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UFC on ESPN 4 card: Aleksei Oleinik vs Walt Harris full fight preview

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight finishers Aleksei Oleinik and Walt Harris will collide this Saturday (July 20, 2019) at UFC on ESPN 4 from inside AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.

I talk trash on the Heavyweight division roughly once per week, but it’s been a genuine joy to watch Oleinik’s unexpected success inside the Octagon. The Russian submission ace was already 60-some professional fights deep and nearing 40 years of age — no one expected him to break into the Top 10 and pick up the biggest wins of his career in the process. Harris, meanwhile, has been on the roster since 2013, and he might finally be capitalizing on his athleticism. Were it not for a tainted supplement muddling one of his victories, Harris would currently be riding a three-fight win streak, which earned him this step up in competition.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:

Aleksei Oleinik

Record: 57-12-1
Key Wins: Mark Hunt (UFC Fight Night 136), Travis Browne (UFC 213), Jared Rosholt (UFC Fight Night 57), Junior Albini (UFC 224)
Key Losses: Alistair Overeem (UFC Fight Night 149), Curtis Blaydes (UFC 217), Daniel Omielanczuk (UFC Fight Night 91)
Keys to Victory: Oleinik is a wild man. In recent years, he seems to have found more confidence in his punching power, which has resulted in a new back up plan when the takedown and submission fails to materialize: Oleinik will charge at his foe and swing for the fences.

Given Harris’ size advantage and athleticism, it seems likely that Oleinik will be forced to bite down on his mouthpiece and throw big shots once more. That’s not necessarily a battle he’s likely to win though, so perhaps Oleinik should take a page from Fabricio Werdum’s book and attempt an early high-crotch and dump.

If it doesn’t work, the clinch might be a safer area for Oleinik — it would at least keep him away from Harris’ long left cross. In close quarters, Oleinik rips the body well, which could definitely help turn the tide. Best of all, Oleinik has proven dangerous with his Ezekiel choke even from that position, so that path to victory would remain open.

Walt Harris

Record: 12-7 (1)
Key Wins: Sergey Spivak (UFC Fight Night 151), Chase Sherman (UFC Fight Night 103), Cyril Asker (UFC Fight Night 111), Cody East (UFC 197)
Key Losses: Fabricio Werdum (UFC 216), Shamil Abdurakhimov (UFC Fight Night 96), Nikita Krylov (UFC on FOX 10)
Keys to Victory: Harris’ game is not particularly complex. “The Big Ticket” is indeed big, roughly 260 pounds with an 81-inch reach. He combines that size with a good bit of speed, allowing the Southpaw to crush opponents with the left cross-left kick double threat.

The goal here is very simple for Harris: stay the hell away from “Boa Constrictor.” Oleinik is going to charge forward, either with takedowns or swinging hooks — Harris wants to be hit with neither.

Though their reaches are nearly identical, Harris is a much more effective range fighter who better makes the most of his length on the feet. His cross should serve as a deterrent at first, a formidable spear that convinces Oleinik charging forward isn’t worth the risk. If Harris can force Oleinik to settle down a bit, he can commit to chopping at the lead leg, a tactic that has proven very damaging to the older Russian.

Bottom Line: It’s a fight over a spot in the Heavyweight Top 10.

Oleinik has losses to two of the top five fighters in the Heavyweight division, which makes it difficult and unlikely to climb much further up the ladder. At the same time, Oleinik is unusually active for a Heavyweight and still putting on quality performances. He’s also likely making a lot more money now than ever before, so it isn’t hard to see why Oleinik is likely to keep fighting actively until the wheels fall off.

Win or lose, he’s likely to remain a gatekeeper.

As for Harris, this is a more significant opportunity, a chance to climb into the top 10 and prove that he’s realizing his potential. Another win would see Harris unbeaten in four fights over decent competition, which is enough at Heavyweight to secure him a big fight next time out.

At UFC on ESPN 4, Aleksei Oleinik and Walt Harris will throw down in the co-main event. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?