After a two-week break - some would say a much-needed one - the UFC is back in your life and its bringing an event to D.C. packed with competitive bouts.
On paper, none of the six main card bouts at UFC on ESPN 7 are designed to showcase one fighter, though the heavyweight main event could certainly be a breakthrough for kickboxing transplant Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Stepping in as a replacement for Walt Harris, “Bigi Boy” is poised to cap off a sensational 2019 with a statement win when he faces Alistair Overeem on Saturday.
Overeem knows a thing or two about competing in both MMA and kickboxing and he’s established himself as the litmus test for up-and-coming heavyweights with championship aspirations. Francis Ngannou punched his way to a title shot with a nightmare uppercut of Overeem two years ago, can Rozenstruik make the same leap and enter 2020 as the division’s No. 1 contender?
The co-main event also features an unbeaten fighter looking to climb up the ranks as short-notice replacement Marina Rodriguez takes on Cynthia Calvillo. It’s Calvillo who has been positioned as one to watch at 115 pounds since making her debut at UFC 209, but a loss to Carla Esparza and issues with making weight have slowed her progress. A Rodriguez win not only solidifies her as a contender, it could signal the end of Calvillo’s days at strawweight.
In other main card action, heavyweight Stefan Struve returns from a short retirement to fight Ben Rothwell, Aspen Ladd looks to rebound from the first loss of her career when she fights Yana Kunitskaya at 135 pounds, Cody Stamann and Song Yadong meet in a battle of budding bantamweight contenders, and Rob Font looks to defend his top-10 spot in the bantamweight rankings against Ricky Simon.
What: UFC on ESPN 7
Where: Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.
When: Saturday, Dec. 7. The two-fight early preliminary portion begins at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+. That will be followed by four preliminary fights on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m. ET and continue on ESPN with a six-fight main card starting at 9 p.m. ET.
Alistair Overeem vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Just over a month ago, I picked Andrei Arlovski to beat Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
Arlovski did not beat Rozenstruik.
Clearly, Rozenstruik’s extensive kickboxing experience and natural power have been more than enough to compensate for his lack of in-cage experience so far, and any logical person would learn from that outcome and realize that Rozenstruik is probably going to walk through whatever aged, marquee heavyweights they line up in front of him.
So of course, I’m going with Alistair Overeem here.
Lumping Overeem and Arlovski into the same basket isn’t fair given that Overeem is still picking up impressive KOs at age 39 and has shown he’s still a cut above most strikers. Yes, he occasionally gets his head turned into a flip phone, but he’s also capable of giving as good as he gets. We’ve yet to see how Rozenstruik reacts to an MMA fighter who can hang with him in the stand-up department.
Essentially, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with Rozenstruik every time he fights, and I’m not convinced he’s top-10 material just yet.
In unrelated news, I am also an idiot.
Marina Rodriguez vs. Cynthia Calvillo
If you’re a believer that fighters who miss weight have a clear advantage, you should be favoring Cynthia Calvillo here; if you favor grapplers over strikers, you should like her chances even more.
Calvillo missed weight by an egregious amount on Friday and while I hesitate to accuse any fighter of gamesmanship, this is an awful look and it’s easy to see how not making the full cut could benefit a fighter who is known for using her strength to bully her opponents. Don’t expect Calvillo to mess around on the feet here. She has to shoot early and often, push Rodriguez to the cage, and make this one ugly. The grappling exchanges will provide a glimpse of each fighter’s respective energy levels.
On the feet, Rodriguez will piece up Calvillo. She has long limbs that are made for Muay Thai and her expertise in that particular discipline allowd her to control the Octagon and do plenty of damage as we saw in the Jessica Aguilar fight. No longer part of the Alpha Male team, Calvillo’s best bet is to load up that right hand like former coach Urijah Faber and fire it as she ducks in for takedowns.
Rodriguez’s takedown defense will be key here and if she can’t keep Calvillo off of her, this should go down as a decision or submission win for Calvillo.
