Augusto Sakai got a change in plans for his next fight, but now he’s hoping to take advantage of his second chance in the main event spotlight.
Sakai (15-2-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) was set to fight Shamil Abdurakhimov earlier this month, but that fight fell through because of visa issues for Abdurakhimov. Instead, Sakai gets a shot at Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 189 main event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The card streams on ESPN+.
Sakai fought Alistair Overeem this past September in his first UFC headliner. He got into the fifth round with the longtime heavyweight, but had fallen off in the third and fourth rounds compared to his success in the first and second. Overeem put him out with a TKO 25 seconds into the last frame.
“Unfortunately, my winning streak was broken,” Sakai recently told MMA Junkie. “But that’s part of the game. The night against Overeem was a time for me to learn. I left a few openings that Overeem was able to exploit by landing his strikes. It took me out of my strategy. It was a big lesson. Now we’ve made many corrections. We’re coming back even stronger.”
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The travel restrictions due to COVID-19 kept Sakai home in Brazil to train, but he said he found ways to make that work for him in Curitiba.
Now he has another big-name opponent in front of him in his quest to get back in the win column. His UFC tenure, after earning a spot in the promotion through Dana White’s Contender Series, was a serious lineup of heavyweight wins: Chase Sherman, former champion Andrei Arlovski, Marcin Tybura and Blagoi Ivanov before he came up short against Overeem.
“I know that a win will improve my ranking and bring on even greater opponents,” Sakai said. “After the fight is done, we’ll figure out our next steps.”
In Rozenstruik, Sakai gets a heavyweight who put himself in title contention with a perfect 10-0 start to his career, including knockout wins in his first four UFC fights. But then he went up against Francis Ngannou in May 2020 and was knocked out in 20 seconds on Ngannou’s path to the heavyweight title.
Rozenstruik rebounded later that year with a TKO of former champ Junior Dos Santos, but in February found himself on the wrong side of a decision loss to Ciryl Gane, giving him two setbacks in his past three fights after the perfect start. Rozenstruik is a mild favorite against Sakai, and Sakai said the adjustment from training for Abdurakhimov was significant.
Still, he’s not thinking of any possibility but a win.
“Jairzinho is a super tough athlete,” Sakai said. “He has extremely heavy hands. His fighting style is completely different from Shamil’s. We made some adjustments with that in mind. My training sessions have been going great. We’re moving ahead with full force. We’re looking forward to another win.”
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