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Fortunes changed for five at UFC on ESPN 7

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Saturday night’s Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Alistair Overeem fight was supposed to answer the questions about Rozenstruik, who was 9-0 with eight knockouts, and had finished his last two opponents in a combined 38 seconds.

Rozenstruik knocked out Overeem (45-18. one no contest), by far his toughest opponent to date. It came with four seconds left in the fifth round, keeping his perfect record and an incredible 90 percent win via knockout percentage.

But if anything, we came out of the fight with more questions as well as some conflicting answers.

While the win strengthens his climb up the thin heavyweight ladder, it also established key things.

The first, and most obvious, is that if you get Rozenstruik deep in a fight, something he was untested in, he can survive and his cardio won’t finish him. You can also outwork and win rounds from him, and he won’t break. The cardio is always a question with quick finishing heavyweights. The other is that if he lands, Rozenstruik has the ability to put anyone away early or late.

However, the right strategy can beat him. Overeem showed a blueprint of how to fight Rozenstruik, keeping distance, covering up, and using wrestling when possible. Granted, the key to that style is someone who has more reach and good defensive standing, as well as grappling skills. It didn’t work because Overeem was caught late, but he was ahead on the scorecards. When he took Rozenstruik down, he could keep him there.

We also learned Rozenstruik can take a punch. Overeem landed solid punches that Rozenstruik walked through. One in particular against a guy with true strong knockout power, saw him not even fazed. While he did not have Overeem’s overall skill level, at no point was he close to being finished.

It’s hard to believe that fighter, now in the upper echelon of the division, will be able to pull out fights with late knockouts every time out, or catch everyone early. He clearly looked beatable, even if nobody has accomplished that. But as far as marketability goes, the strong ratings and overall interest level of the fight and fan recognition he has the power to win at any point should make him a player for some time to come.

It was a good thing for a heavyweight division that needs new blood, with key departures in the last year like Cain Velasquez (injuries and pro wrestling), Daniel Cormier (soon to be retired), Mark Hunt (age and leaving the promotion) and Fabricio Werdum (drug test suspension).

But it shows that this is a game of inches. If that punch doesn’t land, Overeem cruises to a decision win and Rozenstruik would have been dismissed as a threat to top guys. If Dan Miragliotta didn’t stop the fight at that moment, and Overeem did get up from the punch, there were only four seconds left and with Rozenstruik having celebrated the punch, he probably wouldn’t have had time to land another. One loss doesn’t kill you in UFC, but a loss when a fighter looks outclassed make it difficult to be considered for a championship opportunity.

The show also featured a rarity, two draws on the same main card.

In both cases, one of the fighters, Marina Rodriguez in her draw with Cynthia Calvillo, and Cody Stamann in his draw with Song Yadong, should be booked going forward as if they won those fights.

Rodriguez won the first round over Calvillo, and won the second round big. None of the judges gave that the second a 10-8. But Rodriguez was dominant enough that it should have been considered. Round three saw things change. Calvillo was very close to finishing Rodriguez. The ref was very lenient with Rodriguez taking punch after punch on the ground without stopping it, leading to a 10-8 round, and two 28-28 scores.

That score was the most likely outcome. But with Calvillo missing weight by 4.5 pounds, and her weight clearly played a part in her strength with takedowns and ground control in the round she dominated, it was a major key factor in the fight.

With Stamann vs. Yadong, it appeared a clear win by Stamann. He looked to have won the second round, clearly won the third, and Yadong had a penalty point taken away for an illegal knee in the first round. It felt like a 29-27 win, or even a 30-26.

MMA Decisions media scores had it 71 percent for Stamann and 29 percent even, so a draw wasn’t outrageous, but was a minority viewpoint.

Let’s look at how fortunes changed for five on Saturday night.

JAIRZINHO ROZENSTRUIK - As soon as the fight was over, Rozenstruik issued a challenge for Francis Ngannou (14-3). With champion Stipe Miocic expected to face Daniel Cormier next, Ngannou, with his win over Junior dos Santos, is the fighter waiting in the wings for the next title shot. Ngannou could wait, but Miocic vs. Cormier is still likely months away.

If Ngannou is to fight, Rozenstruk makes the most sense from a fan perspective, as such a fight would sense to be a fight of big bombs, with either having the capacity to land and end it. If Ngannou wants to wait it out, Rozenstruk’s next opponent should be the winner of the Jan. 25 fight with Junior dos Santos (21-6) vs. Curtis Blaydes (12-2).

ALISTAIR OVEREEM - At 39. and having been knocked out 14 times in MMA and three in kickboxing, one questions where Overeem goes next. Had he gotten that win, the depth of the division was such that he could have gotten a title shot in late 2020. Now, he’d need a few wins and time is not on his side. He is a name and there are fights with people like Alexander Volkov (31-7) or Blagoi Ivanov (18-3) that could be made to try and get back to the top.

MARINA RODRIGUEZ - What we saw from Rodriguez (12-0-2) was good stand-up that allowed her to handily outland Cynthia Calvillo for two rounds. The draw, due to weight factor, shouldn’t hurt Rodriguez’s standing. Her next fight should be with either Nina Ansaroff (10-6) or Michelle Waterson (17-7).

CYNTHIA CALVILLO - Calvillo’s issue going forward should be whether to stay at strawweight or move up. Missing weight by 4.5 pounds, and that’s coming off missing by two pounds in a fight one year ago, would seem to indicate a move to 125 makes more sense. In theory, her reliance on grappling would make a weight class up and facing larger opponents to her disadvantage. If she is to stay at strawweight, a next opponent could be the winner of the Jan. 18 fight with Alexa Grasso (11-3) vs Claudia Gadelha (17-4).

ASPEN LADD - Ladd (9-1) finishing Yana Kunitskaya (12-5) moves her into a prime spot in the women’s bantamweight division. Depending on how the fight goes, she could next face the winner of this coming Saturday’s Ketlen Vieira (10-0) vs. Irene Aldana (11-5) fight. But that depends on how impressive Vieira looks, as well as the outcome of the title fight in that division Saturday with Amanda Nunes vs. Germaine de Randamie. If Vieira wins and gets a title shot, Ladd should face the winner of the Jan. 18 fight with Holly Holm (12-5) vs. Raquel Pennington (10-7).

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