Jairzinho Rozenstruik picked up a big win, and perhaps more importantly, appears to have gotten his mojo back.
In UFC Fight Night 189’s heavyweight headliner on Saturday, Rozenstruik stalked Augusto Sakai for most of the first frame before crushing him with a left-right combination in the closing seconds, spurring referee Herb Dean into action and ending the fight at 4:59 of the round. In so doing, “Bigi Boy” put his tepid, tentative-looking loss to Ciryl Gane earlier this year in the rear view and reminded us just how abruptly he can put a man’s lights out.
The question going forward is how to match up the 33-year-old kickboxer, who has come up short against Top 5 fighters in Gane and current champ Francis Ngannou, but has finished everyone else he has faced in the Octagon. Of course, plenty of other fighters made statements on Saturday night and need a next step forward as well. In the wake of “UFC Vegas 28,” here are some matches that ought to be made:
Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Marcin Tybura: In Saturday’s co-main event, Tybura weathered some heavy artillery from Walt Harris before turning the tables, exposing Harris’ poor defensive wrestling on the way to a first-round TKO on the ground. The victory is Tybura’s fifth straight, tying him with Gane and Ngannou for the longest active streak in the UFC. However, Tybura has fought just about everyone within shouting distance of the rankings in his 14-bout run — including both halves of the upcoming Alexey Oleynik – Sergey Spivak fight — making it tricky to find him fresh, competitively appropriate matchups. Pairing Rozenstruik with Tybura provides the 35-year-old Pole a well-deserved step up, while giving Rozenstruik a possible opportunity to demonstrate that his takedown defense has improved since his UFC debut a little over two years ago.
Roman Dolidze vs. Jordan Wright: Dolidze notched his first win at middleweight, grinding out a clinch-heavy 15 minutes of work against Laureano Staropoli. While the fight likely didn’t win the 32-year-old Georgian any new fans, it did serve as a successful proof-of-concept for his inexplicable drop to 185 pounds, as he displayed a trimmed-down version of his previously burly physique, and more than enough cardio to win the final round. “The Beverly Hills Ninja,” who blew out Jamie Pickett at UFC 262 three weeks ago, finds himself in a similar place; while he is 2-1 in the UFC, he has beaten two fighters who have a single Octagon win between them. Both Wright and Dolidze are out of the immediate woods but still have plenty to prove.
Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Belal Muhammad–Demian Maia winner: “The Argentine Dagger” shone in Saturday’s “Fight of the Night,” enduring a rough first round against Miguel Baeza before turning things around in the second and third to hand the previously undefeated prospect his first career loss. It was a win on several levels for Ponzinibbio. First, the amazing fight, which is an early frontrunner for “Fight of the Year,” reminded us why he became such a fan favorite during his 2016-2018 run. Second, it helped wash away the bitter taste of his comeback fight against Jingliang Li, while indicating that Ponzinibbio might still be a Top 10-quality welterweight. The winner of Muhammad and Maia, who duke it out next week at UFC 263, would provide an appropriate next test for the resurgent Ponzinibbio. Or, if Maia wins and then retires in the cage, call up Vicente Luque – and pencil them in for another $50,000 apiece.
Gregory Rodrigues vs. Wellington Turman–Bruno Silva winner: “Robocop” made his UFC debut in style, taking a surprisingly one-sided decision over Dusko Todorovic on Saturday’s main card. The performance was extremely impressive, especially considering that Rodrigues took the bout on just 10 days’ notice, barely three weeks since knocking out Josh Fremd to win the Legacy Fighting Alliance middleweight title. That would seem to put to bed any questions about the muscular Brazilian’s ability to make weight, and leaves us to speculate about future matchups. Considering that Rodrigues has fought three times in under three months, there is certainly the possibility that he will want a bit more of a layoff, but if he is interested in a “normal” turnaround, Turman and Silva meet in two weeks at UFC on ESPN 25. Whoever emerges victorious from that scrap would be a fine next test for Rodrigues.
Montana De La Rosa vs. Miranda Maverick–Maycee Barber winner: De La Rosa made a strong statement in her bout with former KSW flyweight champ Ariane Lipski at UFC Fight Night 189, holding her own in the striking exchanges, then ragdolling the Brazilian, busting her up with elbows and punches on the canvas for a second-round TKO victory. The 26-year-old still appears to be improving, shoring up her kickboxing while making good use of her grappling skills and physical advantages. In the wide-open, challenger-starved UFC flyweight division, it would be unfortunate if she ascended to title contention too quickly. Like De La Rosa, Maverick and Barber are very young prospects who could use more reps — and in the case of Barber, need to bounce back from some setbacks. The winner of their meeting at UFC on ESPN 27 next month would be a great next matchup for her.