LAS VEGAS — You don’t have to be a professional fighter to know the absolute worst strategy to use in a bout against Francis Ngannou. Ngannou may well be the most powerful puncher in the history of the UFC, and charging right at him isn’t the best idea.
That, though, is exactly what Jairzinho Rozenstruik did when he fought Ngannou on May 9 at UFC 249 in Jacksonville. The bell rang, Rozenstruik moved confidently toward Ngannou and, 20 seconds later, Ngannou was celebrating a KO victory.
That is no reason to mock Rozenstruik, however. It is more of a reason to celebrate him.
The Surinamese heavyweight is himself one of the heaviest punchers in UFC history and he was bent on doing to Ngannou what Ngannou ultimately did to him.
Who doesn’t want to watch a guy who carries his power with him throughout the fight and essentially takes the attitude, kill or be killed? If you like slugfests and violent finishes, Rozenstruik is your guy.
On Saturday at Apex at UFC 252, he’ll meet former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in a bout that could well steal the show on a card headlined by the rubber match for the heavyweight title between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier.
Asked if fans could expect a bombs away bout, Rozenstruik kept it simple.
“One hundred percent,” he said.
Dos Santos is athletic and noted for his boxing, but he’s vulnerable to being finished. He has scored 15 knockouts among his 21 professional victories, but he’s been knocked out himself five times among his seven losses. Those five KO defeats have come in his last 10 bouts.
Rozenstruik is 10-1 and only one of his 11 bouts has gone to a decision. He’s scored seven first-round knockouts among his 10 wins and his only defeat was in the first round to Ngannou.
It took a while for Rozenstruik to recoup after the loss. He’d known nothing but winning in his MMA career but admitted such a crushing defeat was difficult to accept.
“After a loss, it means something’s not good; something’s not right,” he said.
In the most simplistic terms, what wasn’t right was the strategy. Few fighters have ever attacked Ngannou and gotten away with it. But the knockout came as Rozenstruik was aggressively throwing a wide shot. Ngannou threw a straight one in return and it got there first and ended the fight.
As a knockout artist himself, he understands the way the game works. He said he got back to the gym as soon as possible after the fight and tried to improve.
“You can analyze a lot of things, but if you get caught, you get caught,” he said. “Everybody can knock somebody out [in the heavyweight division]. The thing you have to do is to hit accurate and touch your opponent. But that fight was a short fight and I can’t say a lot about it.”
Dana White has already said that Ngannou’s next fight will be for the heavyweight title. If Miocic defeats Cormier in the main event, that means Miocic will make a defense against Ngannou in his next fight. But if Cormier wins, given that he said he’d retire, that would leave one spot open.
It’s unlikely to go to Rozenstruik no matter what he does against dos Santos, but Rozenstruik can’t think that way. He has great respect for dos Santos and believes a victory over him would make a statement.
“I’m not looking at the past,” he said. “Junior’s done a lot of things for the sport. I respect him for that. I respect him as an opponent, too. But I’m looking forward to what I want to do, where I want to be. If he’s the man standing in the ring [opposite of me], he’s the man to take out.”
That attitude is why he’s a can’t miss fighter. He may not be the most athletic guy in the sport. His bouts may not be the most technical.
But if you watch fights because you love the violence and seeing guys get dropped and knocked out, Rozenstruik’s your guy.
In that regard, he doesn’t disappoint. Given that attitude and the power in both men’s fists, it’s why Saturday’s bout is almost a guarantee to be memorable regardless of who wins it.
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