Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight hitters Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik will square off this weekend (Sat., Sept. 25, 2021) at UFC 266 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
At the moment, the Heavyweight division is ruled by two kings, a pair of exceptional young fighters who rose through the ranks quickly to kick the ass of the established contenders. At times, Blaydes has positioned himself to be the third man in that situation, as the 30-year-old wrestler is remarkably dominant when at his best.
Unfortunately, a couple difficult losses have pushed Blaydes away from the top.
On the flip side, “Bigi Boy” is a funny fighter. He’s undeniably an elite talent, but the kickboxing veteran is equally likely to explode into a violent flurry as he is to patiently watch rounds slip away. Finding that balance remains a struggle for the relatively inexperienced mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, but he remains incredibly dangerous.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each athlete:
Record: 14-2 (1)
Key Wins: Alexander Volkov (UFC on ESPN 11), Alistair Overeem (UFC 225), Junior dos Santos (UFC Fight Night 166), Mark Hunt (UFC 221), Aleksei Oleinik (UFC 217), Shamil Abdurakhimov (UFC 242)
Key Losses: Francis Ngannou (UFC Fight Night 141, UFC Fight Night 86)
Keys to Victory: Prior to getting Black Beast’d by Lewis, Blaydes was really putting on a showcase of his kickboxing improvements, styling on Lewis with brutal range shots. Writing off Blaydes now would be foolhardy, as his kickboxing has consistently improved, and that wrestling is still the division’s best.
Setting up the shot properly is the one and only key here. Again, Blaydes was crushing Lewis ... until he shot a takedown with on setup directly into an uppercut. Rozenstruik has an eye for timing huge shots, so if Blaydes makes that same mistake, he may find himself waking up to another defeat.
Fortunately, Blaydes has shown the skills necessary to set up shots. He did a fantastic job vs. Alexander Volkov of hiding the shot behind the jab and level change feints. Provided he does so here as well, Blaydes clearly has the wrestling skills to dominate this fight. Rozenstruik is generally not impossible to take down, but he does good work in scrambling up to his feet.
Against Blaydes, that style of standing back up is a recipe for getting suplexed and elbowed. Once the Blaydes cycle of takedown, ground strikes, return to the mat begins, it’s very hard to break free.
Key Wins: Alistair Overeem (UFC on ESPN 7), Junior dos Santos (UFC 252), Augusto Sakai (UFC Vegas 28), Andrei Arlovski (UFC 244), Junior Albini (UFC Fight Night 144)
Key Losses: Ciryl Gane (UFC Vegas 20), Francis Ngannou (UFC 249)
Keys to Victory: Rozenstruik has some of the heaviest hands in a division known for big men who punch really hard. The highly experienced kickboxer has generally done well to adapt to the grappling aspects of MMA, allowing him to slowly grow more comfortable in letting his combinations fly.
In this bout, Rozenstruik has to establish his jab. He often likes to poke kicks and flick the strike at distance, but noncommittal blows against a power wrestler like Blaydes are likely wasted. Instead, I’d like to see Rozenstruik really sit on that jab, maybe even throw it to the chest, providing a line of defense against Blaydes’ forward pressure.
Rozenstruik’s favorite check hook will be a great weapon against Blaydes, who does not always manage to move his head off the center line. “Bigi Boy” does have to be wary though, because if Blaydes does roll after his right hand, getting beneath the check hook is a great entrance to the takedown.
Finally, Rozenstruik has to create his own offense rather than rely solely on his counters. Provided he’s in the center of the cage, there’s no reason Rozenstruik cannot occasionally fire off a short combination punctuated by a heavy high kick. If Blaydes is feeling uncomfortable at distance, he’s far more likely to take an ugly shot or leave his head high for that perfect counter shot.
This is a great Heavyweight fight.
Blaydes isn’t out of the title mix just yet. Losing to Lewis hurts, but it’s understandable. Crazy things happen in Heavyweight MMA, and Blaydes still has many years ahead of him to put it all together. Truthfully, if Blaydes puts on a great performance here, it could earn him a really high-profile match up vs. someone like Stipe Miocic or Jon Jones while Ngannou and Gane settle their business.
Speaking of, Blaydes is a really fascinating style match up for Gane.
As for Rozenstruik, his pair of losses to the two champions definitely slow him down a bit, but again, he’s fairly young, too. If his comfort and activity in the cage continue to improve, his potential is as of yet unreached. A win here could set Rozenstruik up for similar match ups, or he could look to build a longer win streak opposite some of the other up-and-coming big man talent.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 266 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPNEWS/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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At UFC 266, Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik will battle in a pivotal Heavyweight match up. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?