contendership.

by Jake Hughes
May 26 2017, 7:05pm

The UFC returns to Sweden on Sunday with an event jam-packed with familiar faces from the European MMA circuit to cater for the local crowd. The show was initially reported to take place in the newly-opened Royal Arena in Copenhagen, Denmark, signalling the promotion's first trip to Sweden's Scandinavian neighbours. Alas, Stockholm's Ericsson Globe—host of one Conor McGregor's UFC debut—will instead play host for undisclosed reasons.

UFC Fight night: Gustafsson vs. Teixeira, otherwise known as UFC Fight Night 109, is headlined by a pivotal light heavyweight fight between perennial contenders Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira, with other fights featuring European talents such as Jack Hermansson, Peter Sobotta, Reza Madadi, Darren Till and Polish grappling wizard Marcin Held—a big name to be opening an otherwise lowkey fight card in his contest against Damir Hadzovic.

But there's another light heavyweight bout which will have sizeable implications in the UFC's famed weight class, as two 205ers of European origin in Volkan "Cousin" Oezdemir and Misha Cirkunov square off in the co-main event.

A 27-year-old relative unknown in the American combat sports scene, Oezdemir made a big impression in his UFC debut back in February. The Swiss fighter of Turkish origin took on former UFC title challenger Ovince Saint Preux in his inaugural Octagon appearance as a late replacement for Polish veteran Jan Blachowicz, who had suffered injury—a call-up so late notice Oezdemir was actually readying to weigh in for a fight for regional promotion Titan FC at the time of his UFC invitation.

With his crisp, technical kickboxing skills, Oezdemir handily beat up on OSP the first round and edged the second stanza as he quickly tired in the cage. Alongside his striking abilities, Oezdemir showed notable heart to push through some severe fatigue to secure a split decision over a top five UFC light heavyweight on his promotional debut—a first showing which would have been more dominant if it weren't for a faulty gas tank that night.

After beating OSP, Oezdemir moved straight to fifth in the UFC light heavyweight rankings upon making his debut. While impressive, this is very much emblematic of the drained talent pool at 205lbs.

While Oezdemir is providing some much-needed new blood in the UFC light heavyweight division, another figure has made quite the impression in the weight class less than two years into his tenure with the promotion. Latvian-born Canadian fighter Misha Cirkunov has finished all four of his UFC opponents inside three rounds since making his debut in August, 2015—Daniel Jolly was knocked out by Cirkunov, while Alex Nicholson, Ion Cutelaba and Nikita Krylov all suffered submission losses to the Toronto resident.

Despite his impressive run, fan-friendly fighting style and being part of a weight class lacking in depth, the UFC and Cirkunov had a long, publicised contract negotiation which had stalled so many times the Xtreme Couture fighter was looking for opportunities elsewhere. Thankfully, the two parties eventually came to an agreement in March, with Cirkunov signing a six-fight deal.

Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

Cirkunov hasn't fought since last December in light of those aforementioned contractual issues. In that time, seventh-ranked Cirkunov has seen newcomer Oezdemir pip him to a top-five spot in the rankings just one fight into his UFC tenure—something which certainly rankles a bit with the Canadian. "I think I put in way more blood, sweat and tears towards [a place in the rankings] at this point," Cirkunov told MMAjunkie.

"If I win, especially if I'm able to stop the fight, then I'm going to be riding a five-fight winning streak, and it's hard to argue I'm the guy to watch out for. I'm not just some random guy who got lucky once or twice. I'm somebody who comes in packing a lot of heat with a lot of skills. They should watch out for me as well, just like I watch out for them," he later added.

With the light heavyweight division stuck in a purgatorial state with top contenders consistently beating those below them but losing to champions Daniel Cormier or Jon Jones, it's important for the weight class to have a constant stream of fresh blood. Both Oezdemir and Cirkunov are the latest to embark on a journey to dismantle the division's hierarchy—victory over their opponent on Sunday will certainly set up a huge fight for either man as they continue their ascent up the ranks.

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