A Guide To UFC On ESPN 7: Overeem vs Rozenstruik
This underrated card will not only end the two-week absence of the UFC but will set up one of the most stacked PPV cards of the year in UFC 245 perfectly. This will be the 7th UFC event on ESPN and in my opinion, has flown under the radar within the MMA community, and has not got the hype or attention it deserves. Before getting into the fights themselves we have to take time to remember how this card ended up with the main event it has now.
The card was originally meant to be headlined by Walt Harris facing Alistair Overeem, which I found to be a compelling match up and a very opportunistic one, especially in Walt Harris’ career. However, due to the tragic circumstances regarding the disappearance of Walt’s stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard, who we now know has been reportedly found dead, Walt had no choice but to pull out of the fight amid the search. I, as well as everyone at Overtime Heroics, send their deepest condolences to Walt and his family at this time.
Following this saddening situation, Jairzinho Rozenstruik (3-0 in the UFC) stepped in to fight Alistair Overeem on the 5th of November, just three days after his 29-second knockout victory against former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. This is a fantastic opportunity for Jairzinho to show his talent against an elite level veteran in Alistair Overeem. On the flip side for Alistair, who is on a two-fight win streak himself, it’s a great opportunity to show that he can still pose a threat to the heavyweight division, and rise back to the top.
This card as a whole is filled with exciting and competitive match ups involving veterans of the fight game such as Matt Wiman who squares off with Joe Solecki as the last bout of the early UFC fight pass prelims as-well as young hungry lions looking to make a statement. For instance 25 year old Bryce ‘Thug nasty’ Mitchell who will kick off the prelims against a solid competitor in Matt Sayles. I have a feeling the MMA community is in for an absolute treat with this card as every fight contains excellent potential stylistically. Here’s the five bouts that stand out to me:
5 MUST WATCH FIGHTS ON THIS CARD:
5: Stefan Struve vs Ben Rothwell
This heavyweight clash between two veterans with 34 UFC fights behind them combined will take place as the 3rd of 5 fights on the main card. Although this isn’t a match up with rankings at stake, and it’s probably not as high of a level fight at this point in their careers as it once could have been, I feel that both these men have earned the right to be this high up on this card despite there being more exciting and higher-level match-ups below them. Both men have been competing in the UFC since 2009, and in that time have solidified themselves as trademark names within the heavyweight division.
Stefan Struve is well known for his freakish physique, coming in at 7 feet tall with an 84.5 reach. This made for him to be a very exciting prospect in his early days however he did not go on to meet the success that he would have hoped for and that a lot of fans expected from him, Struve suffered from a serious heart condition which kept him out of action for a while. Since then it’s clear he hasn’t been able to find his stride, going 4-5 with two of them losses being stoppages.
However, there have been good spells for the Skyscraper, he has notable wins over current heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic back in 2012, as well as Bigfoot Silva and the legendary Minotauro Nogueira. As the final fight of his prevailing contract, Struve faced Marcos Rogério de Lima on February 23rd earlier this year. He won the fight by arm-triangle choke in the second round despite having been knocked down by the first punch of the fight and had said that he would be retiring as he had fought out his contract however just months after that he signed a new six fight contract starting with this upcoming bout vs Ben Rothwell.
Rothwell has had a good career gaining finishes over Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett, Matt Mitrione, and Brandon Vera. Unfortunately for him he has not been able to gain a shot at UFC gold despite his top wins due to inconsistency and inactivity, He returned on March 9th this year after serving a two year suspension from USADA, he lost this comeback fight against Blagoy Ivanov by unanimous decision, and then went on to fight Andrei Arlovski on July 20th in which he also lost by unanimous decision. This fight coming up favours Rothwell, despite him being on a two-fight while Struve is coming off a win.
Struve’s losses in MMA have mostly come from his inability to utilize his physical advantages over his opponents. Therefore instead they become a disadvantage to him, by making his defense easily penetrable in the dangerous heavyweight division. Of course, at times Struve has been able to use his height and reach well and has had success then. What stands out in his game to me is his grappling ability and I feel he should be wanting to tie Rothwell up if he wants the win on December 7th. The problem with that, in my opinion, is that Rothwell is absolutely no slouch when it comes to wrestling and grappling and on the feet, I think Rothwell will have answers for Struve when he does close the distance and when he tries to stay on the outside simply because he hasn’t done enough of either. He has habits of leaving himself open on the outside and open when closing the distance. I think Rothwell will know this and take advantage of it.
