Decorated kickboxer, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, faces off with perhaps Heavyweight’s best prospect, Ciryl Gane, this Saturday (Feb. 27, 2021) at UFC Vegas 20 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It did not take long at all for Rozenstruik to climb the Heavyweight ladder. Three knockout wins in less than two full rounds of combat saw him earn a main event match up with Alistair Overeem. He lost a majority of that contest, but power bailed him out, and Rozenstruik ascended into the Top 5. Since then, Rozenstruik split a pair of bouts with Francis Ngannou and Junior dos Santos. He’s ranked as the fourth-best Heavyweight in the world just two years after his Octagon debut. At 32, Rozenstruik has a long career in mixed martial arts (MMA) ahead of him.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Rozenstruik has more than 80 professional kickboxing fights on his record, and he’s won a huge majority of them via knockout. The man hits tremendously hard, and he’s well-aware that he only needs a single big connection.
In MMA, Rozenstruik operates primarily as a counter striker. In his debut opposite Junior Albini, “Bigi Boy” looked quite uncomfortable leading for pretty much the entire first round. Meanwhile, Albini was scoring takedowns and ripping decently hard strikes, but still the threat of the takedown and general newness of MMA left Rozenstruik unwilling to lead.
Rozenstruik has since grown more comfortable in the cage, but he’s still rather low volume. At distance, Rozenstruik focuses largely on flicking jabs and digging quick inside low kicks. Often, he’s just touching his opponent, convincing them to swing in his direction. Rozenstruik is not a particularly tall Heavyweight, but his 78-inch reach is considerable, and he makes the most of it with a long jab. Though Rozenstruik does not load up on the shot or over-commit, his quick jab lands unusually hard based on the reactions of his opponents.
Rozenstruik’s main counter punch is the left hook. Specifically, Rozenstruik is constantly looking to parry with his right hand, which allows him to shift his weight slightly and load up the hook. Whether his opponent follows up with the right or not, Rozenstruik will attempt to loop a surprisingly powerful left hook into the temple (GIF).
Very often, this left hook is battling with his opponent’s right hand. That’s a risky game, as even a well-thrown left hook can be beaten if his opponent is a bit faster or closer than anticipated (as happened vs. Ngannou). Still, given Rozenstruik’s knockouts scored vs. knockouts taken ratio (74-3!), he’s winning that battle more often than not.
Continuing more on the left hook, Rozenstruik will not just throw the punch on the counter. He’ll often lead with the strike as well, squaring up his shoulders and jumping into the punch, commonly following his hook with a hard cross. If an opponent is understandably focused on parrying that heavy jab, expect a leaping hook from “Bigi Boy.”
Against Junior dos Santos, Rozenstruik spent a fair amount of time trading small distance shots with “Cigano.” Almost immediately after turning up the pressure, however, Rozenstruik knocked him out! He did so with a tricky combination, loading up his lead hand to score a left uppercut then following with a right hook. He shifted into Southpaw to fire the right, closing some distance with the punch and putting down dos Santos.
Opposite Albini, Rozenstruik finished the fight with a crafty stance-switch following the left hook. After the leap and punch, Rozenstruik was square enough in the hips that a shift to Southpaw was easy. From this now stance, Rozenstruik ripped a hard right hook-left kick combination, but “Baby” was already going down before the kick could land (GIF).
Aside from his parry-left hook counter, Rozenstruik will showcase his kickboxing experience with punch-kick counters. In MMA, the rhythm is often slower, as fighters almost take turns trying to hit each other. That’s far less common in kickboxing, where it is essentially to immediately answer any offense quickly, often with the standard Muay Thai counters that are drilled into muscle memory: hook-cross-left kick and cross-hook-right kick.
Against Albini, Rozenstruik made great use of the cross-left kick counter, unleashing a right hand and left high kick when Albini tried to snap a front kick into his face. It was a clear reactionary moment: Rozenstruik was struggling to create his own offense, but when Albini tried to kick him, he sprung into action immediately with great ferocity.
It’s worth-noting that Rozenstruik has not proven that difficult to hit in MMA. His reliance on the parry-left hook counter is risky — foes have found success by skipping the jab and simply slamming an overhand into his jaw, which can also take their own head off-line and avoid the hook. There are definitely still adjustments to be made on the defensive end for “Bigi Boy.”
Rozenstruik is a demonstration on the importance of physicality and fundamentals in wrestling, as he’s been able to shore up his defensive holes rather well in a short time.
Albini threw Rozenstruik to the mat on a few occasions in Rozenstruik’s debut, but Overeem had a more difficult time. He was still able to land the occasional clinch trip, but a majority of the time, Rozenstruik was able to control hands and use the cage to keep him upright. Often, it’s as simple as waiting for an opponent to release the clinch or circling to the underhook.
Still, Rozenstruik hasn’t faced many takedown attempts below the waist since his debut, so that could remain an issue.
Similar to the above section, Rozenstruik has not shown much beyond fundamentals and patience.
Against Overeem, however, Rozenstruik did show smart defense and awareness. He was always looking for an underhook from his back, which prevented Overeem from really releasing his ground strikes or getting too comfortable. Overeem’s top game is no joke, but “Bigi Boy” escaped relatively unharmed (a good sign).
Rozenstruik is stuck in a somewhat similar predicament to last week’s main event fighters, in that the Heavyweight title is still two fights away from a non-Ngannou or Jon Jones contender. If, however, Rozenstruik pulls off the win here, he likely sets himself up for a big fight with “The Black Beast” Derrick Lewis next ... a possible (next) title eliminator.
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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.