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UFC Fight Night: Tybura v Sakai Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 28’s Augusto Sakai

Heavy-handed Brazilian, Augusto Sakai, will square off with decorated kickboxer, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, this Saturday (June 5, 2021) at UFC Vegas 28 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sakai really took UFC by storm, starting his career with the promotion with four straight victories to advance into the Heavyweight Top 10. He got off to a strong start in a step up in competition opposite Alistair Overeem, but the veteran proved a touch too much for the relative newcomer. At 30 years old, however, Sakai still appears to have a long future ahead of him slugging it out with big men, and perhaps he can make the necessary changes to become a true contender.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

Sakai is not a complicated fighter. He’s durable and powerful, with a surprisingly deep gas tank, which is what allows him to push the pace among fellow heavy hitters. Overall, 11 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.

UFC Fight Night: Sakai v Sherman Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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 pounds, 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.

UFC Fight Night: Overeem v Sakai Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Against Overeem, Sakai did well to trap his foe on the fence for long periods of time. As Overeem covered up, Sakai did his best to throw long combinations and work his way around the guard. There was definitely a bit of missed opportunity in that Sakai did a lot of head-hunting, but he did have “The Reem” hurt on several occasions.

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.

Wrestling

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.

UFC Fight Night: Ivanov v Sakai Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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 ...

In the first 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.

Opposite Overeem, Sakai did well enough to defend shots in the open, but he fell to Overeem’s craft along the fence. Rather than try to finish the shot traditionally (i.e. by lifting and slamming), Overeem would drop to his knees and cut an angle. Sakai is a bit top-heavy, and his balance failed him against that style of shot.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Though reportedly a jiu-jitsu brown belt, I can offer little insight into Sakai’s ground game. Overeem beat him up from top position, but I don’t feel it would be fair to judge him too harshly. After all, Overeem broke several of his ribs with knees prior to the grappling exchanges, and well ... ribs are important!

UFC Fight Night: Overeem v Sakai Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Conclusion

Sakai is a meat-and-potatoes fighter, one that wins without having one truly standout skill. That does not make him less of a tough out, however, nor does it mean he cannot advance further up the ladder if he’s able to fix some of his defensive problems.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 28 fight card tonight right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 28: “Rozenstruik vs. Sakai” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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.

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