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The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s approach to Russia has been a bit underwhelming, to say the least. Given that it was one of the last major markets for the UFC to break into, its debut in the country figured to be a big deal, but instead, it was a minor affair out of Moscow headlined by Alexey Oleynik. The promotion on Saturday moves to St. Petersburg with UFC Fight Night 149 -- a minor affair headlined by Oleynik. There are still some interesting prospects on this card, but a lack of immediate relevance and a baffling bout order brings down the excitement level. Still, the earlier start time should make this a breezy watch for those who care to tune in.
Now to the preview for UFC Fight Night 149:
HeavyweightsAlistair Overeem (44-17) vs. Alexey Oleynik (57-11-1)
ODDS: Overeem (-245), Oleynik (+205)
It was a bit odd that the UFC’s debut in Russia was headlined by Oleynik and that he was not booked on this card, but after a late injury to Alexander Volkov, balance has been restored and “The Boa Constrictor” once again gets a main event slot. Signed by the UFC well into his 30s as the promotion focused on international expansion, Oleynik figured to be a fascinating piece of roster depth but not a contender; his style is a strange mix of power hooks and unorthodox chokes, which figured to have diminishing returns against better opposition. Instead, Oleynik has been surprisingly potent during his UFC tenure, as he has been an IQ test that opponents have been all too willing to fail. Somehow, he has managed to score both the first and second Ezekiel chokes in UFC history. Outside of a narrow loss to Daniel Omielanczuk when the Russian submission ace was coming off of major knee surgery, the only thing that has stopped Oleynik thus far is the powerful wrestling game of Curtis Blaydes. Oleynik was even able to club and sub Mark Hunt within a round to announce himself as a bona fide heavyweight contender. Oleynik can further that case even more here against another Pride Fighting Championships veteran and kickboxer, as he takes on Overeem.
Overeem’s career is now firmly in something like its fifth life, though the Dutchman has finally started seeing the effects of age in the last few years. After drug testing robbed Overeem of his ability to be an overwhelming powerhouse, he did well to completely change his style, shifting from aggression to a more passive kickboxing game that even mixed in some wrestling. That kept Overeem’s chin out of trouble, and despite the additional caution, he still managed to score finishes over Junior dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski to earn himself a title shot at Stipe Miocic. After losing that fight, Overeem still seemed to be hanging on as the best of the fading veterans after wins over Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum, but his next two fights were rude awakenings. First came a highlight-reel knockout loss to Francis Ngannou in one of the most frightening finishes in recent memory. Overeem then had little to offer Blaydes, who beat him to a bloody pulp before stopping him with elbows in the third round. While Overeem cannot hang with the up-and-coming athletes at heavyweight, a one-sided win over prospect Sergei Pavlovich in November was a reminder that he is still pretty good. Who knows? With a win over Oleynik, another run to a title shot may be in the cards since heavyweights never truly fall out of contention.
This is a bit more interesting than Volkov would have been, as Overeem just figured to win a kickboxing match against the former Bellator MMA champion. Oleynik will at least look to wrestle a bit, but he may not have much more success than Volkov would have had in terms of the overall fight. Again, Oleynik is essentially an IQ test, so even if he is successful in initiating clinches or trying to take things to the mat, Overeem is a smart enough fighter that he should not make any of the mistakes that “The Boa Constrictor” typically exploits. Beyond that, Oleynik has the fight to that point, and a lot of this should be Overeem successfully picking apart his wild striking game. Overeem’s shaky chin should keep the tension going, at least until Oleynik gasses, but outside of a surprise knockout blow, this is the Dutchman’s fight to lose. The pick is Overeem via decision.
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