Preview: UFC Fight Night 189 ‘Rozenstruik vs. Sakai’ - Rozenstruik vs. Sakai

By: Tom Feely
Jun 4, 2021

The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns from a week off with a weak card on paper. The promotion tends to rely on heavyweights in main event assignments, but the UFC Fight Night 189 headliner between Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Augusto Sakai seems like a bit of a stretch, given that neither man has much momentum and the style matchup fails to whet the appetite. However, these kinds of cards often exceed expectations and entertain in practice, so this could lead to a fun night of fights if everything breaks right. If nothing else, the welterweight clash between Santiago Ponzinibbio and Miguel Baeza figures to provide some guaranteed action.

Now to the preview for the UFC Fight Night 189 main card:

Heavyweights

#6 HW | Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-2, 5-2 UFC) vs. #9 HW | Augusto Sakai (15-2-1, 4-1 UFC)

ODDS: Rozenstruik (-130), Sakai (+110)

Rozenstruik was one of the breakout fighters of 2019, as Suriname’s “Bigi Boy” started the year outside the UFC and ended it as one of the promotion’s top heavyweight contenders. The first round of Rozenstruik’s Octagon tenure did not go particularly well, but he knocked out Junior Albini within a minute of the second frame and went on a charge from there, blasting Allen Crowder and Andrei Arlovski in a combined 38 seconds. That earned Rozenstruik his first UFC main event against Alistair Overeem, which resulted in a mixed bag of a fight. Overeem exposed a lot of weaknesses in Rozenstruik’s game—namely his willingness to stay flat-footed and inactive while waiting to land a big counter—until the Surinamese standout turned a sure loss into a sudden victory, springing into action and scoring a knockout with just four seconds left in the bout. Rozenstruik mostly held serve in 2020, getting steamrolled by Francis Ngannou before rebounding with a win over Junior dos Santos, but February’s loss to Ciryl Gane feels like it greatly hurt his stock. There was no shame in losing to Gane, but Rozenstruik’s inactivity reached new highs—or lows, depending on your perspective. Gane had the ability to stay cautious and slowly pick apart the American Top Team rep from range, and Rozenstruik just never sought to press the issue. While it was an impressively smart performance for Gane, Rozenstruik came out looking all the worse for coasting to a loss in one of the most interminable fights of the year. Nevertheless, all it takes at heavyweight is one spectacular knockout to win over hearts and minds once again, and Rozenstruik will be hunting for just such a finish against Sakai.

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Brazil’s Sakai looks well-positioned to be a relevant heavyweight for years to come, as he is already in the UFC’s Top 10 at only 30 years of age. However, it is still surprising that the UFC appears to be looking at him as an established main eventer. Despite his considerable size, Sakai falls more on the high-volume and low-power sides of the spectrum at heavyweight, which leads to a relative lack of suspense and danger in his fights when compared to his divisional colleagues. His September 2019 win over Marcin Tybura—a shocking 59-second knockout—provided some hope that Sakai could turn the corner and become a reliable finisher, but his next bout against Blagoy Ivanov was another decision. Sakai’s last performance, a main event loss against Overeem, raised some concerns about him as a championship-level fighter in the short term; faced with 25 minutes with which to work, Sakai started off well with his volume-heavy game before tiring badly in the championship rounds, at which point Overeem was able to score a late finish. As a heavyweight both young for the division and obviously fighting his way into better shape, time is on Sakai’s side, but he could badly use a win here to reward the UFC’s apparent faith in him.

This fight has essentially the same breakdown as most of Rozenstruik’s fights. His opponent is the better fighter in a vacuum, but Rozenstruik himself might just be the better heavyweight. Sakai should be able to win rounds early based solely on volume, and in fact, it would be somewhat surprising to see Rozenstruik win a round in which he does not just knock out the Brazilian. However, even as Sakai finds success, whether it is in a medium-paced striking battle or by taking Rozenstruik to the clinch or the mat, the Overeem fight shows that he will eventually tire before the final horn. As a result, Sakai will be there to be hit. It then becomes a question of Rozenstruik steeling himself enough to spring into action and score a knockout. One hopes that Rozenstruik will be a bit more consciously aggressive after his last performance, and if nothing else, Gane’s combination of frame and physical tools are about the complete opposite of what Sakai presents. One worry—both for Rozenstruik and the entertainment value of this bout—is that Sakai is the one who overcompensates for his last fight and looks to conserve his gas tank, which could turn this into an absolutely terrible slow-paced coinflip that does neither man any favors. Despite Sakai having a more coherent style, heavyweight bouts usually come down to some combination of power and durability, both of which favor Rozenstruik. The pick is Rozenstruik via fourth-round knockout.

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