Best bets for UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs. Sakai

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UFC Las Vegas 28 is a scheduled 14-fight slate featuring athletes ranging in size from women's flyweight (125 pounds) to men’s heavyweight (265). Fighters from 17 countries with varying mixed martial arts weaponry will converge on Las Vegas. Overall, this card offers several bettable fights, though there appears to be a bout or two where the intention seems to be to weed out older more experienced talent on the roster. We’ll see if that transpires.

Two weeks ago, we won one unit with Rob Font’s one-sided victory over Cody Garbrandt but lost 1.2 units when Carla Esparza completely dominated Yan Xiaonan. Jack Hermansson -155 also won as the first leg of a parlay, which will be used in an upcoming column.

2021 Insight the Octagon: 13-9 + 4.95 units*

* pending Hermansson -155 parlay

UPDATED LATE FRIDAY:

Rozenstruik -120

Ponzinibbio 100

Ponzi/Baeza goes to decision 150

Puelles 175

Dolidze -140

JAIR ROZENSTRUIK -120 VS. AUGUSTO SAKAI + 100

Heavyweight (265 pounds) Main Event

Rozenstruik enters this bout ranked sixth in the division despite only three years in UFC. In that time, he has been impressive in beating competent adversaries and losing only to third-ranked Cyril Gane and current champion Francis NGannou.

Rozenstruik is a calibrated, precision-based kickboxer who is fast, has abundant power and is aggressive and unafraid to engage. His championship kickboxing pedigree earned before becoming a mixed martial artist is forceful proof that this undersized heavyweight is a most dangerous and driven competitor.

Rozenstruik can potentially be exposed on the ground where he has had to show little wrestling, grappling or BJJ capability. That said, in each defeat he was outstruck by more capable, powerful strikers and has failed to need to address takedown defense based on the opponents he has faced. I’m wondering if that may change this week.

In the Gane fight, Rozenstruik was so overly cautious about Gane’s power that he stood almost motionless without action for most of the fight. I believe he has nightmares about that listless last effort and it’s probable that he comes out more forceful in this bout.

Sakai, a Brazilian with Japanese heritage, does not have the athleticism, quickness or precision-based striking acumen that his opponent does. What the ninth-ranked heavyweight does have, however, is height, size and age advantage. That makes Sakai the far more powerful punche. But because of his lumpy physique, he tired against Alistair Overeem when the fight got beyond three rounds.  

It was NGannou’s/Gane’s power striking that thwarted Rozenstruik in previous bouts, so the plan for Sakai will be to pressure the lighter, more mobile kickboxer backward and force him into the corner, where Sakai may unleash fists, elbows and knees.

Sakai, a blue belt in BJJ, has not used his grappling to date. With his size and this being a five-round bout, it may be a good idea for him to maul Rozenstruik to the floor and from top position rain a little damage upon him. Whether Sakai can execute this or even try will be interesting to see.

Sakai will need to address a faster more mobile opponent who will attempt to avoid his power by wearing him down with movement then blister him with strikes from all angles when the giant slows. I believe Rozenstruik will, over time, chop the larger, more deliberate fighter down.

Rozenstruik -120

Total in this fight: 1.5 rounds, Over -190

MARCIN TYBURA -160 VS. WALT HARRIS + 145

Heavyweight (265 pounds) co-Main Event

If we’re not getting the UFC’s marquee fighters Saturday, at least we’re going to see  four of the top 11 ranked heavyweight fighters play the elimination game.

Tybura, the 11th-ranked Polish striker, enters on a roll. After suffering a KO at the hands of Sakai in 2019, Tybura has won four straight bouts over decent heavyweight competition. One note: In the heavyweight division, there are four viable contenders to champion NGannou, then another seven who are able to compete with those four. Beyond that, all remaining fighters are capable, though limited in ability.

Tybura is an effective striker with a blue belt in BJJ. He’s not necessarily powerful, though his knees and kicks inflict damage and he uses them effectively. He’ll need to use movement and distance as Tybura fights at 215 pounds and will be smaller than his opponent.

Harris is the ninth-ranked heavyweight. He enters this bout off two straight losses, but those setbacks were to Overeem and Alexander Volkov. Harris will be the taller man by a couple of inches and he’s a little unorthodox in that he’s a left-handed power striker.

Harris’ recent competition is an important aspect to handicapping this bout as I believe the quality of the opponents he has faced helps set him apart from Tybura.

Harris was a college basketball player and has tremendous athleticism. He’s beaten most of the “capable” heavyweights he has been in the octagon with, and Tybura’s threat is no greater than those Harris has already faced. With two straight losses, I expect Harris to be highly focused and motivated to remain in the organization, so I expect a top effort from him.

Harris will be the larger man, the more profusely powerful man and the more desperate man when the bell rings for this bout. He must press forward on Tybura and back him up by using his athleticism/aggression to force a stand-up engagement. Harris is lethal and most dangerous in the frantic striking exchange.

This fight sets up to be a stand-up war, and Harris will have the speed, power and durability to bully Tybura and earn a much-needed victory.

No need to await weigh-ins with these big fellas!

Total for this fight: 1.5 rounds, Over -170

MIGUEL BAEZA -120 VS. SANTIAGO PONZINIBBIO + 100

Welterweight (170 pounds)

The winner of this bout propels himself into the top 15 in the division.

Baeza is undefeated and will be the younger man with arm and leg reach advantages bolstered by the fact that he’s two inches the taller man. In a stand-up fight, which this bout shapes up to be, these physical traits manifest into a superiority that must be factored into the fight.

Ponzinibbio enters this fight off a heartbreaking loss, one in which he was a bit unlucky. He’d won seven straight welterweight fights and was highly ranked in the division when he was forced to take a couple years off to heal, recover and restore his focus.

Upon his return to the octagon, he drew opponent Li Jingliang, a fighter he was favored over as well a fighter that I handicap to be of lesser ability than Ponzi. Ponzi walked straight into a Sunday punch late in the first round, and his momentum and hopes for a return to a top-10 ranking were dashed.

Ponzinibbio’s an extremely explosive and dynamic striker who’s also a black belt in BJJ. In Baeza, he faces a talent not unlike Jingliang in that Ponzi will be forced to overcome the physical dynamics of his opponent.

That said, Ponzi has the wealth of experience and he’s smarting from that last loss. I look for Ponzinibbio to bounce back from the loss to Jingliang and he may just award the younger and potentially more dynamic Baeza his Ph.D. In MMA.

Baeza has a future in this division, but he may be taking on Ponzinibbio at the wrong time. Potential Ph.D. In MMA bout most definitely.

Lean Ponzinibbio + 100 pending weigh-ins.

Total for this fight: 1.5 rounds, Over -155

Lean Over 1.5, but considering “fight goes to distance” prop once it is released.

I see another three or four bouts worth investing in based on weigh-in results.

 

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