Incredible submission specialist, Aleksei Oleinik, will challenge decorated Strikeforce and K-1 champion, Alistair Overeem, this Saturday (April 20, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 149 from inside Yubileyny Sports Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Oleinik’s surprisingly successful UFC run has been a blast to watch. The powerful Russian already had over 60 professional fights dating all the way back to 1996 when he joined the roster. Fans in the know were still excited, but no one really expected all that much of a Heavyweight newcomer already nearing 40 years of age. Now 41, the last couple years have seen Oleinik pick up some of the best wins of his career and ascend into the Top 10. Make no mistake, Oleinik is far from a perfect fight, but the specialist is remarkably tough and knows exactly how to win fights with his skill set.
Let’s take a closer look at his talents:
Let’s get this out of the way early: any part of Oleinik’s game that does not directly involve cranking on necks is at least a bit awkward. That’s especially true of his kickboxing, which is wooden and somewhat predictable. Still, this is Heavyweight, which means Oleinik can crack.
There is also definitely some craft to his approach.
Mostly, Oleinik plods forward with his guard high and chin down, looking to step deep into hard shots before driving for a takedown. When pushing forward, Oleinik is generally in good defensive position — although that changes once he starts winging shots. At first, Oleinik will try to whack opponents with a hard jab, but the Russian does most of his work with an overhand and follow up left hook.
Not complicated, but Oleinik can put some surprising speed and power into his shots (GIF).
Oleinik does do some interesting things with his right hand. Often, he throws the overhand with his knuckles fully turned over, landing with the knuckles of his pinky and ring fingers. Known as a casting punch and somewhat common among Russian fighters, this type of overhand can slip through the guard and also be used as a clinch entry.
Since his right hand generally has a considerable arc, Oleinik will capitalize on that threat with the uppercut and body shots. In addition, Oleinik does a great job of pounding at the mid-section the second he and his opponent clinch. It’s as simple as whacking his opponent repeatedly in the ribs with his right hand the second they engage, but it’s an effective technique in making a fight ugly and slowing opponents down.
Oleinik is not afraid to step into the fire. In his last fight, Mark Hunt was picking him apart with low kicks, but Oleinik stepped into the kick and fired back every time. Eventually, a left hook connected behind the ear, stunning Hunt enough to create an opening for the shot.
If Oleinik could consistently take down the best fighters in the world, he would be unstoppable. That’s not the case, but Oleinik is certainly an above-average wrestler at Heavyweight.
Often, Oleinik’s first move is to drive for a takedown from the standing position. To be frank, it rarely works — his shot isn’t fast enough to simple blast people off their feet. Luckily, it serves the important purpose of moving the exchange towards the fence. Using the fence to keep his opponent in place, Oleinik can hang on his foe and tire him out, either by continually pushing for the double or walloping the body with his right hand.
If Oleinik manages to get under his opponent and in on the hips, he’ll complete the shot.
If not, Oleinik will move to an upper body throw. For the Russian, this can be technical or pure strength. The International Master of Sports in Sambo clearly knows what he is doing — he steps deep into tosses, uses his hip to block well, and can threaten the throw from many different positions. Sometimes though, Oleinik will simply grab the head and just try to jam his opponent into the mat.
Against Hunt, Oleinik secured a miraculous low single. Hunt tried push the Russians head low and broke his posture before trying to turn away and escape. Luckily for “The Boa Constrictor,” Hunt’s calves are roughly the size of a rotisserie ham, which made it easier for Oleinik to hang on. Hunt exposed his back with the attempted limp leg, allowing Oleinik to climb up to better position and complete the takedown from the back clinch.
A fourth-degree black belt with an insane 47 submission victories on his record, Oleinik’s moniker “Boa Constrictor” is perhaps the most appropriate in all of MMA. The combination of an 80 inch reach, immense physical strength, and well-over 20 years of experience makes Oleinik an absurdly dangerous man on the mat.
Oleinik has some armbars and heel hooks on his record, and I’m sure he’s better than 99% of Heavyweights at those submissions, but his game is all about the choke. Oleinik’s squeeze is the stuff of legends, as he seems to be able to create an unmatched level of compression with his arms. The result is rare finishes and submissions from odd angles, things generally not possible for most grapplers.
His recent rear naked choke victories over Travis Browne and Mark Hunt are good examples, particluarly the Browne finish. Though undoubtedly a rear naked choke, the position was absolutely wrong for the classic finish. Oleinik was not behind Browne — that’s the “rear” part — he was on his side. In addition, Oleinik’s top hand is in a position where Browne can grab it, generally a flaw that makes finishing the submission more difficult, particularly since the choking arm was not exactly under the chin. Against a regular grappler, each of those issues makes the finish less likely, and all together nearly impossible.
Meanwhile, Oleinik had no problem securing the tap. Oh, and he also squeezed the hell out of Browne’s belly with his legs, furthering that “Boa Constrictor” analogy. Against Hunt, Oleinik was a bit more behind the Samoan, but he also became the first fighter to choke the thick neck of Hunt from that funky angle.
The Ezekiel choke is another incredibly rare submission in the world of MMA. It’s almost entirely used in the gi, generally from top position. Oleinik, meanwhile, has a dozen of them on his record and commonly finishes the choke from his back (GIF). Utilizing a rear naked choke grip from the front of his opponent, the arms switch functions. Rather than pulling into the neck with one arm and using the other to defend the choke, the Ezekiel sees the arm wrapped around the head trap an opponent in place. From there, the other hand snakes into the throat and crushes.
It’s technically the video we recorded ahead of his previous main event slot, but I do my best to explain Oleinik’s bizarre specialty in the video below.
Luckily, Oleinik has another specialty position and submission that is rarely used to analyze further. In our latest technique highlight, I’ll do my best to explain more big man jiu-jitsu, specifically the the scarf-hold headlock and armbar (GIF).
As far as I know, Oleinik is also the only man to secure a scarf-hold headlock tapout in the modern era of UFC.
Oleinik is not going to win the title, but he’s genuinely one of the better Heavyweights on the roster. He’s famously tough and opportunistic, which makes him a dangerous match up for Overeem even if “The Demolition Man” should run through him on paper. At the very least, every single Oleinik fight has been worth-watching, which is an accomplishment on its own.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.