Stefan Struve vs. Ben Rothwell
How do you even begin to make predictions for a fight between Stefan Struve and Ben Rothwell? At 38 years old with 47 pro bouts under his belt, you have to imagine Rothwell is nearing retirement; on the other side, Struve actually retired 10 months ago! Add in the fact that this is heavyweight MMA we’re talking about and you probably have a better chance of picking the winner of a round of that stupid TikTok game where morons throw something in the air and wait for it to hit them (I’ll save you some time: they’re all losers).
Rothwell looked completely out of sorts in his last fight with Andrei Arlovski and he’s been soundly out-struck in his last three outings. Fortunately for him, that won’t matter much against Struve who has never unlocked the secret of his one-of-a-kind measurements when it comes to striking. A loose Rothwell who isn’t afraid to pull the trigger will cause all kinds of problems for “Skyscraper.”
Is that version Rothwell still in there? Possibly. If he isn’t, it’s going to be a long night for him because as chinny as Struve is, he’s still a prodigious fight finisher and he has the firepower to end Rothwell with ground-and-pound or by tying him up with those endless limbs of his. I see Rothwell having some success early, but eventually making the mistake of falling into a submission as Struve attacks from his back.
Aspen Ladd vs. Yana Kunitskaya
Yana Kunitskaya is starting to carve out a nice niche for herself as a high-pressure, high-volume fighter and that’s going to be enough to beat a lot of the competition at 135 pounds. Aspen Ladd showed in her last fight that she can be hit and she can be hurt, and even though Kunitskaya’s standup isn’t at the level of Germaine de Randamie, it’s still good enough to present the possibility of Ladd suffering a second straight knockout loss.
After picking up another decision win over Sijara Eubanks in fight that featured plenty of standup flurries, Ladd may have taken the wrong lesson from that encounter. She’s shown improvement with her hand speed and has the potential to be a finisher on the feet in the future, but her bread-and-butter is still her ground-and-pound and getting into position to utilize that weapon should be her priority.
Kunitskaya is active in the clinch and will look to use elbows and knees in close to wear Ladd down. As long as Ladd doesn’t get stuck in this position, she should be able to dictate where the fight goes.
Young fighters like Ladd usually show extraordinary growth from fight to fight at this stage of their careers and she strikes me as the sort who will learn from the De Randamie loss, not be derailed by it.
Cody Stamann vs. Song Yadong
Cody Stamann made a name for himself as a grind-it-out underdog in his first three UFC fights and the matchmakers are challenging him to pull off another upset as he faces blue chip Alpha Male prospect Song Yadong.
This matchup pits two men who are quick on their feet against one another and they’re both going to log some serious mileage on their Fitbits as they work to find a rhythm. Just 22 years old, Song is unpredictable and still figuring out who he is as a fighter, which will not make things any easier for Stamann. If Song doesn’t know what he’s going to do next, how can his opponents figure him out?
One thing you can say about Stamann is that he’s consistent. He wants to close the distance, box inside, and find an opening for takedowns. Song’s takedown defense is still largely untested, but given the team he comes from, he’s presumably well-equipped to deal with Stamann’s wrestling.
Designated as a future champion by Urijah Faber, this is the perfect test for Song right now as he graduates from prospect to contender.
Rob Font vs. Ricky Simon
Opening up the main card are two of the bantamweight division’s brightest talents, Rob Font and Ricky Simon, neither of whom should see their stock hurt too much regardless of the outcome here.
In what shapes as an intriguing striking battle, you have Font’s excellent range striking vs. Simon’s gift for generating power punches in close. In the speed department, they’re about equal, so I’m looking at the variety in their arsenals to be a deciding factor. The threat of a takedown could open things up for Simon, while Font’s lethal kicks and knees will make it even more difficult for Simon to find a home for his short shots.
Simon’s tendency to get tagged even in fights that he wins is also a concern, so I’m giving Font the slight edge overall and picking him to take a decision.
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