The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday touched down in Russia for the second time in seven months, as over 7,000 fans packed into the Yubileyny Sports Palace in St. Petersburg to witness a heavyweight main event that saw former Dream and Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem face off with deadly grappler Alexey Oleynik. Though Oleynik enjoyed some early success, softened up “The Reem” with looping shots and poured on the pressure in the clinch, Overeem fought smart and found his openings, earning a TKO in the first round and ostensibly putting himself within striking distance of a second shot at the UFC heavyweight title.
Below the UFC Fight Night 149 heavyweight anchor, there were plenty of entrées to whet fans’ appetites, with cult hero Roxanne Modafferi scoring a major upset over Antonina Shevchenko, Sergei Pavlovich taking out Marcelo Golm in 66 seconds and Magomed Mustafaev earning a scintillating spinning back kick TKO in his first fight in more than two years.
As usual, “The Vanquished” focuses on the main card losers and who they should be matched with next. Let’s dive in.
Alexey Oleynik vs. Justin Willis: Oleynik jumped at the opportunity to headline the UFC’s second visit to Russia, bailing on his scheduled scrap with Walt Harris at UFC Fight Night 150 on May 4 to replace Alexander Volkov on two weeks’ notice. For about two minutes, it looked like the right decision, as “The Boa Constrictor” landed early and often on Overeem and put “The Demolition Man” on unsteady legs with an overhand right against the fence. Despite a smorgasbord of shovel punches to Overeem’s midsection in a follow-up assault, Overeem defended well and began firing off knees down the middle, eventually catching Oleynik and finishing the fight via ground-and-pound at 4:45 of the opening stanza. With Oleynik’s two-fight winning streak snapped, the 41-year-old should next fight Willis, a rising contender who caught his first “L” against Curtis Blaydes in March.
Arman Tsarukyan vs. Devonte Smith: The 22-year old Tsarukyan was signed by the UFC less than a month out from his debut opposite rising lightweight star Islam Makhachev, and he ultimately lost a gutsy unanimous decision in their co-headliner. A hefty underdog who was expected by many to be victimized early in the bout, Tsarukyan was tenacious from pillar to post and walked away with an additional $50,000 for his part in the “Fight of the Night.” The UFC would be wise to match Tsarukyan with Smith, who improved to 10-1 with 10 stoppages in his win over Dong Hyun Ma at UFC 234.
Marcelo Golm vs. Dmitriy Sosnovskiy: Golm lost his third UFC bout in a row and met his end just 66 seconds into his clash with Russia’s Pavlovich. Though he is likely in pink-slip territory -- the promotion has an unofficial three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy for its lesser-known commodities -- the UFC may give him a fourth and final chance on account of the relative shallowness of the heavyweight division and Golm’s status as a finisher. If the organization does show mercy, a pairing between the Brazilian and the 29-year old Sosnovskiy, who won his UFC debut with a second-round submission of Mark Godbeer in March, would provide fireworks.
Antonina Shevchenko vs. Mara Romero Borella: The undefeated Shevchenko walked into her sophomore Octagon appearance as better than a 3-to-1 favorite over Modafferi but lost a thrilling back-and-forth scrap on the scorecards. The older sister of incumbent flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, “La Pantera” has big shoes to fill and not that much time to fill them. She turns 35 in November. Shevchenko should next face fellow Top 15 prospect Borella, who returned to the win column with a split decision over Taila Santos in February.
Alen Amedovski vs. Charles Byrd: The Macedonia-born Amedovski was put in a tough position in St. Petersburg, where he put his undefeated record on the line in a short-notice debut opposite Krzysztof Jotko. Though Amedovski offered some resistance in the first round, earned a scramble at the midway point of the bout and landed some hard elbows and punches from inside guard, the last two rounds were all Jotko, with the Pole cruising to a unanimous decision courtesy of his smothering grapple-heavy offense. Amedovski, who has fought just five times in the last four years, will almost certainly get an opportunity to redeem himself, and ideally it would come against an opponent with a similar amount of high-level experience. Byrd fits that bill, as he has tallied a 1-2 record in the Octagon since earning a contract via Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.