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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday touched down in Russia for the second time in its history. UFC Fight Night 149 was headlined by prolific heavyweight veterans in Alistair Overeem and Alexey Oleynik, while also featuring plenty of Eastern European talent to excite the home crowd at the Yubileyny Sports Complex in St. Petersburg.
Best known for his submission prowess, Oleynik took the fight to the former K-1 World Grand Prix winner and did so with clubbing blows on the feet. The American Top Team member backed up Overeem with an overhand right and followed with barrage of various punches in a bid to force a stoppage. The former Strikeforce champion remained calm, responded by securing the clinch and battered Oleynik with brutal knees to the body and head until the 41-year-old Russian was no longer standing. Overeem closed the deal with ground-and-pound.
“He’s a very tough guy,” Overeem said at the post-fight press conference. “He makes war. You are going to have to be able to pull the trigger. I do know my knees are dangerous. I do know that you can’t just absorb them. You can’t just do that. I knew I should keep throwing them until something happens.”
Overeem has effectively rebounded from consecutive losses to Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes, as he has recorded back-to-back first-round finishes against Oleynik and Sergei Pavlovich. He credits a recent move to the Elevation Fight Team in Denver for his latest successes.
“I think I have [mentally improved],” Overeem told the ESPN+ post-fight show. “Shout out to my team: Team Elevation. They’re doing a great job in the last two fights getting me to fight shape, prepping me. There is a great chemistry in the team. If I had not switched camps, I would have been retired. The new energy, the new chemistry has been great. I see great things ahead of me.”
Overeem now owns a 10-6 record in the UFC, including wins over former champions Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Junior dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski and Fabricio Werdum. Despite all his accomplishments -- he has captured titles in K-1, Strikeforce and Dream -- UFC gold continues to elude him.
“It would be the crown of my career,” Overeem said. “We are going for it. I’m dedicated to it. Let’s see what happens.”
The state of the heavyweight division could best be described as foggy. Reigning champion Daniel Cormier wants a showdown with Lesnar, while former titleholder Stipe Miocic, the winner of the forthcoming dos Santos-Ngannou clash and the aforementioned Blaydes all have strong arguments to be considered the No. 1 contender. As a result, Overeem has focused his attention on former Bellator MMA and M-1 Global champion Alexander Volkov, his original opponent at UFC Fight Night 149.
“I am still looking forward to that fight,” Overeem said. “I was very prepared to fight Alexander Volkov. I was looking forward to that fight. That fight did not happen tonight, but hopefully the next UFC fight will be Alexander Volkov. [In] September, I want to be back. I’m going to take a couple of weeks off. I have been kind of non-stop the last eight months. I will take some weeks off but not too many because my fight can happen anytime.”
NO KHABIB, NO PROBLEM
While fans and media in Russia undoubtedly would have welcomed current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s presence on the UFC Fight Night 149 bill, a suspension for his role in a post-fight melee with Conor McGregor’s camp made it impossible. They instead settled for the next best thing: teammate Islam Makhachev.
Makhachev improved to 17-1 with a unanimous decision over Arman Tsarukyan in the co-main event. The Dagestani lightweight’s talents have impressed a number of analysts and retired fighters, Dan Hardy and Rashad Evans among them. They believe Makhachev could develop into a more polished version of Nurmagomedov. Even though he extended his winning streak to five fights, the 27-year-old believes his performance left much to be desired.
“I’m not satisfied with my victory,” Makhachev said at the post-fight press conference. “I thought it would be easier to win. I think I have to work harder on my recovery.”
Nurmagomedov saw it as a case of his teammate being too hard on himself. He credited Tsarukyan’s efforts, as the 22-year-old Armenian made a strong first impression in his promotional debut.
“I think it was a good performance [from Makhachev],” Nurmagomedov said. “It was a very good opponent. The guy only had one fight in the UFC. This was his debut, but I think he is a very good fighter. I think in his next fight, [Tsarukyan] will show this. Islam is not feeling very good right now, but most important is he got the win. Today he won and showed a very good performance. The crowd loves his fight. Next fight I think he should fight a Top 15-[ranked fighter].”
Makhachev’s lone defeat came to Adriano Martins back in October 2015. Since that setback, the American Kickboxing Academy product has taken down Tsarukyan, Chris Wade, Nik Lentz, Gleison Tibau and Kajan Johnson. Makhachev wants to get back in the cage as soon as possible.
“To be honest, I am angry with myself,” he said. “I didn’t show all the strengths that I have. All fighters are strong in their own way. I don’t decide who to fight. If I could choose who to fight, I would choose from the Top 5 [rankings].”
A POLE ON THE RISE
Polish fighter Michal Oleksiejczuk has started creating some buzz for himself, as he stopped Gadzhimurad Antigulov via knockout in just 44 seconds on the undercard. If it was not for a win over Khalil Rountree being changed to a no-contest due to his failing a United States Anti-Doping Agency test, the light heavyweight would be 3-0 in the UFC. Regardless, the 24-year-old Oleksiejczuk finds himself on the brink of the Top 10 at 205 pounds and hopes to face a previously scheduled opponent in the not-too-distant future.
“I want to fight Ion Cutelaba next,” Oleksiejczuk said. “That was the opponent that I was scheduled for my debut fight [at UFC 217], but it didn’t happen.”
Cutelaba has been booked opposite Glover Teixeira at UFC Fight Night 150 this Saturday in Sunrise, Florida. “The Hulk” will enter the Octagon on a two-fight winning streak.
“I’m ready to fight him,” Oleksiejczuk said. “I hope that fight happens next.”