After taking Memorial Day weekend off, the UFC returns on Saturday, June 5, with UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs. Sakai. Both the headlining and co-headlining affairs will take place in the heavyweight division.
The main event is a clash between top-10 heavyweights Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Augusto Sakai. Both big men enter the fight after dropping their most recent outing. “Bigi Boy” lost a unanimous decision in his last fight against Frenchman Ciryl Gane. Sakai fell for the first time since joining the UFC roster when he was finished via TKO at the hands of Alistair Overeem.
The co-headliner pits Walt Harris against Marcin Tybura. Harris has lost two straight fights after nearly a year out of action after the tragic death of his step-daughter. Tybura has been impressive as of late while rattling off four straight victories. His last win came via TKO over noted domestic-abuser Greg Hardy. A win over the eighth-ranked Harris should be enough to earn Tybura a place inside the UFC’s heavyweight top 10.
The main card also includes a trio of middleweight fights. Roman Dolidze takes on Laureano Staropoli, Duško Todorović meets newcomer Gregory Rodrigues, and Tom Breese opens the festivities against Antônio Arroyo. Sandwiched between those fights on the main card is a welterweight showdown in which Santiago Ponzinibbio squares off against the undefeated Miguel Baeza.
UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs. Sakai takes place inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The preliminary card gets the event started at 4 p.m. ET and is followed by the main card at 7 p.m. ET. The event can be streamed in its entirety via ESPN+.
Heavyweight headliners Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Augusto Sakai both had quick rises to the upper echelon of the division in the UFC. However, Rozenstruik has now won just one of his last three outings, while Sakai is coming off a loss to Alistair Overeem. Have these guys reached their ceiling?
It certainly seems like these big men are more pretenders than contenders.
Even in his win over Overeem, Rozenstruik did not look altogether impressive until the last 30 seconds of the fight. For the first four rounds and the majority of the final frame, Overeem was able to stifle the punching power of “Bigi Boy” and implement a grappling-heavy game plan for which Rozenstruik had no answer. Despite an additional TKO victory over Junior dos Santos, whose best days are long behind him, Rozenstruik has largely struggled once he finds himself standing opposite an elite heavyweight.
In his last outing against Ciryl Gane, Rozenstruik looked overly cautious and was hesitant to throw big punches, likely in fear of leaving himself open to a fight-ending counter from Gane. While the power in his hands is certainly special, even among heavyweights, Rozenstruik doesn’t have the complete skill set to become a legitimate title threat.
A similar narrative could be written about Sakai. He had an impressive run in Bellator MMA before dropping a split decision to Cheick Kongo. Sakai then won four straight to open his tenure inside the UFC. He tallied two finishes by some form of knockout and two close split-decision wins before he was stopped for the first time in his career by the aforementioned Overeem. Sakai’s victories are no small feat, but they also haven’t come against any true UFC title contenders. The biggest name on his resume is surely Andrei Arlovski, but he defeated the former champion by a narrow margin at a time where the Belarusian was long past his prime.
Both men in this contest prefer to keep the fight standing and have a combined 21 knockout victories. Much like champion Francis Ngannou rebounded after his lackluster performance against Derrick Lewis, expect Rozenstruik to come out guns blazing and do everything he can to ensure this fight doesn’t go the distance.
It will be the hard-hitting Surinamese fighter who comes away with a knockout victory, but this will not be the beginning of a title run. Both of these fighters will spend the rest of their time with the UFC as exciting fan-favorites for their finishing ability, but neither will have enough consistent success to become a major part of the title conversation.
There are two other heavyweight tilts on the card. One is the co-main event between Walt Harris and Marcin Tybura. The other is a prelim bout between Tanner Boser and Ilir Latifi. Which of these big men makes the biggest impression on Saturday?
Boser had won back-to-back fights via knockout before a sluggish performance against Andrei Arlovski resulted in a decision loss. The 29-year-old Canadian will get back on track with a standout performance and stoppage victory over Latifi.
This fight is tailor-made for Boser, who is four inches taller than his foe. He will have a two-inch reach advantage over Latifi as well. Early on in the fight, Boser will set the tone with his jab and nullify the Swede’s wrestling prowess.
Since his move up to heavyweight, Latifi’s cardio has been questionable. The same will be true in this clash. By the latter portion of the second round, an exhausted Latifi will be on the wrong end of a big right hand from Boser that instantly gets added to the Canadian’s highlight reel and rebuilds his confidence after the deflating loss to Arlovski.
Gregory Rodrigues and Kamuela Kirk — do we need to know these names?
One of the biggest things both of these fighters have going for them is their awesome nicknames. Rodrigues goes by “Robocop,” while Kirk is known as “The Jawaiian.” They each make their UFC debut after successful runs in the Legacy Fighting Alliance, but will each face a marked step up in competition.
Rodrigues draws Duško Todorović, who has suffered just one loss. Meanwhile, Kirk squares off against Makwan Amirkhani. Both of these newcomers have incredible finishing ability. They have combined to go the distance only once in victory. They are on the right side of 30 and are not finished projects yet as they enter their physical prime. It might be a slow start for each fighter, but they could eventually make major names for themselves within the promotion.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Youssef Zalal. After starting 3-0 inside the UFC, the Moroccan kickboxer has dropped his last two fights. In those losses, he has shown that while he is rich in talent, some of his in-fight decision-making needs to improve. He has a chance to show an added sense of Octagon maturity this weekend against Sean Woodson. If he does, then he will likely pick up the win he needs to regain some momentum. If not, then it could spell the end of the 24-year-old’s stint with the UFC. Regardless of the outcome, though, Zalal is surely someone who will become a UFC staple by the time he turns 30, even if that means going back to the drawing board on the regional scene for a few fights.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Montana De La Rosa and Ariane Lipski. These are two very exciting flyweight ladies who deliver fan-friendly performances in both victory and defeat.
De La Rosa’s last performance was a majority draw against Mayra Bueno Silva where, despite taking heavy damage throughout the early parts of the fight, De La Rosa had the resolve to end the contest on a high note and fend off the potential decision loss.
Lipski dropped her first two UFC fights before picking up impressive back-to-back victories with a unanimous decision over Isabela de Padua and a crafty kneebar submission of Luana Carolina. Lipski lost her last contest, though, and will have to bring her best to defeat De La Rosa.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Tom Breese. The Brit has alternated wins and losses since moving to the middleweight division, but both of his wins have come by TKO and earned him performance bonuses. That trend will continue this weekend when he scores a knockout of Antônio Arroyo.
Pair this card with…
This fight card is short on high-profile names, but it will be very enjoyable and satisfying. In that spirit, let’s go with a reliably refreshing summer drink: a hard iced-tea/lemonade combination. But rather than go with one of the marquee brands, grab the Half and Half Hard Iced Tea from Downeast Cider House. Much like many of the fighters on this card, it’s not a household name yet, but it is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
HW: Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Augusto Sakai
HW: Walt Harris vs. Marcin Tybura
MW: Roman Dolidze vs. Laureano Staropoli
WW: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Miguel Baeza
MW: Duško Todorović vs. Gregory Rodrigues
MW: Tom Breese vs. Antônio Arroyo
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
FW: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Kamuela Kirk
Women’s FlyW: Montana De La Rosa vs. Ariane Lipski
De La Rosa
HW: Tanner Boser vs. Ilir Latifi
WW: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Muslim Salikhov
WW: Alan Patrick vs. Mason Jones
Women’s FlyW: Maryna Moroz vs. Manon Fiorot
FW: Youssef Zalal vs. Sean Woodson
LW: Claudio Puelles vs. Jordan Leavitt
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