Augusto Sakai will be in the biggest spotlight of his career when takes the cage to fight Alistair Overeem in the main event of UFC Fight Night 176 from the Apex Facility in Las Vegas.
The Dana White's Contender Series alum has made good on the contract he earned two years ago on the show. He's strung together a four-fight winning streak since joining the promotion, including split-decision wins over Blagoy Ivanov and Andrei Arlovski, but he draws his toughest test to date in his first-ever main event.
That would be 40-year-old Alistair Overeem. The Reem has long been one of the sport's elder statesmen and all-around tough night for anyone in the Octagon. Now the 29-year-old will get the opportunity to show that he's ready for the upper echelon of the division.
Joining the high-profile heavyweight tilt on the card is a light heavyweight affair between veteran Ovince Saint Preux and rising prospect Alonzo Menifield. The electric matchup was supposed to happen two weeks ago but was postponed when Saint Preux tested positive for COVID-19.
With the bout back on, this is an exciting double feature with some other fun bouts in the mix.
Main Card (8 p.m. ET on ESPN+)
- Alistair Overeem (-159; bet $159 to win $100) vs. Augusto Sakai (+130; $100 bet wins $130)
- Ovince Saint Preux (+110) vs. Alonzo Menifield (-134)
- Michel Pereira (-112) vs. Zelim Imadaev (-112)
- Brian Kelleher (-225) vs. Kevin Natividad (+175)
- Thiago Moises (-175) vs. Jalin Turner (+138)
Prelims (6 p.m. ET on ESPN+)
- Andre Muniz (+132) vs. Bartosz Fabinski (-165)
- Viviane Araujo (-182) vs. Montana De La Rosa (+145)
- Alexandr Romanov (-155) vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima (+124)
- Cole Smith (+185) vs. Hunter Azure (-235)
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook
Overeem Schools Sakai
The Reem is the man who will not go away in the heavyweight division. Two years ago it felt like he was approaching the end of his relevance. Back-to-back losses to Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes by knockout prompted the presses to start churning out eulogies for his career.
However, the former Strikeforce and Pride fighter showed those were premature.
He's since gone on to win three of his last four. The lone loss was a late knockout loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik in a fight that he seemed to be winning before getting caught. He last knocked out Walt Harris to close out another ESPN+ card.
Which brings us to his fight with Sakai. The case for Sakai is simple. He's earned a knockout in 11 of his 15 wins, and Overeem has been knocked out 14 times in his career. The Dutch kickboxer has had issues with his chin at times in his career.
It's not that simple, though. Sakai doesn't necessarily have devastating one-strike knockout power. His finishes have come more from overwhelming the opposition with volume than pure dynamic striking.
He's also failed to finish the best strikers he has seen as they have been able to absorb what he is taking and make the rounds competitive.
Overeem isn't the same knockout machine that he used to be. As he has aged, his game has become more measured and slow. If he keeps that trend up here, he could nullify Sakai's usual volume advantage. Expect Overeem to muddy the waters, utilize a lot of clinch work and force Sakai to grind it out before opening up in the later rounds.
Prediction: Overeem via fourth-round TKO
Menifield Passes Prospect Test Against Saint Preux
In many ways, Alonzo Menifield looks like a young Ovince Saint Preux in his career.
When OSP came on the scene in 2013 his size and athleticism made him an interesting prospect to watch. He started his UFC run with four wins including three finishes. Then he dropped a decision to Ryan Bader, recouped with back-to-back wins, before losing three consecutive fights.
Menifield broke onto the scene with an eight-second knockout on DWCS and followed it up with two first-round knockouts in the first round.
Menifield's Bader moment came a little earlier and against a less accomplished fighter when Devin Clark worked him to a decision loss. He struggled to keep up with the volume Clark brought to the table and was outhustled to a loss.
OSP is a dangerous opponent, especially after a loss. His length, athleticism and power make him a dangerous striker, and his slick submission game could play a role.
However, he takes a lot of punishment defensively. He was rocked by Michal Oleksiejczuk and Tyson Pedro before rallying to beat each of them.
If he gets tagged earlier by Menifield, there may not be time for him to right the ship. He'll just have an early night.
Prediction: Menifield via first-round TKO