Jairzinho Rozenstruik's developing game makes him a heavyweight threat

Jairzinho Rozenstruik only committed to being a full-time mixed martial arts fighter in 2018. He was a high-level kickboxer who put together a 76-8-1 record with 64 knockouts before turning to MMA.

In three years, he’s already just about at the top of his profession, but only is now coming into his own.

The Surinamese heavyweight showed what he is capable of on Saturday when he caught Augusto Sakai with a left hook and a right hand late in the first round of their bout at Apex in Las Vegas and finished him with a second left in the round.

Rozenstruik had begun his MMA career 10-0 with nine KOs but entered the fight with Sakai just 1-2 in his last three fights. He was coming off a confounding loss to Cyril Gane in February in which he wasn’t able to get going and dropped a disappointing decision.

He wanted to be more aggressive and not let Sakai dictate. And while there were stretches with little happening as the fighters probed for openings, it was the perfect plan for Rozenstruik.

“I watched a couple of his fights and he doesn’t like that,” Rozenstruik said of making Sakai back up.

Rozenstruik’s enormous punching power and his quickness for a 6-foot-2, 254-pound guy is what makes him special and gives him an opportunity to become a champion in MMA. He entered the bout on Saturday ranked sixth in the division.

But he said Saturday he feels like his full game is finally starting to come through. The more complete his total game is, the better his strikes will appear. He’s worked diligently on rounding out his game and on throwing a lot of punches.

He’s got the kind of power that allows him to score knockouts even when he doesn’t connect flush.

“This last camp I had, it was the best,” Rozenstruik said. “I worked on wrestling and becoming an MMA fighter. Before, I felt like a kickboxer in there. Now, I’m feeling like a true MMA fighter. Before, I was a kickboxer trying MMA.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 05: (R-L) Jairzinho Rozenstruik of Suriname punches Augusto Sakai of Brazil in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 05, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Jairzinho Rozenstruik puts the finishing touches on Augusto Sakai on Saturday at Apex en route to a knockout at 4:59 of the first round in the main event of UFC Vegas 28. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

That’s a bellwether moment in his career, because to win the championship, he’s not going to find many guys who are willing to simply stand and trade with him. Champion Francis Ngannou, who knocked Rozenstruik out at UFC 249 last year, might be one of the only who would, but even Ngannou, who has crazy KO power, has been working with coach Eric Nicksick to round out his game.

Sakai has a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, but he never threatened Rozenstruik with anything. And when you can’t make Rozenstruik back up and try something other than teeing off, more often than not, you’re going to wind up on your back, looking up at the lights.

Rozenstruik said he wants to fight someone in the top five next. No. 2 Derrick Lewis is fighting Ngannou, probably in September. Gane, who is No. 3, will face No. 5 Alexander Volkov later on June 26.

That leaves just No. 1 Stipe Miocic and No. 4 Curtis Blaydes as ranked heavyweights ahead of him without a fight scheduled. Miocic is looking to fight the Ngannou-Lewis winner for the belt, so it makes it likely that Blaydes would be the best option for Rozenstruik if he is to get an opponent in the top 5.

Blaydes’ wrestling would certainly test Rozenstruik’s complete game.

If that game is complete, he’s going to make a lot of noise before he’s through. And he’ll score more than his share of memorable finishes along the way, as well.

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