Four heavyweights will make their way to the cage to close out Saturday’s UFC Vegas 28 card, but what exactly is at stake for them?
In the main event, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Augusto Sakai both look to bounce back from their losses. Rozenstruik was clearly edged out by Ciryl Gane in five rounds in his last outing, while Sakai is keen to bounce back from his first UFC loss, a fifth-round TKO by Alistair Overeem.
Currently No.6 in the official rankings, Rozenstruik is unlikely to enter the top 5 with a victory over Sakai no matter how it turns out, but at least he can right a ship that has seen rough waters for an intriguing 4. -0 early career in the UFC. On the other hand, Sakai can not only erase the bitter taste of a loss to Overeem, he can also jump Rozenstruik up the standings and keep his chances of a future title opportunity.
Walt Harris is arguably in the most precarious position. If he lost to Marcin Tybura in the main co-event, it would be his third straight loss and could spell the end of his second run in the UFC. Although “The Big Ticket” has built an following, one can only miss great opportunities so many times before the matchmakers decide to move on.
As for Tybura, he can remind those matchmakers that he’s currently on a four-game winning streak, a streak only surpassed by Gane and UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou (both have five wins. consecutive). He has quietly put on a flawless race in 2020 and although he has failed against top level competition in the past, he will deserve more than a place against another elite opponent if he can get past Harris.
In another main card action Roman Dolidze meets Laureano Staropoli in a middleweight fight, welterweight mainstay Santiago Ponzinibbio looks to hand Miguel Baeza his first UFC loss, Dusko Todorovic faces recent LFA championship winner Gregory Rodrigues, and Tom Breese stands on the way to middleweight prospect Antonio Arroyo securing his first UFC victory.
What: UFC Vegas 28
Or: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Augusto Sakai
Expect Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Augusto Sakai to step into this one freshly motivated after their recent humiliating defeats.
Yes, both men had already lost, but you can see how much easier it could be for Rozenstruik to move from that loss at Ngannou to his loss at Gane. Ngannou is, well, Ngannou, and Rozenstruik can consider himself part of an illustrious list of heavyweights who were caught early by the division’s bogeyman. The loss to Gane must have been more difficult to overcome as for 25 minutes Rozenstruik’s shortcomings in speed and athleticism were revealed. We also saw some of his technical weaknesses in his fight with Alistair Overeem which Rozenstruik won in the dying seconds thanks to a formidable final effort.
Sakai was outclassed by Overeem in September despite some good times and he will look forward to regaining his status as one of the contenders for black horses at heavyweight. His style will never be called pretty, and even when he’s doing well he sometimes feels like an exhausted warrior just trying to get out of it, but more often than not he gets results.
Potency is the difference here and that advantage has to go to Rozenstruik, although Sakai’s striking prowess isn’t to be sneezed at. I don’t see Sakai being able to string together too many combinations because he will have to beware of the knockout that Rozenstruik can deliver at any time. I’m not predicting an finish, but the threat of one will keep Sakai on the back foot. Look for Rozenstruik to gain the upper hand over the brief bursts that materialize in the fight and do enough to win a compelling, yet competitive decision.
Walt Harris vs. Marcin Tybura
Speaking of speed and athleticism, Walt Harris has this in spades of Marcin Tybura and that’s one of the reasons he’s one of the liveliest dogs on this card.
Put simply, if Harris can find the lineup early, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see him rush Tybura and end that in the first round. Tybura is KO sensitive, and while he’s made some notable defensive improvements in his recent fights, he’s still a heavyweight we’re talking about. A good blow is enough.
I have no doubts that Tybura’s successful campaign in 2020 is proof of a legitimate increase in his second-half career, much like fellow Polish Jan Blachowicz. That’s not to say that I think Tybura will win the heavyweight title anytime soon, but his well-rounded skills are finally pushing him up the rankings (it helps that a few of the guys who beat him are no longer in the game. ‘UFC).
Grapple, grapple, grapple, that should be Tybura’s game plan. He’s a solid boxer, but he can’t play with Harris, who has more stand-up firepower. Tybura will eventually lead this fight on the ground, and as disjointed as Harris may be there, I choose Tybura to submit him to the second round.
Roman Dolidze vs. Laureano Staropoli
One factor to consider here is the height difference between the two men as Roman Dolidze recently dropped out of light heavyweight as it will be Laureano Staropoli’s first UFC fight at 185 pounds after previously competing in welterweight. As for the size, there isn’t much of a difference, but Staropoli could feel the difference in weight when they lock.
So far, Dolidze hasn’t had a chance to show his fight too much in the UFC, so keep an eye on whether or not he decides to go all out to bring this one to the mat. He’s an improving striker and he might want to take advantage of the length he has on Staropoli. However, it’s on the feet that there’s also the most potential for chaos, and Staropoli’s creativity could be Dolidze’s downfall if he’s not careful.
It’s up to Dolidze to end this one early as he had issues with his gas tank during his loss to Trevin Giles. Maybe he’s acclimated to middleweight better now, but he shouldn’t risk it, especially with Staropoli probably looking to stay and move. Dolidze’s fight should win him the ground fight or at least create an opening for him to possibly surprise Staropoli with a knockout shot to the feet.
Dolidze by KO.
Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Miguel Baeza
Cue the intense 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 will become impossible to ignore.
This is the hardest fight on the map to choose, as Ponzinibbio’s experience should count for something, even with Baeza looking like an absolute stallion so far. Ponzinibbio has always excelled at ranged combat and using a long jab to prepare his powerful punches. On paper, this is a good start to understanding Baeza.
If they end up working in the clinch and on the mat, Baeza is the better wrestler, but both fighters bring black belts of Brazilian jiu-jitsu into this fight. Both are also likely to favor position over submission, so I doubt we’ll see a tap-out here.
Baeza is more likely to gain the upper hand in the fight and use the ground and the pound to both frustrate Ponzinibbio and rack up points on the scoreboards. At the feet, Ponzinibbio’s patience can give him the edge, but not so much that Baeza can’t counter with controlled aggression.
Baeza should learn a lot from this fight, a fight I expect he will win by decision.
Dusko Todorovic vs. Grégory Rodrigues
After Dusko Todorovic’s loss to Punahele Soriano, we now know what the limits of his chin are. Todorovic recently turned 27 and as he is just starting to enter his athletic heyday, it is hoped that he sees the bout with Soriano as a time for learning as opposed to an anomaly. The point is, Todorovic has been hit in his previous fights, he was just able to absorb the damage without too much consequence. It’s not a style he should adopt as he moves up the middleweight ranks.
Even against UFC newcomer Gregory Rodrigues, Todorovic should exercise caution. “Robocop” is a combat finisher. When he smells blood he chases after him, and if he can touch Todorovic’s chin early on, he won’t hesitate to step up the pace and get Todorovic out. I have a lot of questions about Todorovic’s defensive skills, but if he can control distance and make strategic use of melee it’s his fight to lose.
I can’t wait for it to be a fun fall and for Todorovic to make the necessary adjustments to bounce back from a disappointing outing last time around. He gets the knockout here.
Tom Breese vs. Antonio Arroyo
I love Antonio Arroyo and think he has to win, but he had a tough draw here at Tom Breese.
It’s a great choice for an opener and fans should be treated to a standing battle between these two great middleweights. When it comes to hitting styles, I like Breese’s hands more while I think Arroyo has the cleanest kicks and knees. So whoever sets the tone early will have a major advantage.
It should be Breese given he has 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 outshines Arroyo. As far as he can be the first fighter to knock out Arroyo? No. But certainly good enough to win a decision.
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