4: Thiago Alves vs Tim Means
With 45 UFC fights on their records between the two of them, these two veterans will step in there once again on December 7th to do what they both love, which is to scrap it out in the co-main fight of the prelims. Despite both men coming into this bout 1-3 in their last 4, and being in the later stages of their careers both of these fighters still have great ability to put on fun, entertaining and skillful fights.
Thiago Alves has had a fantastic career, after making his UFC debut all the way back in 2005, he went on in his career to challenge one of the greatest fighters of all time, George St Pierre for the welterweight title at UFC 100. Despite him coming up short in that title bout, he has gone on to fight 14 times since then. Although his record may not be the greatest, he brings it to his opponent every time he steps in. This will likely be his last fight in MMA, as it is his last fight on his UFC contract. He has contemplated retirement before, some people would say that it’s not smart for him to step in there knowing it will probably be his last against such a dangerous guy on the downslope of his career. I think in this situation it’s quite the opposite, he knows that this fight will be his last, therefore he will want to enjoy it and appreciate the moment more.
What better dance partner could he have to put on a show with than Tim Means, who in his own right is very far into his career. I anticipate this fight to take place approaching the feet, for the most part, I feel the favourite Tim Means at this point has the sharper and crisper skill set. However, he has shown tendencies to put himself needlessly in danger by not using his range to his advantage, instead getting caught in brawls. It’s which is great for the fans, however, it may not go so well for him against such an experienced striker like Thiago Alves. If both men’s durability and toughness hold up like always, this bout has serious “Fight of the Night” potential and I am extremely excited to see how it plays out.
3: Rob Font vs Ricky Simon
In his first bout back after a victory against Sergio Pettis in December 2018, Rob Font looks to add to that win with another on December 7th. While opening as a betting favourite, gaining a win will be no easy task for Rob. He is taking on the hungry and talented 27-year-old Ricky Simon who, despite coming off a quick TKO loss to UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber Just four months ago, will be as dangerous and even more motivated than ever. He’ll be looking to end the year in a great way and kick start a run towards the top of the division.
Font comes into this as the 10th ranked bantamweight in the UFC, as opposed to Simon who reached 15th place earlier this year but is now unranked due to his loss to Faber. Font is definitely the crisper and more technical boxer in this matchup, and I feel in order for Simon to get the win here he will have to mix things up. In Rob Font’s bout against Sergio Pettis, he used his height and reach advantage very well and picked Sergio apart whenever he left himself in boxing range. However, Pettis, who is a natural flyweight, did have some success of his own with his kicks. Ultimately, Font was able to dictate the range better and come away with the decision win.
What I think Simon can take from that is he knows that although still having a reach and height disadvantage as well. He can match the strength of Rob Font, unlike Pettis, while also having a better wrestling and grappling game than Pettis. I feel that Simon’s game plan coming into this will be to dictate the pace of the fight which he has shown he can do, mix in kicks and punches (low kicks and overhands preferably), try and close the distance at some point to feel Font’s strength. Then implement his wrestling game and to not get caught in a boxing match with Font, which is exactly what Rob wants and loves to do. This is a great fight that will be headlining the prelims of this card, both men are out to make a statement.
2: Cody Stamann vs Song Yadong
This fantastic match-up between two of the best bantamweights in the world will open up the main card to this great fight night card on December 7th. Both Cody Stamann and Song Yadong are coming into this bout off a win against Alejandro Pérez at UFC 235 by unanimous decision for Stamann, and at UFC 239 for Yadong by knockout. Both have been successful so far in they’re UFC journeys with Cody going 4-1 (that sole loss against #2 ranked bantamweight Aljamain Sterling) and a perfect 4-0 for Song Yadong. They are clearly both looking to rise to the top and make a statement to the rest of the division on December 7th, Stamann is in his theoretical prime at the 30, however, Song Yadong will be stepping in there at just 22 years of age, after celebrating his birthday on December 2nd. This makes him one of the youngest fighters on the entire roster.
When you take into consideration that he is 4-0 inside the octagon while improving at a rapid rate. Not to mention he’s looking visibly better in every fight with a great camp behind him at Team Alpha Male, you have to imagine Song Yadong has an extremely bright future, no matter what the result on December 7th is. In his 4 fight streak with the UFC, Yadong has picked up 3 “Performance of the Night” bonuses. The most impressive of those, in my opinion, was his last performance, where he put the division on notice rising to the occasion at UFC 239, delivering a spectacular knockout over Alejandro Pérez. Throughout his career, he has shown very educated striking, incredible speed and great grappling skills.
