After a short hiatus the UFC is back this weekend with a nice little fight card to get us ready for the summer run of stacked fights the UFC puts on every year. The main and co main event has been a little bit underwhelming on the fans in the lead up but they’re both interesting and have the chance to smash the low expectations they have right now. I’ll tell you what though we got a banging undercard this Saturday, filled with hyped prospects, short notice gangsters, and rising contenders. I got you covered on what hidden treats to pay attention to.
The Main Event
There’s going to be some more clarity to the heavyweight division after Saturday when #6 Jairzinho Rozenstruik takes on #9 Augusto Sakai. It’s a very competitive matchup and stylistically I have a lot of questions on how it will play out. Jairzinho a methodical precision kickboxer, while Sakai is a gritty pressure striker with solid jujitsu. Both coming off losses but still have promise and youth to make some noise. The winner will probably end up just outside the top 5 of the division and will have to wait to see how some of the heavyweight matchups and rumored title fight will play over the summer.
One of the biggest fighters to come out of Suriname right up there with kickboxing legend Tyrone Spong. “Bigi Boy” is putting his home country on the map for MMA. Coming from a background in kickboxing where he did most of his high-level training in Amsterdam. The Netherlands is probably the kickboxing capital of the world producing so many champions, the elite of the elite, and people traveling from around the world to find training there. Jairzinho put together a stellar kickboxing record of 76-8 with 64 knockouts, including high level opponents like Michael Duut, Jahfar Willis, Rodney Glunder, and even holds a knockout win over current Glory #2 heavyweight contender Benjamin Adegbuyi. Jairzinho made his debut in MMA in 2012 but didn’t fully commit till 2017. Going 6-0 with 5 knockouts around the world in Russia, Aruba, Japan, and his home Suriname before getting a call to the UFC. Making his promotion debut against Junior Albini in 2019 where he finished Junior with 4 punches and ended it with a head kick. His next fight he picked up a 9 second knockout with the first jab he threw against Allen Crowder. The UFC gave him a step up in competition when he faced former champ Andrei Arlovski and Jairzinho floored him 30 seconds into the first round with a beautiful left hook. This earned him his first main event against division great Alistair Overeem where Jairzinho was down arguably 4 rounds to 1 when he pulled off the hail mary overhand right to stop Alistair with 4 seconds left in the fifth round. Jairzinho then ran into some bad luck where he was stopped by the current champion Francis Ngannou, bounced back with a knockout over former champion Junior Dos Santos, then was outclassed for 5 rounds against hyped prospect Cyril Gane. This weekend is a crossroads for Jairzinho to see whether he can still hang with the elite of the division. When he’s on its crisp kickboxing with tremendous power, awkward angles, and setups. If he can regain some of the confidence he had going into the Ngnannou fight, he can still do some damage to the division.
Augusto is a great dance partner for the main event Saturday. The man is very unassuming compared to his fight style. A 6’4”, 260lb man with a giant noggin. You’d think he’d just be another slow, plotting, flat footed heavyweight but surprisingly he has good foot work, light on his feet, and has good speed. The Brazilian has come a very long way and is finishing up paying his dues for the sport. Debuting at 20 years old in 2011, quickly racking up 4 knockouts in his hometown of Curitiba before taking the leap to major American promotion Bellator. Going 4-1-1 in the promotion with his sole loss being a razor thin split decision to UFC veteran Cheick Kongo. Shortly after Augusto earned a UFC contract when he scored a second-round knockout on the Contender Series. He made his UFC debut in February 2018 against scrappy striker Chase Sherman where Augusto beat him pillar to post for two and half rounds before stopping him in the third round. What does the UFC do when they want to test a heavyweight prospect? Feed them Andrei Arlovski, Augusto edged out a close decision over the former champion. He went to face Marcin Tybura where he put on one of his best performances. Started the fight, got Marcin against the fence, got the single collar clinch, spammed left hooks to the temple and crumpled Marcin less than a minute into the first round. Looking like a fight you’d see in a hockey game. The competition got steeper when he faced former PFL heavyweight champion and Sambo specialist Blagoy Ivanov. Augusto edged out another close decision over the tough Bulgarian. At this point being 4-0 in the UFC he earned his first main event against top 5 litmus test Alistair Overeem. Now Augusto did lose this fight and got finished in the fifth, but it was one of his better showings in the promotion. He gave Overeem all he could handle for 20 mins. Improved cardio, smart pressure and volume, and showed his nasty clinch game to make it a dog fight. At 30 years old and with the experience he already has, this could be a showcase fight for Augusto. If he’s made the needed improvements to his defense this could be a coming out party for him to put his stamp on the division.
