Long-time neck squeezer, Aleksei Oleinik, will battle opposite heavy-handed “Black Beast,” Derrick Lewis, this Saturday (Aug. 8, 2020) at UFC Vegas 6 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I cannot help but appreciate Oleinik’s UFC career. The Ukranian submission ace did not make his way into the Octagon until the age of 37, already 60 professional fights into his career. There were definitely some solid names on his record, but he never really beat any current top contenders, and there was no reason to think Oleinik would suddenly arise as a contender. But he did! Oleinik is still not likely to fight for the title, but he’s picked up many of the best wins of his career over the age of 40, and he rides a two-fight win streak into this match up.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Oleinik is not a kickboxer. His whole focus is on dragging his foe to the mat and crushing the windpipe, the rest of his attack is decidedly less polished, though there is still 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 battle with Mark Hunt, the Samoan 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.
At the same time, Oleinik is 43 years old. He’s tough, but a clean shot will wobble him, and his all-offense assault can see him fatigue himself to the point of vulnerability (as in the Alistair Overeem fight).
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 (GIF).
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.
Opposite Maurice Greene, Oleinik made it ugly by literally dragging his opponent down from the back clinch. It may not have been technical work when Oleinik pulled his foe straight back and on top of him (GIF), but both men were tired, and Oleinik trusted in his grappling to land in top position.
He was right!
A fourth-degree black belt with an insane 46 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 generally 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, particularly 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 (GIF).
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 an Oleinik signature, one that can barely be explained by reason. It’s certainly not going to become commonly replicated by others.
Another classic Oleinik position is the scarf-hold head lock. It’s really the classic wrestling head lock, as Oleinik hooks his foe’s head from side control then sits out. As he yanks on the head, Oleinik leans backwards, putting all of his weight on the diaphragm. The combination of the head pressure and chest compression makes it very difficult to breathe — as well as just generally unpleasant! — and this submission is another move that only Oleinik scores with any consistency.
Finally, Oleinik’s most recent tapout came opposite Greene. After failing to fully crush Greene with the aforementioned neck crank, Oleinik climbed high into the mount in the second round. Once a hold on Greene’s arm was secured, Oleinik dragged his leg across the face before falling belly down. It was similar in execution to an S-mount armbar, but the bottom line is this: Oleinik latched onto the arm with all four of his limbs, clinging quite like a snake to eventually extend and force the submission (GIF).
Oleinik is deservedly ranked among the 10 best Heavyweights in the world, because he largely beats the fighters who try to take his spot. His attempts to climb that ladder further have not gone that well overall, but he’ll once again give it a go by trying to become the first man to submit Derrick Lewis.
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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.