Four heavyweights will make their way to the cage to close out Saturday’s UFC Vegas 28 card, but what exactly is on the line for them?
In the main event, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Augusto Sakai both seek to rebound from losses. Rozenstruik was cleanly out-struck by Ciryl Gane over five rounds in his most recent outing, while Sakai wants to rebound from his first UFC loss, a fifth-round TKO from Alistair Overeem.
Currently No. 6 in the official rankings, Rozenstruik is unlikely to break into the top-5 with a win over Sakai, no matter how it happens, but at the least he can right a ship that has seen some rough waters since an intriguing 4-0 start to his UFC career. On the other side, Sakai can not only erase the bitter taste of a loss to Overeem, he can also jump Rozenstruik in the rankings and keep his chances of a future title opportunity alive.
Walt Harris is arguably in the most precarious position. Should he lose to Marcin Tybura in the co-main event, it would be his third straight setback and possibly spell the end of his second UFC run. Though “The Big Ticket” has built a following, one can only fall short in big opportunities so many times before the matchmakers decide to move on.
As for Tybura, he can remind said matchmakers that he’s currently on a four-fight win streak, a stretch of success only surpassed by Gane and UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou (both have won five straight). He quietly put together a flawless 2020 run and while he’s fallen short against top shelf competition in the past, he’ll be more than deserving of a crack at another elite opponent if he can get past Harris.
In other main card action, Roman Dolidze meets Laureano Staropoli in a middleweight bout, welterweight stalwart Santiago Ponzinibbio looks to hand Miguel Baeza his first UFC loss, Dusko Todorovic takes on recent LFA championship winner Gregory Rodrigues, and Tom Breese stands in the way of middleweight prospect Antonio Arroyo getting his first UFC victory.
What: UFC Vegas 28
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
Expect Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Augusto Sakai to come into this one freshly motivated after their recent humbling losses.
Yes, both men had lost before, but you can see how Rozenstruik might have an easier time moving on from this loss to Ngannou than his loss to Gane. Ngannou is, well, Ngannou, and Rozenstruik can consider himself part of an illustrious list of heavyweights that have been caught early by the boogeyman of the division. The loss to Gane had to be harder to shake off as for 25 minutes, Rozenstruik’s deficiencies in speed and athleticism were exposed. We also saw some of his technical weaknesses in his fight with Alistair Overeem that Rozenstruik won in the closing seconds thanks to a fearsome final effort.
Sakai was outclassed by Overeem in September despite some good moments and he’ll be eager to regain his status as one of the dark horse contenders at heavyweight. His style will never be called pretty, and even when he’s doing well, he occasionally gives off the impression of a worn-out warrior just trying to get through it, but he gets results more often than not.
The power is the difference here and that edge has to go to Rozenstruik, though Sakai’s punching prowess is nothing to sneeze at. I don’t see Sakai being able to string together too many combinations as he’ll have to be wary of the KO blow that Rozenstruik can deliver at any moment. I’m not predicting a finish, but the threat of one will keep Sakai on the back foot. Look for Rozenstruik to get the better of the brief flurries that materialize in the fight and do enough to win a convincing, if competitive decision.
Speaking of speed and athleticism, Walt Harris has that in spades over Marcin Tybura and it’s one reason that he’s one of the livelier dogs on this card.
Simply put, if Harris can find the range early, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see him rush Tybura down and end this in the first round. Tybura is susceptible to the knockout, and while he’s made notable defensive improvements in his recent fights, this is still heavyweight we’re talking about. One good shot is all it takes.
I’m a believer that the Tybura’s successful 2020 campaign is evidence of a legitimate second-half surge in his career, not unlike his fellow Pole Jan Blachowicz. That’s not to say that I think Tybura will be winning the heavyweight title anytime soon, but his well-rounded skill set is finally moving him up the rankings (it helps that a couple of the guys who beat him are no longer in the UFC).
Grapple, grapple, grapple, that should be Tybura’s game plan. He’s a solid boxer, but he can’t play around with Harris, who has more firepower in the standup. Tybura will eventually take this fight to the ground, and as scrappy as Harris can be down there, I’m picking Tybura to submit him in the second round.
One factor to consider here is the size differential between the two men as Roman Dolidze recently dropped down from light heavyweight while this will be Laureano Staropoli’s first UFC fight at 185 pounds after previously competing at welterweight. Height-wise, there’s not much of a difference, but Staropoli could feel the difference in poundage when they lock up.
Dolidze hasn’t had the chance to show off too much of his grappling in the UFC so far, so keep an eye on whether or not he decides to go all out in bringing this one to the mat. He’s an improving striker and may want to take advantage of the length he has on Staropoli. However, it’s on the feet where there’s also the most potential for chaos and the creativity of Staropoli could be Dolidze’s downfall if he’s not careful.
It behooves Dolidze to end this one early as he had some issues with his gas tank in his loss to Trevin Giles. Perhaps he’s become better acclimated to middleweight now, but he shouldn’t chance it, especially with Staropoli likely looking to stick and move. Dolidze’s wrestling should win him the fight on the ground or at least create an opening for him to possibly surprise Staropoli with a KO shot on the feet.
Dolidze by knockout.
Cue the step-up fight for Miguel Baeza, one of the most promising prospects at 170 pounds who somehow continues to fly under the radar. If he scores an impressive victory over Santiago Ponzinibbio, he’ll become impossible to ignore.
This is the toughest fight of the card to pick, as Ponzinibbio’s experience should count for something even with Baeza looking like an absolute stud so far. Ponzinibbio has always excelled at fighting from range and using a long jab to set up his power punches. On paper, that’s a good start to figuring Baeza out.
Should they end up working in the clinch and on the mat, Baeza is the better wrestler, but both fighters are bringing Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts into this fight. Both are also likely to favor position over submission so I doubt we see a tap-out here.
More likely Baeza gets the better of the wrestling and utilizes ground-and-pound to both frustrate Ponzinibbio and rack up points on the scorecards. On the feet, Ponzinibbio’s patience may give him the edge, but not so much that Baeza can’t counter with controlled aggression.
Baeza should learn a lot from this fight, one that I expect him to win by decision.
Following Dusko Todorovic’s loss to Punahele Soriano, we now know what the limits of his chin are. Todorovic recently turned 27 and while he’s just beginning to enter his athletic prime, one hopes that he views the fight with Soriano as a teachable moment as opposed to an anomaly. The fact is that Todorovic has been hit in his previous fights, he’d just been able to absorb the damage without much consequence. It’s not a style he should embrace as he moves up the middleweight ranks.
Even against UFC newcomer Gregory Rodrigues, Todorovic should exercise caution. “Robocop” is a fight finisher. When he smells blood, he gets after it, and if he can touch Todorovic’s chin early he’s not going to hesitate to push the pace and take Todorovic out. I have a lot of questions about Todorovic’s defensive capabilities, but if he can control the distance and make strategic use of the clinch, this is his fight to lose.
I’m looking forward to this being a fun scrap and Todorovic making the necessary adjustments to rebound from a disappointing outing last time. He gets the knockout here.
I like Antonio Arroyo and think he’s due for a win, but he got a tough draw here in Tom Breese.
This is a great choice for an opener and fans should be treated to a standup battle between these two tall middleweights. In regards to striking styles, I like the hands of Breese more while I think Arroyo has the sharper kicks and knees. So whoever sets the tone early will have a major advantage.
It should be Breese given that he’s faced a higher level of competition. He’s had mixed results in the past and can be inconsistent, but I still think the best version of him out-strikes Arroyo. To the extent that he can be the first fighter to knock Arroyo out? No. But certainly good enough to win a decision.
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