It has been a busy start to 2021 at the top of the UFC’s heavyweight division. The hectic pace continues this weekend when third-ranked Jairzinho “Bigi Boy” Rozenstruik clashes with undefeated French contender Ciryl Gane in the headliner of UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs. Gane.
Both fighters made their last respective appearance against Junior dos Santos, and they each earned a TKO win over the former champion. Rozenstruik used the fight to bounce back from his lone professional loss. Meanwhile, Gane improved his professional record to 7-0 with the victory.
These guys are finishers and have only had one fight each that went to the judges’ scorecards. They have kickboxing backgrounds, but it is Rozenstruik who had the most illustrious career in that discipline, where he amassed a record of 76-8-1 and won multiple world titles. He has utilized those kickboxing skills as a mixed martial artist en route to 10 knockout wins. Meanwhile, Gane has shown more well-rounded finishing skills, with three stoppages via strikes and three victories by way of submission.
The co-headliner showcases the light-heavyweight division, where Nikita Krylov takes on Magomed Ankalaev. Krylov is in the middle of his second run with the UFC, and he has alternated wins and losses in his four fights since rejoining the promotion. Ankalaev is riding a five-fight winning streak and has lost just once in his career, which came via a last-second submission from Paul Craig in 2018. Krylov holds the No. 8 spot in the rankings, while Ankalaev resides at No. 11. The winner of this showdown will cement their place firmly inside the division’s top 10.
The women’s flyweight division plays host to a fight between Montana De La Rosa and Maya Bueno Silva. The three-time high school wrestling All-American De La Rosa will have her work cut out for her in the grappling department, as Silva has picked up submissions in five of her seven wins.
The rematch between Pedro Munhoz and Jimmie Rivera also lands on Saturday’s main card this weekend. The lineup also received a late addition that pits Maryland native Angela Hill against Dan Henderson pupil Ashley Yoder in a women’s strawweight bout. Kevin “The Hard Hitting Hillbilly” Croom, whose UFC debut went from a 31-second submission win to a no-contest following a positive drug test for marijuana, once again attempts to turn in his first UFC win when he clashes with Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres, who has rattled off three straight wins since his submission loss to Kron Gracie.
UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs. Gane will be held in a fan-free environment inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Feb. 27. The action gets underway at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+ with the preliminary card. The main card follows at 8 p.m. ET, also on ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik has only suffered one pro MMA loss, which came in just 20 seconds against Francis Ngannou. What tools does his upcoming opponent, Ciryl Gane, have at his disposal to become the second man to stop Rozenstruik?
Sumian: This represents one of the most compelling heavyweight match-ups the UFC could have orchestrated in the early half of 2021. The duo has combined for nine impressive wins since joining the company, and they have undoubtedly established themselves as potential title challengers.
After establishing a 3-0 pro record outside the UFC, the Muay Thai veteran Gane made his Octagon debut against Raphael Pessoa and secured a first-round submission to prove that he is far more than just a decorated striker. The Frenchman then added impressive wins over Don’Tale Mayes and Tanner Boser. He spent most of 2020 lingering on the sideline while waiting for an opportunity to further showcase his ever-improving skills.
That opportunity finally came in the form of Junior dos Santos at UFC 256. Gane secured a devastating elbow knockout over the former champ and launched himself into the UFC heavyweight top 10. He is a towering 6-foot-4 and boasts an impressive 81-inch reach to accompany his powerful and intimidating frame. He has shown an ability to mix it up both on the feet and ground.
It could be said that Gane is in an extremely similar position to what Rozenstruik faced when he met the aforementioned former title challenger Ngannou at UFC 249. Suriname’s Rozenstruik was fresh off a 4-0 start to his UFC campaign. It appeared as if he would prove to be a worthy opponent for the power and dominance of Ngannou. Unfortunately, he was blitzed by Ngannou and finished early. This derailed his well-earned hype train.
Instead of crumbling under the devastating defeat, Rozenstruik remained true to his goal of becoming a top contender and took on dos Santos at UFC 252. He showed incredible patience against the former champ as he calmly circled and waited for the opportunity to strike. . In round two, he stalked dos Santos before faking a jab and landing a precise left uppercut and overhand right combo that dropped the Brazilian.
Rozenstruik, who is now 5-1 in the UFC, is a dangerous opponent for anyone in the division due to his incredible power, ever-improving game, and growing confidence. He heads into his second headliner with the organization on Saturday. This bout might very well determine the next opponent for Derrick Lewis, with the winner earning a title shot once the dust settles between Stipe Miocic, Ngannou and Jon Jones.
