For something that's been anticipated for years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's debut in Russia does seem somewhat underwhelming. Dreams of a Khabib Nurmagomedov title fight or other huge headlining affair were dashed once it was announced this card would be on UFC Fight Pass, and this affair does seem to be in the usual style of the UFC's lower-tier international affairs: throw a whole bunch of local talent on the card, put some veteran heavyweights on top and call it a day. There's still stuff to like, though; Russia's talent pool is vast enough that it was almost impossible for there not to have interesting prospects dotting the undercard and the main event should, at the very least, be oddly entertaining. Still, hopefully this is an appetizer for a much bigger Russian affair to come sooner rather than later.
Let's get to the analysis and picks for UFC Fight Night 136: Hunt vs. Oleynik:
UFC Fight Pass Main Card
Hunt (13-12-1, 1 N/C) vs. Alexey
Odds: Hunt (-220), Oleynik (+180)
Heavyweight is an old division in general, but this is still a weird main event tilt between two over-40 veterans. It's easy to forget just how unlikely Hunt's success in mixed martial arts has been, particularly this UFC stint. A former K-1 champion, Hunt's combination of ridiculous punching power and durability made him an easy fan favorite in the days of Pride Fighting Championships, but after some early success, opponents learned that you could take Hunt to the ground and submit him rather easily. With the book being out on Hunt, the UFC had little interest in bringing the New Zealand native onto their roster once they purchased Pride, but after spending about three years unsuccessfully offering to buy Hunt out of his contract, they chose to honor the remaining fights on his deal. When Hunt's UFC career started with Sean McCorkle tapping him out in a little over a minute, it appeared that the "Super Samoan" would be out of the UFC in short order, but he knocked out Chris Tuchscherer in his next fight and just kept winning. Within three years, Hunt was facing Junior dos Santos in a top contender's bout, and while that became a second UFC loss for Hunt, he's been a reliable contender and attraction for the promotion ever since. But in recent years, the cracks have been showing a bit, both inside and outside of the cage. Thanks to a run of fighting four straight opponents who had previously or subsequently failed a drug test, Hunt's currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the UFC, so his relationship with the promotion obviously hasn't been the best. And there have been the obvious consequences of being 44 years-old; while Hunt's got in better shape and remains surprisingly mobile, he doesn't have quite the explosive bursts of power he used to and his legendary chin occasionally shows some cracks. Still, he's got enough veteran savvy and physical gifts that he clearly remains a top-15 heavyweight and presents a solid challenge for fellow veteran Oleynik.
When the now 41 year-old Oleynik was picked up by the UFC as part of their massive 2014 expansion, he was a worthy flier that figured to be little more than an oddity due to his bizarre collection of skills. Oleynik goes by the nickname of "The Boa Constrictor," which is an apt moniker, as the strongest part of Oleynik's game is his unorthodox variety of chokes; he's not only the only fighter to have a finish via Ezekiel choke in the Octagon, he's managed to do it twice. It really shouldn't work, but it does, and even in his older age, Oleynik has enough on the feet to keep most opponents honest, throwing absolute heat with every strike and relying on some top-flight durability. His loss last year to Curtis Blaydes showed that Oleynik probably doesn't have a run to title contention in him, but his entire UFC tenure has mostly been a case of overachieving, so who knows?
Oleynik's such an unusually effective fighter that it's hard to count him out, but this looks like a clear Hunt win on paper. Oleynik has such a clearly defined game that it's basically up to his opponent to not make any mistakes, and Hunt's a smart enough fighter that he should be able to keep this standing and stay out of danger. And while Oleynik throws absolute power on the feet, that probably won't help him here; even with a diminished chin, Hunt is still among the most durable fighters on the UFC's heavyweight roster, plus throwing all that heat tends to leave Oleynik exhausted by the second round. If Oleynik can clinch up with Hunt, maybe he can grab his neck -- even if there isn't a ton of neck to grab -- and pull off something weird, but more likely than not, Oleynik loses a striking match, tires, and then becomes a sitting duck for whatever Hunt wants to throw at him. My pick is Hunt via second-round knockout.
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