Sakai is set to headline UFC Vegas 28 on June 5, battling heavy-hitter Jairzinho Rozenstruik in a five-round bout at the UFC APEX, and foresees this matchup producing an “impact” in the heavyweight class.
“It’s two tough guys fighting for the win and it will definitely impact the division,” Sakai said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “The winner won’t gain many positions [in the ranking] since the division is a bit stuck right now, but the winner — in this case me — will impact the division because will enter the radar for the top-5 and the radar for a title shot, which is what we’re both going after.”
It appears that the UFC is working on booking a rematch between Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis for the heavyweight crown next despite Jon Jones’ intentions to challenge for the gold, and company president Dana White has gone public saying Stipe Miocic might get the next crack to regain his throne.
For Sakai, a big win on June 5 could set him up for a No. 1 contender bout next.
“I know that just the win over Jairzinho won’t be a big step towards a title shot,” he said. “We know we have to defeat Jairzinho to fight one more to earn a title shot. There’s a lot of people in front of me. My focus is on Jairzinho, on beating him, and then we’ll see how the division stands, what will happen, to find a fight that really makes sense for us.”
Sakai won his first four in the UFC over Chase Sherman, Andrei Arlovski, Marcin Tybura and Blagoy Ivanov before losing via fifth-round stoppage to Overeem. The Brazilian was then forced to stay on the sidelines to recover from a fractured rib sustained against Overeem before setting up a return fight for May versus Shamil Abdurakhimov. When Abdurakhimov withdrew due to undisclosed reasons, Sakai was paired up against Rozenstruik in a UFC main event a month later.
Sakai celebrates fighting someone “who has way more hype” than Abdurakhimov.
“I expect a good fight and a win. A quick one,” he said. “I want to end this fight as soon as possible, by knockout or submission. I’m ready to put on a great show, but we know Jairzinho is very tough and hits really hard. He has a lot of knockouts in the division, so we have to be smart and be careful. But I hope to end this fight as quick as possible, and I’m ready for it.”
“Ngannou made him walk backwards and was able to connect a hand, so that’s an opening [in his game],” he said of Rozenstruik’s first UFC loss loss. “Overeem didn’t win, but he dominated every round until Jairzinho landed his hand. Making him walk backwards and maybe attack with takedowns, attack with my grappling, that’s another opening I see.”