Gane’s strategy should revolve around constantly sticking and moving as Rozenstruik advances patiently and waits to land a heavy shot. Using a combination of jabs, leg kicks, and front kicks to the body will pay dividends for Gane, who will undoubtedly look to slow down his heavier and more powerful counterpart. Rozenstruik will need to avoid Gane’s long strikes and counter with a variety of uppercuts and hooks.
Rozenstruik is an extremely dangerous heavyweight, but Gane certainly has the skill set to negate his foe’s power and kickboxing. This will be an extremely close fight in which both heavyweight combatants have their moments. However, after a back-and-forth brawl, Gane will have his hand raised by way of unanimous decision.
Petela: This one has all the makings of an instant classic. Rozenstruik and Gane are both wildly athletic big men whose kickboxing prowess has largely been the driving force in their MMA success. One mistake by either man could bring this fight to a violent end.
We have seen Rozenstruik commit such a mistake, and it cost him in his fight with Ngannou. Instead of moving his head or taking an angled step to avoid Ngannou’s fists, “Bigi Boy” opted to move straight backward with his chin exposed. All it took was one monstrous punch and he was knocked out.
That error came in the opening seconds against Ngannou, who was bulldozing forward with reckless abandon. France’s Gane is not that type of fighter. He instead prefers to utilize a more traditionally technical fashion, with the classic high guard of a Muay Thai fighter. It’s a style for which Rozenstruik, who spent over eight years as a professional kickboxer, can more easily prepare. The Surinamese fighter is used to fighting elite heavyweights who have a similar classic stance and style. This will make Rozenstruik more comfortable exchanging strikes with Gane than he was against Ngannou.
This time, it will be Gane who winds up making a mistake that leads to his first loss. There is no doubt that Rozenstruik is the toughest test of Gane’s career — much more dangerous than the version of dos Santos that he last faced. It will be a frustrating fight for the Frenchman, who will find his opponent taking few risks while seemingly content to exchange heavy blows only once or twice a round. This won’t make for the most entertaining fight.
It only takes one shot from Rozenstruik to floor an opponent. He is most dangerous when he knows that he might be letting the fight slip away round by round. Just like he did against Alistair Overeem, Rozenstruik will come hard-charging late in the fight and catch Gane off balance. He’ll end the fight in the blink of an eye.
The supporting lineup of this show puts an emphasis on light-heavyweight up-and-comers. Nikita Krylov clashes with Magomed Ankalaev, Dustin Jacoby tangles with Maxim Grishin, and Alonzo Menifield meets William Knight. Who impresses and who disappoints?
Petela: Jacoby will have a performance to remember. After picking up a win on Dana White’s Contender Series, he made a successful return to the UFC with a first-round TKO of Justin Ledet that came in large part due to leg kicks. He looks leaps and bounds better as a fighter than he did in his first UFC tenure and certainly better than he did in his recent stint with Bellator. Grishin will not shy away from a kickboxing match with Jacoby, but Jacoby will shine. He will pick up a second consecutive stoppage victory and show fans of this era that he is a far better mixed martial artist than the guy who went 0-2 with the UFC nearly a decade ago.
Menifield will be this weekend’s disappointment. He was off to a blistering start with the company after winning his first two fights and putting together a pro record of 9-0. However, he has since dropped two straight and was knocked out in his last bout with Ovince St. Preux. Menifield is running into a hard-hitting Knight, who happens to be on a three-fight winning streak that includes a victory in his UFC debut. Knight will continue to build momentum at the once-promising Legacy Fight Alliance veteran’s expense.
Sumian: Ankalaev will without a doubt impress. He heads into seventh UFC appearance this weekend when he tangles with Krylov. After losing his Octagon debut to Paul Craig via submission, Ankalaev has quietly established himself as one of the most versatile and notable light-heavyweight prospects. The Dagestani fighter has rattled off five straight wins at the expense of Marcin Prachnio, Klidson Abreu, Dalcha Lungiambula and Ion Cutelaba (twice). He’ll turn in another dominant performance when he scores a TKO of Krylov in the second round.
Krylov will be this weeknd’s disappointment among these men. If he suffers a stoppage loss, it will drop him to 4-3 in his second UFC run. The Ukrainian has shown signs of brilliance throughout his career, which include wins over Walt Harris, Fabio Maldonado, Ovince St. Preux and Johnny Walker. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have what it takes to elevate himself to the next level. He will once again be derailed by a superior opponent on Saturday.
Ronnie Lawrence and Marcelo Rojo — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: Despite generally being bullish on UFC debuts, neither of these fighters seem too promising.
Lawrence has compiled a 6-1 record, with wins in both the LFA and Bellator. However, he is still fairly green. It will take a UFC win to bring any real value to his name. He faces a very tough Vince Cachero, whose last few performances are not true reflections of his talent and potential.
