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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 28: Heavyweights dominate the top of the card

Get the lowdown on the the main card action of this weekend’s UFC card, topped by KO artist Jairzinho Rozenstruik looking to get on track against the durable Augusto Sakai.

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Jairzinho Rozenstruik before his fight with Cyril Gane at UFC Vegas 20
Jairzinho Rozenstruik before his fight with Cyril Gane at UFC Vegas 20
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Not only would you be completely forgiven for not being very excited about this weekend’s UFC Vegas 28 card, you’d be joining a huge club. It isn’t necessarily that Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Augusto Sakai is a terrible fight, but no one wants to potentially see it go five rounds. We’ve seen what Rozenstruik can do over five rounds and it tends to induce the changing of the channel in an age when there is no shortage of options. Throw in the co-main event is another heavyweight contest – the weight class that tends to put on the most stinkers – and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see those viewers tune out even before it gets to the main event. Before I crap anymore on this card, it should be noted that Rozenstruik and Walt Harris – one of the co-main event participants – are well-established KO artists and the undercard doesn’t look too shabby from an entertainment standpoint. Unfortunately, it’s typically the top of the card that is the only thing people tend to remember.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Augusto Sakai, Heavyweight

You wouldn’t know Rozenstruik is 1-1 in UFC main events given the stench that permeates from his reputation in five round fights. That’s because he scored a KO of Alistair Overeem in the closing seconds of his first main event, but the second main event went the same as the first, just without the late finish: a lot of inactivity as he looked for the perfect opportunity to counter. Rozenstruik is a technical striker with plenty of power, but he needs to find ways to create those opportunities if they aren’t appearing on their own. Otherwise, his appearance on cards will be reviled.

Fortunately for Rozenstruik, Sakai is likely to give him plenty of opportunities. A volume striker whose gas tank belies his doughy appearance, Sakai operates most of the time in the clinch and pocket. He does have fast hands, putting together lengthy punching combinations, but lacks the one-punch power that tends to dominate the top of the heavyweight division. He tends to be active in the clinch too, but has been reversed too easily in those quarters for it to be considered a reliable workspace for him.

Some would consider Sakai’s ground game to be a positive – he does have a black belt in BJJ – but it has largely been a moot point during his UFC run as his wrestling has made itself sparse. If it’s ever going to make an appearance, now would be the time as Rozenstruik offers zero offense from a grappling standpoint, only looking to utilize any sort of wrestling to keep the fight standing. My guess: the ground doesn’t even come into play at all in this contest.

If Rozenstruik continues to fight the same way, this is a very winnable fight for Sakai. The problem for Sakai is this is an incredibly winnable fight for Rozenstruik if the Sakai continues to fight the way he has. Sakai is no defensive savant and Rozenstruik knows he needs to step up his output if he wants to remain a relevant figure. It’s hard to believe Rozenstruik will be as passive as he has in recent contests, even if it just means an uptick in his low kicks. Those are hard enough it could wear on Sakai’s base and create the opening Rozenstruik needs. I think that’s the most likely scenario. Rozenstruik via KO of RD3

Walt Harris vs. Marcin Tybura, Heavyweight

As much as I don’t want to touch on it, there is always going to be the question of how much the kidnapping and murder of his daughter weighs on Harris, at the very least until he can get the first win under his belt since the tragic incident. Harris was clearly pressing against Alistair Overeem, his emotions weighing heavily in his return. He did take a more reserved approach when he was in there with Alexander Volkov, but some would argue it was too reserved. A happy medium is needed for Harris to be at his best, but that is easier said than done.

Regardless, Harris has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most dangerous strikers in the division. His well-reputed athleticism doesn’t appear to have diminished as he approaches his 38th birthday and he’s gained some craft as a striker, better recognizing holes in his opponent’s defense to exploit. His wrestling has developed into one of the stronger aspects of his game, but it’s mostly used to keep the fight vertical as his grappling has been much maligned, deservedly so.

That’s great news for Tybura… provided the Pole can get Harris to the mat. Early on that could prove to be a problem given Harris’ strong takedown defense. However, Harris also has been notoriously quick to tire himself out, leaving himself wide open for both Tybura’s volume boxing and takedowns. Tybura isn’t a particularly heavy hitter, but his athleticism has caught some by surprise, most having forgotten about his head kick KO of Viktor Pesta. Could he pull off something like that on an exhausted Harris? It wouldn’t surprise me, but Tybura’s fundamentally sound grappling seems more likely to come into play.

What this comes down to is whether Harris can catch Tybura early. All but two of Harris’ wins have come in the first round and he’s never technically won a decision. Harris struggled with Volkov’s length as he’s used to being the taller and longer fighter and he is once again against Tybura. However, the kicker that has me picking Harris for the upset is Tybura’s shaky chin. He was rocked by Greg Hardy and Harris’ killer instinct is superior to Hardy. Some would argue Tybura survived Hardy’s onslaught, but he’s had his chin cracked too many times for me to trust he’d survive a similar assault again. Harris via KO of RD1

Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Miguel Baeza, Welterweight

Just one loss following a seven-fight win streak and everyone seems ready to write off former top ten mainstay Ponzinibbio. Of course, there’s more to the story than just Ponzinibbio losing a fight. The Argentinian returned to the Octagon in January after a plethora of injuries and illnesses kept him away for over two years, looking like a shell of the man who decimated Neil Magny in his previous appearance. Against Magny, Ponzinibbio used a lot of lateral movement to find his angles of attack, but not before battering Magny’s legs with a barrage of heavy kicks. In Ponzinibbio’s return against Li Jingliang, he appeared to be a shell of himself. The movement was missing and he was reluctant to throw anything. Is Ponzinibbio done?

