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Turning 43, UFC 249’s Aleksei Oleynik is unsure how long he’ll keep fighting

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The Russian heavyweight welcomes Fabricio Werdum back to the Octagon as part of the preliminary action on Saturday night.

UFC 246: Oleinik v Greene
Aleksei Oleynik defeats Maurice Greene
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

At this point in his career, Aleksei Oleynik is very much taking things one fight at a time.

Oleynik (58-13-1) has competed a staggering 72 times in professional MMA all over the globe in promotions such as M-1, Bellator and KSW. He made his debut in the sport during 1996, more than two decades ago, and has competed against some of the most recognisable names around. It will be Oleynik’s 43rd birthday next month, which is an age where many athletes have transitioned from fighting, but he has no concrete plans when it comes to stepping away from the cage.

“I don’t know how many fights I have left in me,” discussed Oleynik. “It’s all down to God. Nobody knows if this will be my last fight or if I will go on to compete ten more times. I don’t feel too bad physically and I try to fight whenever I’m in good condition. I’ve been working with guys like Junior Dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski and many others in the gym and I keep up with them. I’m still performing so I will fight and fight if that is the case.”

It is no secret that Oleynik likes to take the fight to the mat once the action begins due to his grappling acumen. He has finished 46 out of his 58 professional victories by submission which also led to his nickname of ‘The Boa Constrictor’. Among those wins, Oleynik has used less common techniques in high-level MMA such as Ezekiel chokes and scarf holds to get his hand raised. However, the submission specialist is aware that he can’t get complacent and must continue to adapt his own techniques in order to stay ahead of his opponents.

“Every fighter in the UFC is smart,” mentioned Oleynik. “They watch my fights and they try to work out the defense for many of my submissions. That’s why I change my technique a little bit fight by fight. If I only use the same technique again and again, people will figure out what I am doing and it won’t work for me more than a couple of times.”

Most fighters on the card for UFC 249 will acknowledge that their camps for this weekend’s upcoming show haven’t been what they are used to and Oleynik is no different. He has split his training between the gym with a limited number of sparring partners and his own backyard. The Russian admits that these changes mean he isn’t going into this fight as fully prepared as he usually is, but he still thinks he is ready and feels in good condition.

The 42-year-old is the man presented with the task of welcoming former UFC heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum, back to the company following a suspension from USADA on Saturday’s preliminary card. Werdum (23-8-1) returns to competition for the first time in two years since a knockout loss to Alexander Volkov but remains one of the biggest names in the division. Oleynik is excited at the prospect of facing another of the sport’s legends and is intrigued what will happen if the fight hits the canvas.

“My sensei told me years ago that the best fights for everybody are against the strongest opponents around,” explained Oleynik. “Whether or not you win or lose, facing the best fighters out there is a big deal. On the other hand, you don’t gain much from beating guys who aren’t very well known. I’ve had a long career and recently I’ve wanted to face the best all of the time. Its been an honour to challenge big names such as Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt and Travis Browne. I have lots of respect for these guys and I would definitely place Werdum alongside them. In my opinion, he is the biggest name in MMA when it comes to jiu-jitsu.”

“I don’t know how our ground games will match up,” continued Oleynik. “I’m thinking that Werdum will want to strike against me at first and then he will want to take me to the ground later. I will be prepared in both of those areas. Neither of us have a problem taking the fight to the ground. Nobody in the UFC has been able to submit Werdum and no one in the UFC has been able to submit me. I think this is very cool.”

The UFC 249 preliminary card can be seen live on BT Sport 1 at 1am BST very early on Sunday morning for viewers in the UK and Ireland. Fans in the US can tune in on ESPN from 6pmET/5pmCT on Saturday night.