Rojo comes in with a 16-6 record outside the UFC. He’s had several impressive winning streaks in the past. However, the Argentinian has not fought since September 2019. He’s also in need of a new opponent now that Raoni Barcelos is a late scratch. If the UFC can’t secure an opponent, fans might have to wait a while longer to see Rojo’s first appearance inside the Octagon.
Petela: As someone who was a high school athlete with less-than-stellar talent, I know all too well that the best ability is availability. That’s the case for these newcomers. They’re getting their shot because they are physically able to fight in a time when there is a ton of uncertainty and instability each week with the precautions needed to be in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing illustrates this better than the recent withdrawal of Barcelos.
These guys might defy the odds and come out with a win on Saturday, but neither man is going to stay on the UFC roster for long.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Alex Oliveira. The year 2020 started off as a good one for the Brazilian, but his third and final fight of the year was a submission loss. Typically, someone who is 2-1 over their last three fights wouldn’t be on the chopping block. However, Oliveira had been on a three-fight skid before registering back-to-back wins. He also had a myriad of issues in his personal life, mostly of his own doing. He has looked past his prime recently, even though he is only 32 years old. With Randy Brown off the card, Oliveira will need a late-replacement opponent, and a loss in that situation could be enough for the UFC to send “Cowboy” packing.
Sumian: Alexis Davis. The former UFC women’s bantamweight title challenger is well past her prime. She’s currently on a three-fight skid and has not competed since July 2019. She faces a very dangerous Sabina Mazo in her return. Mazo is enjoying a three-fight winning streak at the expense of Shana Dobson, JJ Aldrich and Justine Kish. It will be another loss for Davis, which in all likelihood brings an end to her time with the UFC.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Alexander Hernandez and Thiago Moisés have “Fight of the Night” potential despite sharing the card with the exciting pairing of Pedro Munhoz and Jimmie Rivera. Hernandez and Moisés have combined for 16 finishes and eight UFC victories. They have a reputation for being involved in highly entertaining fights. These guys will steal the show with a battle for the ages.
Petela: Alexis Davis and Sabina Mazo. The 36-year-old Davis has not been the same fighter she was when she earned her title shot, but she is still a wily veteran who won’t take being relegated to “gatekeeper” status lying down. Mazo stumbled out of the gates in her UFC debut with a unanimous-decision loss to Maryna Moroz, but she has gone on to rattle off three straight wins while showcasing improvements in each appearance. This will be the toughest test for the prospect, but she’ll persevere, dig deep, and find an extra gear to pick up the victory.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: We have seen two consecutive events with no “Fight of the Night” winners and instead four fighters receiving performance bonuses. This will change on Saturday with Pedro Munhoz and Jimmie Rivera. This rematch was slated to be on the UFC 258 card, but it was rescheduled due to a positive COVID test. Anticipation for the affair has only grown. Rivera won their first contest by split decision, but Munhoz will exact revenge this time around in a high-paced, all-action fight.
Sumian: Magodmed Ankalaev. The rising light-heavyweight contender will secure another finish and launch himself into the top-10 conversation.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: A new age, which specifically includes Ciryl Gane, Magomed Ankalaev and Sabina Mazo. This fight night features a number of up-and-comers who have a chance to establish themselves as contenders. A majority of them will shine and capture the attention of fans and the UFC brass, thus leading to notable fights in the back half of 2021.
In regards to something tasty to compliment the night? In the spirit of another incredible heavyweight match-up, let’s add some hot chicken to the mix. Like heavyweights, hot chicken is bold, exciting and heavy.
Petela: The heavyweights may be the headliners, but the night will ultimately belong to the women. All three women’s bouts will collectively steal the show. So, pair this card with a fully charged battery and a good wifi connection so you can constantly refresh your Twitter feed to see Stephen A. Smith’s mentions as he is repeatedly forced to regret his recent comments about not wanting to see women fighting in the UFC.
Main Card (ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
HW: Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Ciryl Gane
LHW: Nikita Krylov vs. Magomed Ankalaev
Women’s FlyW: Montana De La Rosa vs. Mayra Bueno Silva
De La Rosa
BW: Pedro Munhoz vs. Jimmie Rivera
Women’s StrawW: Angela Hill vs. Ashley Yoder
FW: Alex Caceres vs. Kevin Croom
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET)
LW: Alexander Hernandez vs. Thiago Moisés
WW: Alex Oliveira vs. TBA
Women’s FlyW: Alexis Davis vs. Sabina Mazo
LHW: Alonzo Menifield vs. William Knight
Catchweight (140 pounds): Marcelo Rojo vs. TBA
BW: Ronnie Lawrence vs. Vince Cachero
LHW: Dustin Jacoby vs. Maxim Grishin
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