Variables of the fight
This is a very winnable fight for both sides so it’s tough to call how its going to play out. It’s matter of who’s going to make it their fight. For Jairzinho he can’t be tentative like he’s been the past 2 fights. His last fight with Cyril Gane he seemed to lack the confidence in his striking against another slick kickboxer, Augusto is a bit of a stepdown in the technical and tactical departments compared to Gane. This could take some pressure off Jairzinho so if he can get over this mental hump and establish his power and speed early, I think it’ll slow down Augusto’s offense and Jairzinho could control the pace to his liking. For Augusto it’s to mix it up, it could be competitive for him to just stand and kickbox with Jairzinho but that wouldn’t be the easiest path to victory. Make it a MMA fight, use some of that clinch work against the fence, mix up a takedown once in a while, and get some use out of the BJJ brown belt. Making Jairzinho defend the grappling and beating him up in the clinch will make the striking engagements much easier for Augusto. Jairzinho could end the fight at any moment but I feel Augusto will control most of this fight.
The Co-main Event
We got a fun heavyweight co-main with #8 Walt Harris taking on #11 Marcin Tybura, this has gas station slug fest written all over it. Both gentlemen are strikers with Walt having more of an emphasis on speed and power, while Marcin is more about volume and pressure. I think this will be a good candidate for fight of the night.
Walt Harris is the epitome of live by the sword die by the sword. In 15 fights with the UFC Walt has only been to a decision 3 times. When it comes to striking Walt’s one of the most athletic heavyweights in the division, lightning combinations with solid power to make them deadly. The man has a fantastic highlight reel, there’s so much to choose from. His 12 second KO over Aleksei Oleinik where he flatlined him with a straight right off a flying knee to the body. His finish over promising prospect Sergey Spivak where he trapped him against the cage and lit him up with a 10-strike combo filled with punches and knees. My favorite Walt Harris performance his when he smoked Chase Sherman where he smoked him with a 4-punch combo mixing a knee to the head in the middle of it, looking like a debt collector coming to receive his payment. Is Walt the most well-rounded fighter? No, but this man has shown flashes of finishing greatness. Yes, Walt’s coming off a tough skid of losses to Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov, but those two guys are cream of the crop. When Walt is confident, he’s a nightmare to be in there with.
Walt’s got his hands full with Marcin though. Marcin is nimble kickboxer with a well-rounded skillset who’s been through the ringer in his MMA career. From going through the Polish regional circuit, to winning the heavyweight title in major Russian promotion M-1 Global. To be getting tossed to the deep end in the UFC quickly. Fighting guys like Derrick Lewis, Stefan Struve, former champs Fabricio Werdum, and Andrei Alovski. I love when fighters bounce back from hard stumbles. Marcin was at a point where he was lost 4 out his last 5 then goes back to the drawing board and puts together his best streak in the UFC. Four wins in a row including tough prospect Sergey Spivak, grizzled Russian veteran Maxim Grishin. An absolute dog fight with Ben Rothwell, where he out struck and pressured one of the biggest come forward zombies in the division. His last fight with Greg Hardy was really his showcase though. Where Marcin weathered a rough storm of power shorts for a round and a half from the much bigger Hardy, Marcin gassed out him out took him down and drowned him with punches to become the first man to finish Hardy. At age 35 and after 11 UFC fights Marcin is finally getting his feet under him. If he wins Saturday it’d extend his streak to 5 which would be one the longest active win streaks in the division, so it’d open some doors for him.
