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UFC on ESPN 9 card: Blagoy Ivanov vs Augusto Sakai full fight preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Vancouver-Tybura vs Sakai Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight hitters Blagoy Ivanov and Augusto Sakai will throw down this Saturday (May 30, 2020) from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A decorated champion in Professional Fighters League (PFL), Ivanov dived right into the deep end of competition in UFC. While he’s not in the title mix currently, the Bulgarian athlete has represented himself well, earning a position in the rankings. Meanwhile, Sakai, 29, is not far behind him in the ranks, as the Brazilian is climbing the ladder quickly. Since his victory on “Contender Series,” Sakai has picked up three more wins, and he looks to be ready for a step up in competition.

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

Blagoy Ivanov

Record: 18-3 (1)
Key Wins: Ben Rothwell (UFC Fight Night 146), Shawn Jordan (WSOF 35), Tai Tuivasa (UFC 238), Josh Copeland (WSOF 31)
Key Losses: Junior dos Santos (UFC Fight Night 133), Derrick Lewis (UFC 244), Alexander Volkov (Bellator 120)
Keys to Victory: Ivanov is an International Master of Sports in Sambo and Judo black belt with his wins evenly split between knockouts, submissions and decisions. He’s also a pretty slick counter puncher, able to evade shots and land well despite not having the rangy build one would typically expect of that strategy.

This is likely to be a close match. Ivanov is pretty sharp on the counter, but Sakai is better at safely leading and landing than most up-and-coming Heavyweights. Neither man has ever been knocked out, so there’s a real chance this one comes down to the wire when both are still standing after a violent 15 minutes.

As such, it would be really great to see Ivanov really turn to his wrestling. The Bulgarian has such a talent on the mat, yet in recent years, it always seems to be a weapon in his back pocket rather than his first line of offense.

It’s time to go back to basics and put Sakai on the canvas.

Augusto Sakai

Record: 14-1-1
Key Wins: Marcin Tybura (UFC Fight Night 158), Andrei Arlovski (UFC Fight Night 150), Chase Sherman (UFC Fight Night 137)
Key Losses: Cheick Kongo (Bellator 179)
Keys to Victory: Sakai is a dangerous man. At first glance, he doesn’t do anything overly extraordinary, just throws tight combinations with solid power. However, he also tops the Heavyweight limit yet can fight hard for three full rounds and score late knockouts.

Size, strength, and cardio? Those complicate matters for his opponent greatly.

Opposite Ivanov, Sakai’s ability to remain offensive without getting countered will be tested. In order to lead safely, Sakai would be well-advised to work in more jabs, rather than pushing forward with just power punches. In addition, feints are invaluable here, as some active shoulder pumps or level changes could draw out counters and create an opening for Sakai’s offense.

In addition, it would be great to see Sakai target the body. Ivanov is comfortable with his back to the fence, but that does square up his stance a bit, making the mid-section an easier target. In a close fight, a bit of body work could definitely make the difference!

Bottom Line

It’s a pretty solid and relevant Heavyweight fight!

Both athletes are ranked just outside of the top 10 and are looking to really break into the title picture. Ivanov had a couple of chances opposite dos Santos and Lewis, but he ultimately came up short and will need at least a couple victories to warrant another shot up the ladder. Sakai, however, has done nothing but win inside the Octagon, and his youth makes his prospects fairly exciting.

At the moment, Ivanov has settled into something of a gatekeeper role, which doesn’t truly change regardless of the outcome. This bout is primarily a test for Sakai, as victory here likely leads to a big opportunity next.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 9 fight card this weekend right HERE, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then remaining main card portion that will air on ESPN/ESPN+ proper at 9 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC on ESPN 9: “Woodley vs. Burns” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

At UFC on ESPN 9, Blagoy Ivanov and Augusto Sakai will go to war in the co-main event. Which man will have his hand raised?

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