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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday in Washington, D.C., will return from a rare three-week layoff, and UFC on ESPN 7 provides a fun appetizer for the stacked UFC 245 event right behind it. There is a surprising lack of local representation -- Sodiq Yusuff, Ryan Hall and Angela Hill all seemed like obvious inclusions -- but the main card manages to thread the needle between interesting prospects and relative star power. Rising contenders in the women’s divisions will sort themselves out; there are two bantamweight bangers; and as always when the UFC has no other ideas, the promotion trots out the heavyweights. Add in a solid undercard, and this is one of the better non-pay-per-view shows in recent memory.
Now to the UFC on ESPN 7 “Overeem vs. Rozenstruik” preview:
HeavyweightsAlistair Overeem (45-17) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (9-0)
ODDS: Overeem (-125), Rozenstruik (+105)
Overeem has had over 60 fights and been in the fight game for over two decades, but he is still standing as he settles into the latest phase of his career. He entered worldwide prominence back in the glory days of Pride Fighting Championships, where the reedy Dutchman earned a reputation as a talented kickboxer, even if he could never quite get over the hump to the divisional elite. Shortly after Pride folded, Overeem gained 20 pounds or so of muscle seemingly overnight -- he unsuspiciously attributed the gain to eating horse meat -- and started the defining run of his career, as he dominated opponent after opponent, won the Strikeforce heavyweight championship and moved over to kickboxing to win the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix for good measure. The 2011 campaign saw Overeem make his long-awaited UFC debut and run through Brock Lesnar, setting up a title fight against Junior dos Santos. However, things went south shortly thereafter. Overeem failed a drug test and spent all of 2012 on the shelf. Upon his return, Overeem’s frame and confidence were deflated, and it looked like his career was permanently hitting the skids. He would often start his fights well enough, only to quickly flag, at which point things would turn against him, inevitably ending in a knockout defeat. Over the last five years, Overeem has shockingly reinvented himself, adopting a more conservative style and protecting his suspect chin while still throwing enough power to get the job done. He would have been an unlikely candidate to outlast most of his peers, but while he has struggled against the best of this most recent wave of heavyweights -- Curtis Blaydes and Francis Ngannou both scored one-sided wins at his expense -- he is firmly atop the mountain of the many heavyweight veterans who have been around as long as he has in MMA. Overeem is obviously diminishing physically, but his dominating 2018 win over Sergei Pavlovich showed that it still takes more than youth to upend “The Demolition Man.” After dispatching Alexey Oleynik in a main event slot in April, Overeem is back on headlining duty here, as he looks to spoil Rozenstruik’s breakout 2019 run.
Suriname’s Rozenstruik came out of nowhere to become a going concern in the UFC’s heavyweight division, as he was more or less off the radar outside of a 2018 undercard appearance in Rizin Fighting Federation. In a division in need of new blood, he was as good a flier as any for the UFC to take, even if the early returns in his debut against Junior Albini were not that great. Albini mostly outwrestled and outgrappled Rozenstruik for five minutes, but since then, it has been off to the races for “Bigi Boy,” as the rest of his UFC career has lasted about a minute and a half. Come the second round, Rozenstruik quickly blitzed and knocked out Albini, while Allen Crowder and Andrei Arlovski subsequently fell in a combined 38 seconds, earning the undefeated prospect this late-notice main event slot. Rozenstruik has a distinctly heavyweight resume thus far: He has not shown much besides his knockout power, but he has also proven about all he can without facing the upper tier of the division. Now is the time.
There is not much to break down with Rozenstruik, particularly since he looks so limited as a fighter based on what we have seen thus far. He is perfectly capable of ending this with one punch and may not even have to try hard to do so; the shot with which he put down Crowder did not even seem particularly loaded. However, Crowder and Arlovski were both trying to press the action against Rozenstruik and left themselves open in the process; Overeem should take a much more patient approach. Rozenstruik may be able to blitz in, rock Overeem early and finish things in a similar manner as he did to Albini, but it is difficult not to see things going downhill as soon as Overeem can get him to the clinch or onto the mat. Overeem has historically shown a willingness to wrestle or make things ugly when the situation calls for it, and unlike Albini, the Dutchman has also shown a crushing top game that should be able to end things in fairly short order. As with most heavyweight fights, picking this is a fool’s errand, but the call is for Overeem to stay patient, feel things out and eventually end the fight via second-round stoppage.
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