Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its presence known to Saint Petersburg, Russia, yesterday afternoon (Sat., April 20, 2019) for UFC on ESPN+ 7. It was just the second event in UFC history to take place in Russia, and also the second headlined by Aleksei Oleinik. Though there was not a ton of name value to the card, incredibly talented local fighters made the show worth watching.
Let’s take a look at the best techniques and performances of the night.
The main event heavyweight fight between Alistair Overeem and Aleksei Oleinik did not start off well for “The Reem.”
His fellow veteran foe knew well that kickboxing with the former K-1 champion was not an option. Oleinik had no plans to be picked apart at range with punishing low and body kicks. Instead, “Boa Constrictor” charged straight at the knockout artist, whipping out big hooks. One of those hooks landed, stunning Overeem and forcing his back to the fence, where Oleinik ripped into his mid-section with repetitive hooks.
This pattern played out a few times throughout the short fight. Anytime there was space, Oleinik would lunge forward with a wide hook, crash into the clinch, and fire at the body. He would mix in attempts to grapple, too, but Overeem smartly made defending those a priority. While doing his best to avoid the hardest of his foe’s punches, Overeem also made his own strategy clear: land massive knees whenever possible.
Overeem never quite timed the knee perfectly as Oleinik ducked forward, but his knees in the clinch made the difference. They were clearly the hardest strikes landed in the contest. Perhaps more importantly, Overeem’s knees proved deadly even when both men were fatigued. Four minutes of madness so both men moving slowly, but Overeem still was able to latch onto the clinch and deliver knockout blows for the first-round finish.
Both veterans really put it all on the line last night, and the result was a great fight.
Russia Brings the Violence
From the top of the card to the earliest preliminary contest, this event featured a ton of Russian talent. With an enthusiastic hometown crowd behind them, the many native prospects showcased the incredibly talent-rich Russian regional scene.
In the opening bout, a forgotten prospect in Magomed Mustafaev obliterated a decorated striker with a spin kick in the opening minute. Also on the preliminary card, an undefeated Bantamweight named Movsar Evloev made a successful debut with the classic strategy of relentless takedowns. Just a week ago, even the most knowledgeable of fans were probably unaware of Evloev’s existence, but judging just from this fight, he’s likely ready for a ranked opponent already. Later in the night, Sergei Pavlovich earned a similarly quick knockout to get back in the win column. In the co-main event, both Islam Makhachev and Arman Tsarukyan demonstrated their wrestling talent, trading takedowns for three rounds in a fight that featured some incredibly technical scrambles.
Russian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters have a much tougher road to the Octagon than American prospects. Rarely are they picked up from The Ultimate Fighter or “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series” with a short and sweet 6-0 record. Instead, they are forced to build up win streaks that take years, fighting against other young Russians who have also been training since childhood.
Once on the big stage, that high-level experience results in instant contenders.
- Sergei Pavlovich defeats Marcelo Golm via first-round knockout: Pavlovich found his range early, putting his combinations together early and often. Golm showed little fear of the exchanges, aggressively walking forward and firing back. That proved to be a mistake, however, as Pavlovich’s accurate offense and counters saw him put Golm down just over a minute into the first round. Great bounce-back win from Pavlovich, who remains a strong prospect despite his understandable loss to Overeem in his UFC debut.
- Alexander Yakovlev defeats Alex da Silva via second-round modified guillotine choke: This fight was largely a wrestling match that Yakovlev was losing, but the momentum shifted in the second round as his opponent fatigued a bit. The finish was certainly the most interesting part of the fight, as Yakovlev secured a very Matt Hughes-esque front head lock submission. While sprawled out on his opponent, Yakovlev submitted his foe by catching the neck and arm in an anaconda-type position. Rather than committing fully to that choke, Yakovlev tightened up his grip from the front of his opponent, pinching his elbows together to cut off blood flow and secure the finish.
- Shamil Abdurakhimov defeats Marcin Tybura via second-round knockout: It’s really difficult to get a good read on Abdurakhimov, who has seemed inconsistent over the years. Holding high ranks in both kickboxing and Wushu Sanda, Abdurakhimov seemed to waffle between wanting to be a slick kickboxer or wrestler, occasionally gassing terribly while figuring it out. He’s won his last three, however, and he seems to have found a better balance. Yesterday specifically, Abdurakhimov was consistently landing the better punches, which lead to a left hook shutting off the lights.
- Michal Oleksiejczuk defeats Gadzhimurad Antigulov via first-round knockout: Oleksiejczuk is a sleeper at 205 pounds. The Polish striker is deceptively powerful despite being a smaller fighter, and he carries great confidence into exchanges. Antigulov is a legitimately dangerous fighter in the opening round, but Oleksiejczuk walked right to him. An Antigulov right hand made him rethink that strategy, but Oleksiejczuk landed crisp counter punches as Antigulov charged forward, including a trio of uppercuts that ended the bout.
- Magomed Mustafaev defeats Rafael Fisiev via first-round knockout: Mustafaev is an odd fighter without any semblance of a functional MMA game. However, Mustafaev is a ridiculous athlete, massive Lightweight, and has some insanely powerful kicks. The man is dangerous, and his spinning back kicks ended the night of a talented striker in just about a minute.
For complete UFC on ESPN+ 7: ‘Overeem vs. Oleinik’ results and play-by-play, click HERE!