It would be easy to assume he’s finished based on his fight with Jingliang, but it’s common for fighters to be rusty following a long layoff. Some would argue Ponzinibbio’s experience (31 career fights) and age (34) is enough to say he’s on the backside of his career and I’d tend to agree with them. However, Ponzinibbio’s precision and power – two things that tend to hang around until the end of one’s career – were near the top of the line just a few years ago. If can shake off the rust and just approach his former self, he’s going to be more than just a handful.

Of course, the same could be said of Baeza. Similar to Ponzinibbio in that he likes to batter his opponent’s legs to open them up to his counters, the 28-year old prospect fights with a wisdom that belies his experience. He doesn’t panic, not even when under severe fire, and never forces the issue, only taking what his opponent gives him. As with any youngster, there are holes in his defense that can be exposed – a creaky Matt Brown did so on several occasions – but Baeza continues to fill in more of those holes with every subsequent contest.

This contest boils down almost exclusively to how Ponzinibbio will look. If he resembles anything like the fighter that went on a long tear prior to his Jingliang fight, it will prove to be a case of too much, too soon for Baeza. But if all the injuries and illnesses that kept him sidelined for so long have permanently hampered him, it’ll be hard to see him being a relevant figure in the welterweight division ever again. I’ve gone back-and-forth a lot on this one, but I’m going with Ponzinibbio as I don’t like how Baeza reacts to pressure and pressure is Ponzinibbio’s bread and butter. Ponzinibbio via TKO of RD2

  • Roman Dolidze is crazy. I understand all fighters are a little nuts – you have to be to perform in their profession – but even fighters look at Dolidze like he’s a lunatic. While lunacy does tend to bite fighters in the ass at some point, it usually comes a way down the road – think Diego Sanchez – and Dolidze is still early enough in his career that it’s generally something that belongs in the positive checklist for the native of Georgia. Though he’s a decorated grappler, Dolidze has had no problem standing and trading with more skilled strikers, in part because Dolidze isn’t short on power himself. However, it’ll be a shocker if the former light heavyweight doesn’t look to take Laureano Staropoli to the mat given he’s going to have a HUGE size advantage on the former welterweight. Staropoli is a durable and skilled striker with a penchant for spinning attacks, giving him an excellent chance to outwork Dolidze should the fight remain standing, perhaps even knock him out given Dolidze’s chin is there to be touched up. But Staropoli’s takedown defense has been shaky fighting at 170 against opponents who typically don’t look for the takedown. Dolidze isn’t a great wrestler either, but he is strong and has good timing when he does look for the takedown. If Dolidze’s coaches have been able to get through to him, he should have a clear-cut road to victory. Dolidze via submission of RD2
  • If he can fix his defensive issues, there’s no reason to believe Dusko Todorovic won’t become a big deal in the middleweight division. Not that there aren’t other issues the Serb needs to shore up, but he’s found workarounds for those. Todorovic’s gas tank and power had already been established, pushing an insane pace on his way to outworking his opponent. What has been questionable has been his wrestling, securing takedowns at a dismal rate which takes away what most would say is his best weapon: his ground and pound. Todorovic has somewhat minimized that by regularly fighting in the clinch and controlling his opponent against the cage, but he needs the takedowns to maximize his potential. Besides, Gregory Rodrigues would be more than happy to fight things out in the clinch. The Brazilian is a massive 185er whose grappling is his bread and butter, utilizing trips to get the top position. However, much like Todorovic, Rodrigues has also struggled to get the fight to the mat. Despite that, Rodrigues has developed into a precision power striker, picking his spots well to land a powerful cross or a kick to the body to immediately swing the momentum in his favor if not outright put an end to the fight. Given Todorovic has paid no mind to defense – as already stated, a glaring hole the youngster needs to begin addressing – it isn’t insane to believe the newcomer can pull an upset out of his sleeve. Unfortunately, I think the short notice hurts him too much and Todorovic overwhelms him with volume late. Todorovic via TKO of RD3
  • About five years ago, everyone was in a consensus that Tom Breese was going to be a very big deal by this point. Instead, anxiety issues held the former welterweight back from reaching the heights predicted. While Breese has worked hard to get his anxiety under control – there was a period of time when many believed his career was over – it can flare up when Breese makes a mistake, getting in his own head and mentally submitting. If Breese can avoid beating himself, he has a fantastic jab and is one of the better submission grapplers in the middleweight division. Breese’s wrestling is another story – officially, he hasn’t secured a single takedown in eight UFC contests – but Antonio Arroyo’s takedown defense has been abysmal enough that there’s reason to believe Breese won’t have issues getting the Brazilian to the mat. Arroyo is a skilled striker with an underrated ground game. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to maximize his potential due to a hesitancy to let his fists go – perhaps out of fear of being taken down – and spending too much time on his back. Arroyo has the skill set to finish off Breese, but his poor fight IQ makes him impossible to depend on, even against the mentally fragile Breese. Breese via submission of RD1