Cody Stamann, on the other hand, may not be as flashy and as quick as Song Yadong but has shown good fundamentals on the feet and most of all incredible wrestling. He is a former NCAA Division II wrestler and has adapted very well to Mixed Martial Arts by learning how to time takedowns well and mix them in with strikes. His loss in the UFC came by Suloev stretch, and as rare of a submission that may be, he was getting outclassed by Aljamain Sterling who is a phenomenal grappler in his own right.
I believe that in order for Cody to win this fight he will need to engage the wrestling and grappling situations preferably against the cage because he needs to come forward while striking anyway as a more suited pressure fighter and wear Yadong down. What Song Yadong needs to do is put pressure of his own on Stamann, and back him up with his dynamic striking arsenal. We saw that Cody had trouble fighting on his back foot and struggled to defend himself when kicks came at him. I believe that Song Yadong will be able to do exactly that to him, therefore, he is favoured in this fight, as reflected in the betting lines.
1: Alistair Overeem vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Topping off the list, of course, is the main event; the five-round Clash of Giants. Alistair “The Demolition Man” Overeem is the definition of a seasoned veteran. In MMA alone he has 63 professional fights, with his debut coming over 20 years ago. Despite constant questioning of his ability to take a shot at this point in his career, he is riding a two-fight winning streak. One by snapping away the undefeated record of 27-year-old #13 ranked heavyweight prospect Sergei Pavlovich, with a vicious TKO victory back in November 2018. The other by knocking out #11 ranked heavyweight veteran Alexey Oleynik, who stepped in on short notice after Alexander Volkov pulled out from a scheduled bout with Overeem in Russia in April of this year.
As young as his opponent Jairzinho Rozenstruik may be compared to Overeem in his MMA career coming in with an 11-0 professional record (3-0 in the UFC), he is a veteran in his own right in the world of kickboxing, with 85 bouts under his belt. Although these kickboxing bouts may not have been at the same level as Overeem’s, he still had much success at a decent level and I feel the familiarity of competing in a combat sport will be there 100% for Jairzinho. Having said that I still feel like there is a chance Overeem will be able to outclass Jairzinho, because like I said Rozenstruik is very young compared to Alistair in MMA. In my opinion, there is a huge gap in skill level with their grappling.
I believe that Jairzinho definitely has a lot to more to gain with a win in this fight, not only because he has a chance to shoot from 14th in the rankings to 6th, but also the idea that he can become an elite and very recognizable/respected name. A win over Alistair Overeem could do wonders for him. Furthermore, he has stepped up and taken this fight on short notice and as we have seen countless times before that goes a long way and means a lot to the UFC.
As for Overeem, I believe that a win for him can definitely keep him in the mix at the top of the division however it’s going to be very hard for him to jump back into a title shot considering the losses he has taken to contenders above him such as Curtis Blaydes (who he now is friends with and trains with) and Francis Ngannou. We can only assume that Alistair doesn’t have too many fights left in his career, and quite possibly with a loss he would call it a career on December 7th. For him, he needs to either keep fighting off up and coming contenders and giving them shots to have his name on their records like he is doing in this bout or he needs to take on Junior Dos Santos who is fighting his aforementioned training partner Curtis Blaydes on January 25th. Win, lose or draw for Junior Dos Santos, I feel him or Alexander Volkov should be next for the winner of December 7th’s Main Event.
The betting lines to this fight are closely contested, with Overeem coming in as a slight favourite, I didn’t expect any different to that, as there are clear ways for both men to win the fight but Overeem’s more well-rounded skill set edges him out as the favourite to get the victory. I believe that at some point within the first two rounds Overeem will attempt to bring this fight to the mat which is not necessarily because he will want to avoid or shy away from the danger and the striking skills of Rozenstruik. Jairzinho, in his UFC debut, did show inexperience in the wrestling and grappling departments, where he was getting outclassed on the mat by Junior Albini, who is clearly a lesser skilled fighter than Alistair Overeem. Furthermore, Alistair has a brutal top game with good knowledge of positions, submissions, and vicious ground and pound as we saw in his last two fights.
I also believe that the later this fight goes the better for The Demolition Man, he is always in great shape and despite never seeing past the third round in MMA competition. He has been scheduled for several main events and is certainly much more familiar with the possibility of going into the 4th and 5th rounds and managing energy for them. Whereas Jairzinho has a total octagon time of under ten minutes in his 3 UFC fights, and in his whole MMA career has only been past the second round once, where he went to a split decision.
In order for Jairzinho to walk away with the win in this bout, he needs to come out aggressive but not reckless. He’ll need to try to put his hands on Overeem early by getting into boxing range with wild entries. As we have seen, his power is unquestionable early on, and he needs to use his striking experience to find a shot within the first two rounds and not let Alistair grind the sting and power out of him.
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