Alistair Overeem might not move up the official UFC heavyweight rankings with his TKO win over Augusto Sakai and I doubt the 40-year-old will care much at all about that because the victory kept his hopes of earning a UFC title alive.
After his May win over Walt Harris, Overeem said he thought he had one more title run in him. The knockout of Sakai, which was the former Strikeforce and DREAM champs 25th career KO victory in 66 MMA bouts, showed he would not be a stepping stone for the 29-year-old Sakai.
After his TKO win, Overeem said he planned on taking a “little bit of a break” before he considered his next step toward another UFC title shot. He added that he could fight again before the end of 2020.
The victory put Overeem on a two-fight winning streak. During his UFC career, Overeem’s longest unbeaten stretch came between 2014 and 2016 when he put together a four-fight winning streak with three knockout victories. It was that run that earned him his first UFC title fight. Stipe Miocic knocked out Overeem in the first round of that September 2016 scrap.
Below are the winners and losers from the UFC Vegas 9 fight card.
Alistair Overeem: Overeem did not throw nearly as many significant strikes as Augusto Sakai on Saturday night, but the ones he threw found their target. Overeem finished the fight with a ridiculous significant strike landing rate of 80 percent. Meanwhile, Sakai, who was far more active, landed 57 percent of his significant strikes. More than half of Overeem’s landed significant strikes came after he went three-for-three in takedowns and opened things up on the ground. Overeem sprayed Sakai’s blood across the canvas in the fourth round with elbows and punches to the head. Those strikes left Sakai looking like he wanted to be elsewhere. When Overeem took the fight to the mat at the start of the fifth stanza, referee Herb Dean waved the fight off after Overeem landed just five strikes on the mat.
Overeem was calm and collected throughout the bout, even when Sakai sneaked some powerful punches through his high guard. It’s hard to believe that Overeem’s experience did not play a huge role in his win over the far less experienced Sakai.
Ovince Saint Preux: Saint Preux fought smart opposite the smaller Alonzo Menifield. Saint Preux was calm and relaxed throughout the bout. He used kicks to keep Menifield at bay, which left Menifield unable to use his power. Saint Preux kept throwing out long strikes until he forced Menifield to rush in and close the distance. When Menifield had no choice but to rush in, Saint Preux landed a nasty left while he was backing up. The strike left Menifield face down on the mat. Saint Preux did not need to follow things up. The stoppage gave Saint Preux 11 finishes in the UFC’s 205-pound division, which ties him for most finishes in the weight class with Glover Teixeira.
Michel Pereira: What a performance from Pereira. He put on a show, maybe a little less than he had in his earlier UFC fights, but he also showed that he is not someone to take lightly in the welterweight division. His movement was confounding, but it was his striking that was the most impressive thing about him on Saturday night. Pereira also did a nice job of using his energy wisely on his way to a third-round submission win. This was Pereira’s most impressive and complete performance in the UFC and he still delivered his trademark showmanship. A+ work.
Andre Muniz: Muniz spent a decent amount of time in the first round fighting off a takedown against the fence. When the time was right and he had some room, Muniz pulled guard and attempted a guillotine choke. Fabinski freed himself from that technique. Muniz then quickly transitioned from a triangle setup into an armbar, which brought an incredibly quick tap from Fabinski. Some very slick work on the ground from Muniz for the sub.
Brian Kelleher: Kelleher was on his third different opponent for UFC on Vegas 9 when he faced Ray Rodriguez on Saturday and he made it a quick night when he submitted Rodriguez in 39 seconds via guillotine choke. Rodriguez shot an ill-advised double-leg takedown in the early going and Kelleher pulled guard and got the tap with relative ease. Kelleher is now 3-1 in 2020 with three stoppage wins. After the win, Kelleher invited UFC commentator for a game of golf, which Cormier said would be a loss for Kelleher.
Viviane Araujo: Araujo looked very good on her way to a unanimous decision win over Montana De La Rosa. Araujo used leg kicks early to slow the movement of her opponent and did a good job of using her jab to bloody the nose of De La Rosa in the first stanza. Araujo was also quick to pick up on De La Rosa’s game plan of looking for counters and adjusted her own approach as required. The one thing Araujo should have done that she did not was keep up her attack of De La Rosa’s legs. She only threw one kick in the final five minutes of the fight.
Hunter Azure: Azure looked good in defeating Cole Smith in the opening fight of the seven-fight event. Azure used his wrestling skills for most of the bout. He caught Smith’s kicks for takedowns on more than one occasion and when he had Smith on the mat, Azure controlled the action. Azure used a nice calf kick to left-hand combo to put Smith on his butt early in the bout. Azure went five for eight in takedowns and landed his significant strikes at an impressive 75 percent clip, but his cardio seemed to fade late in the third round and that’s something to monitor.
Augusto Sakai: On Saturday, Sakai lost his first UFC fight. The 40-year-old Alistair Overeem taught the 29-year-old Sakai a lesson in the main event of UFC Vegas 9. With the loss and his first five-round contest under his belt, Sakai should have an idea about some things he needs to work on if he wants to climb the ladder to elite status in the heavyweight division. There’s no doubt Sakai is a talented striker, but he is still fairly green in the UFC. His loss to Overeem was just his fifth UFC fight. Sakai should rebound from this defeat and be better off for it.
Alonzo Menifield: The official stats showed Menifield had a four-inch reach deficit to Ovince Saint Preux, but it looked like it was much more than that. Menifield could not close the distance and when he did he was left face down on the canvas compliments of a Saint Preux counter
Zelim Idamaev: Idamaev drew a rough opponent on Saturday when he was matched up against Michel Pereira. Idamaev could not deal with the movement and striking of Pereira. He could not find an opening and by the time the fight was (questionably) stopped in the third stanza, Idamaev had connected on 25 percent of his significant strikes.
Bartosz Fabinski: The UFC commentary team of Jon Anik and Daniel Cormier seemed shocked that Fabinski went for a takedown early against Andre Muniz and in hindsight they were correct in their surprise. Fabinski did not have much to offer when the fight hit the mat and Muniz quickly submitted him via armbar.
Ray Rodriguez: Rodriguez accepted his fight against Brian Kelleher on very short notice. Perhaps Rodriguez didn’t read up on Kelleher who had six guillotine chokes ahead of UFC Vegas 9. Rodriguez shot a double and was quickly submitted to move Kelleher’s number of guillotine choke subs to seven.
Montana De La Rosa: De La Rosa’s game plan seemed to be to allow Viviane Araujo to control the octagon and look for counters. She had some success early, but Araujo quickly figured things out. De La Rosa did her best to stay in the fight, but she didn’t have many answers for the leg kicks and jabs of her opponent. De La Rosa hung in for the entire fight, but Araujo dominated the bout.
Cole Smith: Smith’s game plan was to keep Hunter Azure at distance with his kicks. He did that early, but that approach quickly became predictable and it allowed Azure to score some takedowns. Smith oddly wrestled in the second stanza, which played right into Smith’s hands. Smith’s cardio was impressive and that allowed him to threaten with a few choke attempts late in the fight, but Azure fought off those attempts.