Brazilian slugger, Augusto Sakai, will duel with Heavyweight legend, Alistair Overeem, this Saturday (Sept. 5, 2020) at UFC Vegas 9 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Heavyweight prospects can fall flat. Remember when Marcin Tybura was on the rise? How about Tai Tuivasa’s impressive entrance to UFC? In those cases (and several others), a bit of hype led to ugly losses. Yet, Sakai does not seem positioned for such a fall, even if he comes up short in his first main event slot. The 29-year-old Brazilian does not typically make headlines with flash, but he’s undefeated in four trips to the Octagon. He’s tough, powerful, and can fight hard for at least 15 minutes — that makes him a dangerous up-and-comer.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
This may end up one of the shortest fighter breakdowns in my whole career. Sakai is a very meat-and-potatoes fighter, but his simple tactics have led to solid success thanks to his combination of size and endurance.
Eleven of his 15 wins come via knockout.
Sakai is something of a plodding striker, but he can be deceptively quick with his hands. He typically stalks opponents, looking to cut off the cage and force the pocket. As he works to close range, Sakai is active with his kicks. He likes to chop into the calf with his right leg, while his lead leg commonly stabs into the mid-section with quick snap kicks. This is something of a double threat, as a lift of Sakai’s left leg could be a stabbing kick or the step necessary for a hammering low kick.
Against Chase Sherman in particular, Sakai’s snap kicks really exhausted his opponent. Southpaw Blagoy Ivanov, meanwhile, really felt the effects of the low kick, and Sakai did well to build off that threat with body kicks too. Finally, Sakai will kick the inside of leg to step into a right hand, Dan Henderson-style.
Sakai does his best work once in the pocket. Otherwise, he’s really just lunging to get there, often jumping in behind his left hook (GIF) or over-committing to his right hand in order to close distance. However, it’s worth-noting that Sakai does do a really nice job of rolling after throwing the overhand, allowing him to follow up with an equally heavy left hook.
If Sakai’s opponent backs into the fence or simply stops moving his feet, Sakai tends to tee off. It’s nothing overly complicated, but Sakai cuts weight to make 265 lbs., so when he’s flinging right hands (typically straight and over-the-top with equal aggression) and left hooks, he’s a force to be feared.
Very often, Sakai will flurry his way into the clinch. Given an opportunity, Sakai will latch onto his opponent’s neck with his left hand and fire right uppercuts and hooks (GIF). Sakai will also look to secure the double-collar tie often, which opens up knees to the mid-section and skull.
Sakai is comfortable enough in the pocket at deflecting punches, but he’s certainly no defensive marvel at any range. Really, Andrei Arlovski likely deserved the nod in their contest, which illustrated the problems with Sakai’s foot work. Against an opponent willing to jab, circle, and low kick his way to victory, Sakai had a lot of trouble consistently connecting.
Sakai is typically quite happy to keep the fight on the feet, where he’s much more accustomed to shaking off shots from his opponents than looking for his own takedown. The lone exception came against Sherman, who Sakai landed something of a hybrid foot sweep/just throwing Sherman over to gain top position in the third round.
Immediately, Sakai started landing brutal elbows, so letting him gain top position seems like a terrible idea.
In his recent bout with Blagoy Ivanov, Sakai’s takedown defense was supposed to be tested. Instead, Ivanov spent most of the fight willingly striking with Sakai. In the first of the two wrestling exchanges that did occur, Sakai did a nice job of framing his opponent’s with his legs after being taken down off a caught knee, allowing him a relatively quick stand up — not easy at Heavyweight!
In a more pivotal moment in the third round, Sakai was on his way down from Ivanov’s head-and-arm toss, which is actually quite good. Sakai grabbed the fence to stop the shot and got away with it, so perhaps his 80% takedown defense is not all it’s cracked up to be.
In the sole loss of his career, Sakai was held along the cage for long periods of time by Cheick Kongo. That’s happened to more Heavyweights than one would care to admit even recently, but Sakai repeatedly has made the choice of going for the double-collar tie rather than fighting underhooks and attempting to circle. If secured, he can land big shots, but often, he just ends up stuck on the fence.
Though reportedly a jiu-jitsu brown belt, I can offer little insight into Sakai’s ground game, as the Brazilian has yet to finish or be finished on the mat. In his brief exchanges on the mat, Sakai has moved smoothly enough, but there’s still much to learn.
Sakai is already ranked top 10 in the world, and there’s clearly room to grow for the Brazilian bruiser. If he can implement his slugging style opposite Overeem — whose wrestling and movement could really trouble the prospect — it would definitely improve his odds against top-caliber competition.
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.