This is a similar stylistic matchup to the main event. It’s up to Marcin for how hard he wants this fight to be. Take a risk and strike with Walt to make a statement and the excitement or play it safe and exploit the holes in Walt’s grappling. I could see Marcin taking Walt down the first rounds to drain some of that explosiveness off Walt and cruise late in the fight with his long-range kicks. He must be careful though because he carried this same game plan against Derrick Lewis and got finished late in the third. For Walt he must be first in the exchanges, set the tone with his speed and combinations. Discourage Marcin to grapple with knees and uppercuts mixed into his striking, and lastly make Marcin go backwards. Its rare fighters are as effective fighting backwards than they are coming forward. Marcin has been finished before, so Walt has a great chance to upset this contender’s newfound success.
Can’t miss fights
A fight that is guaranteed fireworks is a 170lb fight between Miguel Baeza and Santiago Ponzinibbio. Miguel only 3-0 in the UFC but all three have been electric, finishing his opponent with leg kicks in his debut, coming out on top of a back and forth battle with an all-time savage Matt Brown, and his most recent win was an arm triangle sub over Japanese power puncher Takashi Sato. He’s got the biggest fight of his career with Ponzinibbio. Santiago looking to bounce back after a rough knockout loss to Li Jingliang but it was his first fight after a two and a half year layoff. Before that he was one of the biggest tears in the division, a 7-fight win streak including great wins over Neil Magny, Mike Perry, Gunnar Nelson, Nordine Taleb, and Court McGee. When he’s on it’s pressure boxing with mean low kicks. Both guys have very similar styles so it’s going to be fun to see what the outcome is.
Another intriguing fight is another 170lb fight between Francisco Trinaldo and Muslim Salikhov. The winner of this could be a new contender. Salikhov is an interesting character. Coming from a background in Sanda a Chinese style of kickboxing. This man is one of the best Sanda practitioners to ever do it. Medaling 10 times in world championships for the martial art, 7 of those being gold. The man has a kickboxing record of 185-13 and an MMA record of 17-2, this man is the real deal Holyfield. Multiple spinning hook and back kick KOs to get him in the UFC and now has been sleeping everybody with his hands. He’s facing his most experienced opponent yet with Trinaldo. “Massaranduba” still going strong at 42 years old with a UFC record of 16-6. The Brazilian powerhouse being forced to move up to 170lbs after missing weight his last fight. This should be a highly competitive fight with Trinaldo’s back against the wall and Salikhov looking to break into the top 15.
There’s a little French woman named Manon Fiorot that is flying under everyone’s radar. Her debut back in January had my jaw on the floor when she put a striking clinic on her opponent, precise boxing, mixing her punches and kicks together beautifully, and showed great killer instinct finishing with a lead head kick off a lead hook which takes a sophisticated striker. She has a short notice opponent Tabatha Ricci filling in on less than weeks’ notice who has a high level BJJ background, so it’ll be interesting to see how Manon deals with a style change and if we have a new prospect at 125lbs.
Another prospect on this card I’m hyped for is Jordan Leavitt who will be taking on Claudio Puelles in a lightweight bout. Leavitt coming off a fantastic debut where he earned a brutal slam knockout over crafty veteran Matt Wiman who then proceeded to celebrate with splits and a swan lift with his coaches straight out of Dirty Dancing. That’s all I needed to see, I’m in. Leavitt is a fantastic grappler who has very thorough technique with Puelles also being a very solid grappler I think there will be some fun exchanges. This will be a great test to see how excited we should be for Leavitt.
Fights with potential
Mason Jones vs Alan Patrick at 155lbs is very intriguing. Jones was double champ at the major UK promotion Cage Warriors and is coming off a tooth and nail war with Mike Davis back in January. Jones has an endless motor with great pressure. Patrick is a great measuring stick to see Mason’s ceiling. It’s the lightweight division, when does it disappoint?
Sean Woodson vs Youssef Zalaal at 145lbs is a great prospect vs prospect type of fight. Zalaal a kickboxer with a great footwork looking to end a two-fight losing skid. Woodson also looking to redeem himself after losing his last fight by submission where he was winning most of the fight. Woodson is the biggest featherweight I’ve ever seen at 6’2 with 79” reach and uses his size tremendously. An absolute sniper with his straight punches, sharp knees that he doesn’t have to jump to reach his target, and a nasty jab as well. If he can iron out some of the wrinkles in his grappling, he could be someone to keep your eye on in the future.